Those wishing for a return to the Matt Barlow days of ICED EARTH will find a measure of it in "As our Army Grows" from England's INTENSE. The band's sophomore full-length, and first for Napalm Records, is a competent batch of catchy power metal songs. Though the sound mix could stand to bring the guitar up and vocals down a hair (more balls in the six-string department would have gone a long way), the quintet succeeds with the aforementioned ICED EARTH style with, of course, the occasional MAIDEN reference. The long player will not raise the roof, but should blow off a few shingles in the process.Much of the IE sound comes from vocalist Sean Hetherington, even though Sean's approach is not a dead-on Barlow match. The guy can carry a tune, sports a strong delivery, and makes many of the choruses stand out more than they otherwise would. Several tunes are quite good, namely a tough metal anthem called "Anger of the Ancients", as well as "Out Last Hope", and "Insanity's Call", all of which come with big (not over the top though) choruses that hook in the listener almost immediately. Guitarists Nick Palmer and Dave Peak create a respectable batch of riffs and harmonies, while the solos are typically done in service to the song with the occasional ripper thrown in. Light keys add atmosphere in the right spots, as does the periodic use of subtle vocal harmonies. Fortunately, there are no stinkers in the bunch. The album-closing "Chronicles of the New Flesh (Trilogy)" consists of the up-tempo "Trojan Transmission" and "Long Live the New Flesh" with the mellow (piano, acoustic guitars) "Strange New World" sandwiched in between, a tune that I found to be a tad mediocre, but still easy on the ears. Where PAGANIZE's "Evilution Hour" suffered from some uneven songwriting, on "As Our Army Grows" INTENSE does a nice job of writing tunes that are memorable. I'll be watching these guys, as it seems that a tremendous amount of potential is yet to be unleashed. "As Our Army Grows" is a quality release that should appeal to many fans of the style. I enjoyed it.
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