With TESTAMENT plagued by periods of frustrating dormancy, founding guitarist Eric Peterson resurrects his DRAGONLORD black metal side project, last seen on record racks with a respectable debut ("Rapture") in 2001. It's surprising that "Black Wings of Destiny" has been such a relatively low-profile release so far, given the band's supergroup status — Peterson is joined by bandmates Steve Smyth (also of NEVERMORE/ex-TESTAMENT) and Jon Allen (also drummer for the mighty SADUS), Derrick Ramirez, and PSYPHERIA keyboardist Lyle Livingston. A lineup this solid leaves no room for worry about the performance side of things, but what about the songs?
It can't be denied that DRAGONLORD is a bit derivative, particularly of DIMMU BORGIR and EMPEROR ("Curse of Woe" = "Loss and Curse of Reverence"?). Peterson's vocals in particular are similar, if a bit inferior, to Ihsahn, and in riffing style, arrangements, and even the band's symphonic sounds and keyboard/guitar interplay, there's a large debt to the mid-to-late 1990s Norwegian black metal scene. But what made Peterson so effective in TESTAMENT from day one was not his innovation, but his ear for quality. The guy knows a great riff when he cranks it out, and he's never been a slouch at putting a good song together.
"Sins of Allegiance" is everything good about DRAGONLORD encapsulated in one song — some awesome, stirring guitar runs, impressive churning bass lines, plenty of frenzied blasting, tasteful and integral keyboard parts, and lots of melody that hearkens back to classic metal. Peterson even throws in a few lines of clean vocals, perhaps preparing the listener for his singing on the album-closing cover of THIN LIZZY classic "Emerald". He gets even more adventurous on "Until the End", taking a cue from his main-band partner in crime Chuck Billy on some of the phrasing and the deathly bellows (unless that's a guest vocal and you're just not telling us, Eric!).
The album's brevity may be a sore point with those paying full retail for it (seven originals, an intro, and two covers, topping out at 44 minutes), but "Black Wings of Destiny" is jam-packed with well-executed, ornate, symphonic black metal, tastefully put together and performed with intensity. Purists will applaud the ripping cover of MERCYFUL FATE's "Black Funeral" but may be put off by "Emerald" — don't skip it, though, the guitarwork is awesome.
"Black Wings of Destiny" is another solid, impressive release from the DRAGONLORD camp — perhaps not stellar enough to silence the worldwide pleas from legions of fans (this writer included) for a new TESTAMENT album, but definitely something substantial to chew on while we're waiting.