Oh, how the mighty have fallen. "The Spider Queen" from Austin's IGNITOR is to my ears the most disappointing release of 2009. I was one of many that heaped massive amounts of praise on 2007's "Road of Bones", a very well-written, catchy, and rip-roaring heavy metal album that ended up as one of my favorites for that year. But then vocalist Erika Swinnich and guitarist Arnah Moore left the band for "personal reasons" and thing went south quickly, although I can't say that it was a direct result of the departures, only that "The Spider Queen" is an unmemorable near-disaster of a concept album.I do know that I miss Swinnich's gritty/ballsy vocals and that as newsworthy as it may be that Jason McMaster (WATCHTOWER, DANGEROUS TOYS) has replaced her (guitarist Beverly Barrington rejoined the band as well), he does nothing to save this lackluster batch of songs. As for McMaster's contributions, his high-range voice has weathered and is now little more than tolerable, while his mid-range character vocals are seemingly well thought out, but hardly engrossing. As for the concept, the tale is told of the hero "Helmut" who seeks to avenge the death of his parents, the suspected murderer that of Queen Illia, the ruler of the kingdom and whose ass graces the bargain basement cover art. Some effort clearly has gone into the writing of a story, although it is difficult to care much about it, especially when the music is this ill conceived. The biggest issue with "The Spider Queen" is that the songs never really go anywhere and much of the largely mid-tempo material neither ebbs nor flows, while the lack of coloration to go with the middling crunch riffing (i.e. guitar solos) only makes things worse. There are moments, such as the rather gripping "Magnum Opus" with its chants of "Sanctum Moleculae / Sacrum Particulae / Diligo Vindico / Universa Tutelae," the catchy chorus pattern of "Let the Games Begin", and the halfway decent melody of "Angels Descend". But that's about it. Sadly, "The Spider Queen" is a difficult album to get through because of the sheer redundancy, lack of musical imagination, and dearth of standout moments. Trust me; I've forced myself to sit through it several times just to make sure I wasn't missing something. It is hard enough to make a heavy metal concept album work, but bands like ICED EARTH at least prove that it can be done with style and verve. Not so with "The Spider Queen" and that is a damn shame.
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