(Pivotal Rockordings)

01. Deathlike Overture (intro)
02. Esoteric
03. Rise and Decay
04. Let the Old World Burn
05. Darkness Descending
06. Seclusion
07. Misery's Supremacy
08. Under a Pitch Black Sky
09. Linger In Doubt
10. The Legacy of the Defeated
11. Within Reach (bonus track)

RATING: 8.5/10

In the "it's a small world" department, Sweden's SKYFIRE take a good portion of the European metal scene, stuff it into a blender, and serve the results up extra smooth on the aptly-named "Esoteric". Equal parts melodic death metal, neo-classical, prog, black, and power metal (depending on everyone's contentious definitions of each of these, of course), "Esoteric" showcases a band that has somehow managed to pull together a reasonably unified sound without letting any one aspect of their multifaceted style dominate the others.

The addition of guitarist Johan Reinholdz (NONEXIST, ANDROMEDA) has given SKYFIRE an amazing depth of virtuosity — think the guitar and keyboard interplay of CHILDREN OF BODOM, but with a darker, more sinister and serious bent than BODOM's sometimes frolicksome compositions. This is a band unafraid to gallop through blast beats and blackened verses, then abruptly careen into a lush, melodic, almost happy-sounding chorus (see the infectious "Let the Old World Burn"), or add classy frills to their fastest, most brutal number (the blazing, fiercely progressive "Misery's Supremacy"). Reinholdz is given ample opportunity to show off some impressive soloing, as well, which should (if the world is just) increase his profile to at least that of the Amotts and Gus G's of the Euro-scene.

The tinkling piano throughout "Darkness Descending", while mixed perfectly (the production on this whole album is stellar, and the mix is really well-balanced), calls DIMMU BORGIR to mind, while the chorus of the title track had me thinking prime early-decade IN FLAMES. Mostly, though, no one piece sticks around long enough to be identified, and in its own speedy, frantic way, the whole caffeinated lot of it spells a loosely-formed mishmash of influences that SKYFIRE can begin to call their own sound. Only at the very end, on the bonus track "Within Reach", does the intensity flag, with some ill-advised clean vocals marring a song that lacks the luster and vibrancy of the rest of the album.

Call it prog-thrashin'-black metal, if you must tag it, but this is definitely a case where genre pigeonholes are becoming as quaint and outdated as shopping-mall record store chains. The most important question then becomes — for all their disparate elements, do SKYFIRE rock or not? And they do — their songs are well-crafted and very accessible, even for those not as into the more extreme elements. "Esoteric" could be a black metal purist's token prog CD, and a melodic prog/power fan's only "screaming vocal" dalliance, and both would be better for it — SKYFIRE are expanding minds even as they play to the best aspects of all the styles they mash together. An impressive amalgamation — the sound of worlds colliding is pretty damn awesome, apparently.


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