BENEDICTUM
"Seasons of Tragedy"

(Locomotive)

01. Dawn of Seasons
02. Shell Shock
03. Burn it Out
04. Bare Bones
05. Within the Solace
06. Beast in the Field
07. Legacy
08. Nobodies Victim
09. Balls to the Wall
10. Steel Rain
11. Seasons of Tragedy

RATING: 7.5/10

San Diego's BENEDICTUM is one of several quality U.S. bands waving the flag of heavy metal with pride. They've wowed European audiences, including teaming up with DORO on the road, a handful of appearances have left audiences thoroughly impressed with the likes of lordly front woman Veronica Freeman and ace six-stringer Pete Wells, but it's high time that more stateside metal fans found out about this band. "Seasons of Tragedy", the follow-up to 2006's exceptional debut "Uncreation", should help the unit break through to the fickle-to-a-fault fans on this side of the pond. Perhaps not hitting the highs of its predecessor, "Seasons of Tragedy" is a strong concoction of fire breathing riffs, soaring melodies, and balls-out heavy metal heroics.

Stylistically, the act mixes straight-on heavy metal with hard rock and hooks, though the core element is unequivocally metal. Along with Wells' tough, groovy riffs and incendiary solos, it is vocalist Veronica Freeman who not only stands tall as the voice of BENEDICTUM, but also is easily one of the best singers in heavy metal today. The highs, the lows, the grit, the attitude, and the sultriness, she's got it all and it shows on these hot rockers. After intro "Dawn of Seasons", the album kicks into high gear with "Shell Shock", an out and out metal ripper, followed by the equally blazing "Burn it Out", while "Bare Bones" is a slower burner featuring the band's oft-used call-and-response backing vocal-shouts. The up-tempo and smartly arranged "Beast in the Field" is one example of the tasteful use of keyboards, mostly used for accent when the part calls for it, yet also playing an integral role on certain tracks, such as the arrestingly melodic "Legacy" (with Veronica exclaiming "the witch is part of me!"). It is on songs such as the catchy "Nobodies Victim" (tell me that's a label misprint and not just atrocious grammar) that Freeman's larger-than-life presence is felt as she defiantly sings "I refuse to be a victim!" The ballad "Steel Rain" is not the best I've heard and slows momentum, yet is not a poor track either.

In keeping with group's penchant for covering classic heavy metal songs, the rendition of ACCEPT's "Balls to the Wall" stays true to the original, yet is still injected with that uniquely BENEDICTUM vibe. I don't think the unit will ever top its covers of BLACK SABBATH's "The Mob Rules" and especially "Heaven and Hell", both of which they've truly made their own. The European version includes a cover of RAINBOW's "Catch the Rainbow" (featuring DIO's Craig Goldy, who discovered the band), which I've yet to hear. The album closes with the 11-minute epic title track, one that in many ways brings together the best that BENEDICTUM has to offer, the melodies and metal bravado continue to be important, but a significant progressive metal quality makes its way into this one.

At this point I still prefer "Uncreation", which has a certain magic to it that went beyond the actual songwriting. However, "Season of Tragedy" is a very good effort and continues to grow on me with each listen. Make damn sure to check out BENEDICTUM live if you get the chance.

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