First impressions aren’t always the best, but it sure does mean something with the first thirty seconds of an album – especially with a new album or band. Dexter Ward isn’t a new band, but for this listener it’s the first time he’s sat down to check them out. Lately, a lot of epic metal is being exported from Greece. Much like Sweden has their death metal, Norway their black metal, thrash metal from California, and so on, Greece has their epic metal. I find that this style finds a home with so many metalheads, maybe not all, but a wide majority who give it a shot. It digs deep in the soul for the days of past glories and triumphs, stories of wonder, and an escape from grimness for a while. Dexter Ward’s third release aptly titled III does just that.
Dexter Ward comes in steam rolling with “Return of the Blades.” The riffing is pretty straight forward and melds well with the vocal lines that Marco provides, adding a nice texture to the sound. He reminds me a bit of early Kai Hansen with smoky rasps which juxtapose with the slick guitar tones. Marco definitely has more of a finesse with his vocals than just high rasps though and really pulls the stops when he needs to. On a scale his range is pretty up there, but how he shapes his voice is pretty wide too. He can bellow, scream, and croon. Marco’s vocals are accentuated by the slick and yet punchy production. It is not the muddled and slightly static lo-fi that is floating around most metal albums now – to me no instrument feels overpowering, and this is true on both cheap speakers and decent ones.
The overall sound of III is a blend of traditional heavy metal edging into the territory of power metal, most specifically the USPM lineage of hard riffing and intensity. “Return of the Blades” emphasizes that along with “Conan the Barbarian” and “Reign of the White Knight” with lots of galloping riffs and big ol’ power chords. Judging from the lyrical matter of the past records, Dexter Ward have definitely doubled down on the fantastical element and it has really worked out in their favor for this release. The writing harkens back to the older records of BattleroaR, which makes sense considering it has two former members: Marco and Manolis.
Dexter Ward definitely pulls from the same pool of fantasy lyrics that others do, it is almost expected from an epic metal band, but we just expect that the quality and execution create differences. With the musicianship of Dexter Ward, it is easily done. The guitarwork is tight and thoughtfully put together; you can tell that the guitarists and Marco made sure the music and vocals worked smoothly as one machine. Some of the highlights include “Return of the Blades,” “The Eyes of Merlin,” and “Reign of the White Knight.” I think they are really stellar tracks with excellent vocal melodies and lines, well constructed riffs, and paced out to keep you in the song. “The Eyes of Merlin” has the soft/hard dynamics and magical atmosphere that grounds itself as the archetype of an epic metal song. I think it has some of the best vocal melodies of the album as well and the clean guitar lines and interludes that pull you into a different listening mood. The song “In the Days of Epic Metal” is one of the tracks that lyrically hearkens to the meta-community within the subgenre. There’s lots of metal brotherhood vibes but I also can feel the triumphant emotion it has in addition to the nostalgia for the past and the people lost over the years. It’s that song to raise a glass and toast to all who have inspired you.
For those looking to sate their epic metal thirst in the veins of Manilla Road, Omen, and old Battleroar this release is a must listen for the first quarter of the year. If you are looking for that release to put in you into the realms of fantasy I would highly suggest adding this release to your epic metal playlist.
Album rating: 87/100
Favorite track: Reign of the White Knight