BENEDICTUM
"Dominion"

(Frontiers)

01. Dominion
02. At The Gates
03. Seer
04. Grind It
05. Prodigal Son
06. The Shadowlands
07. Beautiful Pain
08. Dark Heart
09. Bang
10. Loud Silence
11. Epsilon
12. Sanctuary
13. Overture/Temple Of Syrinx

RATING: 9/10

A new label, a major lineup change, and the opportunity to meet a challenge head on add up to a rejuvenated BENEDICTUM, a band that has just released its masterpiece. "Dominion" is an exception American heavy metal album and the sound of BENEDICTUM at the very top of its game.

And let's get the whole "female" qualifier in "female singer" out of the way now. Vocalist Veronica Freeman stomps the majority of her peers, regardless of gender, not only for pure power, but also for versatility, personality, and a take-no-shit attitude that makes her presence a commanding one, whether in the studio or on the stage. Moving on…

"Uncreation" and "Seasons of Tragedy" are both very good albums, but on "Dominion" BENEDICTUM didn't just come to fight, they came to win. Traditional heavy metal that takes cues from the likes of ACCEPT and DIO forms the basis of the BENEDICTUM sound, but the quintet co-founded by Freeman and ace guitarist Pete Wells has always kept its sound fresh by incorporating an array of elements broad enough to keep things interesting but not so broad as to lose the metal essence. That approach is most apparent on "Dominion", which benefits from Ryan Greene's beefy production, the iron riffs and virtuoso leads of Wells, and a career-defining performance from Freeman.

The industrial/electronic intro on the opening title track is the first clue of some expansionist tendencies. It is vintage BENEDICTUM in one sense (the toughness and hook), yet the keyboard work of Tony Diaz gives the song just the right amount of spice. In fact, Diaz's keyboard works across the album boosts the songwriting in numerous ways; sometimes subtly, sometimes directly, and always working in concert with the totality of the song. The track is also the first indication of a new level of ferocity in the band's attack.

Several songs typify that BENEDICTUM toughness, as well as Freeman's mastery of nuance and inflectional shift. "At the Gates" is a hot, up-tempo rocker, punched up with backing shouts to go with Freeman's brilliant patterning and accent. It is the trio of "Prodigal Son", "The Shadowlands", and "Dark Heart" that in many ways represent BENEDICTUM's blend of classiness and balls. "Prodigal Son" has a DIO-esque grit and a basic chorus that burns into the brain, while "The Shadowlands" reveals not only a big set of stones, but also offers a compelling arrangement. Similar sentiments can be applied to "Dark Heart", another on which something as simple as backing shouts can make the difference between memorable and forgettable. All of it is first rate.

We've not even touched on the defiant, undisputed heavyweight heavy metal champion of "Dominion". That distinction would go to the BENEDICTUM anthem to end all anthems, "Bang". The two-and-a-half minute "Grind It" is runner up, but not because it is lacking in aggressiveness. If that were the only test it would be the clear winner, based on the sheer heaviness and Freeman's growling, venomous lyrics. It is when you take a fat bass line from Rudy Sarzo (QUIET RIOT), an aggressive riff groove, Freeman's seething disdain for the absurd notion of an "in-crowd," and a fist-pimping chorus that "Bang" ends up a heavy metal anthem of gargantuan proportions. "Bang" is what adrenaline sounds like when it pumps through the body.

"Epsilon" and "Loud Silence" are two ends of a spectrum on "Dominion" that is wide, yet not disconnected. The former is a progressive metal epic that is arranged to perfection and delivers on all fronts. With shades of everyone from RUSH to SYMPHONY X and scorching solos from Pete Wells and guest guitarist Craig Goldy (DIO), "Epsilon" closes the proper part of the album in grand fashion. The pop-based "Loud Silence" has serious crossover appeal, based on the hook and the genuineness heard from Freeman's soft side. That both songs work well individually and in an overall album context speaks to the new heights of maturity reached on "Dominion".

And how could there not be a classic cover song on the new BENEDICTUM? It's tradition. Bonus track "Overture/Temples of Syrinx" (RUSH) is a smashing choice and while there is no creative departure from the original, it is has without a doubt been BENEDICTUM-ized for maximum impact. The other bonus track is a heartfelt acoustic ballad called "Sanctuary" that offers yet another view into Freeman's gentler side. Jeff Pilson (DOKKEN, FOREIGNER, DIO) contributes guest vocals and guitar on the track.

Based on infectious melodies and balls-out rockin' bluster alone, "Dominion" would end up one of the best traditional heavy metal album albums of 2011. But when you add the modern twists, the intelligently structured and varied composition, and the fact that the 63-minute duration flies by, "Dominion" becomes the trad-metal album to beat in 2011. It's high time that BENEDICTUM got the accolades and attention they deserve, especially from North American audiences. Buy it!

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