Fans of power metal desperate enough for a new fix to avoid being too picky will want to seek out this French band, originally formed in 1979 (!) and reactivated since '99. "The Dominion Gate", their American debut, is chock-full of choir-backed choruses, muscular power metal riffing, tough but melodic lead vocals, and epic tales.
It's also full of sub-par production, which is a real shame — the music deserves better than the somewhat flat, muffled mix we get here. Nothing is brought to the forefront, and it has a deadening effect on what should be some fairly exciting, if standard-issue, songs. A few poor choices, like a programmed drumbeat in the verse of "Secret Rules" and tinny, dated keyboards used throughout, prove more distracting than enhancing.
"The Dressmaker" is a song particularly ruined by bad production decisions (to say nothing of its lame title). Ostensibly a brooding midtempo epic, the type BLACK SABBATH did so well in the Tony Martin era, with snarling, Dio-esque vocals from singer Jo Amore, the whole thing is buried in bad keyboards. Worse still, the guitars have no bite, and the plodding, sinister rhythm is rendered impotent. Amore is rendered nearly inaudible in the bridge, and the whole thing just sounds like a mess.
Even with better sound, "The Dominion Gate" would be, at best, a fairly rote power metal album with occasional hard rock/AOR tendencies (see the kickass opening riff of "Messenger of Faith"). A song like "Endless Agony" employs devices we've all heard before, borrowing a bit of epic power metal, adding a pinch of hard rock, and adding little in the way of a unique personality to the mix. And the overcooked eight-minute title track, featuring female vocals in a fairly monotonous duet with an overemoting Amore chewing the scenery, is just fatiguing.
That's not to say NIGHTMARE are utterly without merit. This is one of those bands that are fairly satisfying when you're searching for a fix of the genre, you want something new, and you've bought everything at the record store already. It'll do for a while, because it scratches that basic itch — I mean, check out "Circle of the Dark" or "The Watchtower". Perfectly serviceable chorus, nice solo, upbeat rhythm, and while not essential, it's a pretty good listen.
That kinda sums up "The Dominion Gate" as a whole. They're a decent band, but unfortunately, the rest of the metal world has passed these guys up, and nothing here will blow away modern fans. But it's an okay second-tier melodic metal album from a band that deserves more recognition. Hopefully next time around, they can bring the songwriting up just a notch, and get a production that flatters, not one that flattens (the rating would arguably go up two points with a Roy Z or Sascha Paeth/Miro behind the boards).