Activator - Defender Of Life (2013)
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
Metal operas are quite popular in times like these. While this concept might have been original one or two decades ago, it has become rather worn-out over the years. If you are looking for a contemporary, high-quality power metal opera, you won’t find it by following the most popular representatives of that genre anymore [Editor's note: Really? No love for Avantasia?], but will have to look elsewhere. That’s what I did, and I’ve found the Russian band Activator, with their brand new first full length release Defender Of Life.
Nine musicians (including six different vocalists) participate on this strong, epic release, which comes across as sounding very balanced – no one steals the spotlight for too long. From high clean vocals (reminding me of Russian heavy metal legends Aria), powerful vocals like those of Jorn Lande, darker and slightly harsh vocals that wouldn’t be out of place on a Turisas release, and finally, grounded female vocals that call Edenbridge to mind, the project offers a lot of diversity and truly gifted performers. The way some songs shift from thrash or speed metal sections to gracious power metal moments with crystal clear vocals, heavenly guitar melodies, and cinematic keyboard is truly impressive. Despite this high degree of diversity, everything sounds fluid and logical. I still haven’t found any odd transitions or dragging and boring moments in here.
Musically, this record could be described as European power metal with its speedy passages, symphonic keyboard samples, and tons of beautiful guitar harmony. In comparison to many other genre bands, the final result is still grounded and heavy enough to convince. There is none of the stand-up comedy of Edguy, no cheesy and sugary musicianship similar to Freedom Call, and none of the overloaded and overlong bombast of Rhapsody Of Fire in here. I would go as far as to call this release the best power metal record of the year (in my mind), along with Stratovarius’ incredibly strong Nemesis. That’s how a good dose of diversity sounds without being too challenging and sophisticated.
This high quality is not only due to a surprisingly great production effort, but also to the convincing metal musicianship of the involved artists. Many of the band members have been playing together (in rather unknown bands) for some time, and this established chemistry is omnipresent on Defender Of Life. In addition to this, the project has invited guest singers from different underground metal bands, such as the male singers of heavy metal act Druknroll and melodic death metal band Svartstorm, and the female singer of the power metal band Скипетр.
Of course, a lot of traditional, high quality European power metal songs like “Только вперёд” (“Only Forward”), that I would have heavily worshiped one decade ago, can be found on this release. Today, I especially appreciate the diversity on this album in form of the slow symphonic half-ballad and beautiful tearjerker “Сердце ангела” (“Angel Heart”), as well as the darker and meaner mid-tempo killer “Мрачный заговор” (“Grim Conspiracy”), with its grounded riffs, tight and outstanding bass guitar work, dark symphonic elements, and brilliant vocals. “Маска страха” (“Mask Of Fear”) is quite an interesting song as well. Musically, it’s a traditional heavy metal track with some symphonic bits and pieces. Vocally, powerful clean male vocals meet a few well-performed, and not too guttural, death metal growls. In general, the diversified vocals on this record work outstandingly well together. Another perfect example is the use of female vocals that meet clean male vocals in “Слеза разлуки” (“Tear Separation”). This kind of song is a true feast for neoclassical and symphonic metal fans.
The more I listen to this record, the more I discover creative musicianship, outstanding melodies, and catchy hooks. If you’re a fan of collaborative projects, European power metal, or rock/metal operas in general, you need to check this album out.
4.5 // 5