Magna Carta Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/24/1998
So who says progressive metal is dead?
Rush might be at a temporary standstill due to events out of the band's hands. Queensryche is in a period of regrouping after the departure of Chris DeGarmo. The door is pretty wide open for someone else to step forward and move the genre ahead - and that band is Royal Hunt. Their latest effort Paradox is an album that is sure to challenge your ear, as well as your views on religion, and is an album that, for the most part, is a success.
Led by American vocalist D.C. Cooper (who was once considered as a finalist to be Judas Priest's next singer), this Danish four-piece knows how to work harmony and hook together to create well-done songs that seem to fly by. However, I often wished I would have heard Jacob Kjaer's guitar work take the forefront, not just Andre Andersen's keyboard work (good as it is, though).
The bulk of Paradox is a set of interconnected songs which challenges the world of religion and beliefs in God - often in stronger terms than I've heard in a long time. The strongest condemnation comes on "Message To God," where Andersen's song dares to reject the notion of a "supreme Being". Using Andersen's words, Cooper wonders in song how an all-caring God could allow us to kill each other in His name: "We're busy burning witches the way we've learned from you / We're good at killing creatures, so teach us something new." Even stronger: "Forget me, you've left me." Whether you agree with the opinions expressed, you can't help be affected by the emotion in the words.
But the pain in feeling deserted by God is nothing compared to the feeling that the protagonist is being tortured by God, as heard in "Silent Scream" - no, not a song about abortion: "Dear God gave me such a life full of pain, / It's sharp just like a knife / I can think, but I can not tell, / What's life to you to me is hell." Likewise, our tragic hero awaits his judgment on "It's Over," comparing himself to Jesus: "I'm on the same path to the cross as last time / They'll crucify me once again - you've broken my heart / As you did it before / Judas I'll wait, come and knock on my door."
The disturbing thing about Paradox is not the rejection of God - or, perhaps more correctly, the image we have built of God, it is the fact that someone who turns away from the album due to its lyrical content will miss out on some solid musical performances. Often the songs remind me of artists like Yngwie Malmsteen without the shredding guitar riffs. Allan Sørensen's drum work is exceptional, while bassist Steen Mogensen doesn't express himself as much as he probably should have. Andersen wanted to create his masterpiece with Paradox, from the songwriting (only one cut, "The Final Lullaby," wasn't written by Andersen) to the keyboard work to the production - and he succeeds... almost.
The only real down side to this album is that most of the songs are interwoven, provising little if any break from such a deep message. And while the music and songwriting is strong enough to partially overcome this, it would have been nice to get even a few seconds in between tracks to let up from such thought-provoking and thought-challenging words. Still, this is a minor complaint.
Will Paradox be the breakthrough for Royal Hunt in America? Probably not - but that's due to the strong opinions on religion expressed in 55 minutes. Others who might show some interest in the band may be turned off by the idea that Royal Hunt has written theme music for wrestlers in Japan. (My thoughts - keep an open mind - it's not that bad.) Fact is, Royal Hunt has everything going for them at this point - strong songs and performances. All they need now is a break. Here's hoping that enough people give Paradox that opportunity - it's not puzzling to understand why this band is as good as it is.