Finnish power metal band Excalion is all about “making the wheel spin wonderfully” instead of reinventing it. Originating in the early 2000s, they’ve mostly been a studio band, with five complete albums and a handful of local tours. Earlier this year, they released a single called “Soulbound,” along with the announcement of their sixth album, “Once Upon A Time,” which features a new frontman and will be released on March 24th.
My overall impression of the album is that Excalion speaks the absolute truth when they claim they don’t aim to reinvent the wheel – for better or for worse, there isn’t much novelty to their sound. That said, it’s really not a bad one, giving me Sabaton-meets-Battle Beast-meets-Theocracy vibes (for those unaware of Theocracy, they’re the only Christian prog metal band that actually has some good music). Specifically Sabaton’s “Christmas Truce” was actually the first thing I thought of: With the opening track, “Keitele,” featuring a melody suspiciously close to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” along with some sparkly, almost jingle-bell-like aesthetics in tracks 2 and 4 (“Resolution” and “Soulbound,” respectively), the album does have a distinctly Christmassy feel, and makes me wonder whether Excalion had originally planned to release this album several months earlier.
One of my main complaints is that this music is at times very repetitive; often the riffs are not complicated enough to warrant so many replays, especially in the intros of tracks 3, 4, and 9: “Soulbound,” “Words Cannot Heal,” and “Radiant Halo,” respectively. The fifth track, “Amuse me” was the exception ad my personal favourite, the chromaticism here pulled me through the repetitions – and the song really does rock some serious groove, including a creepy carnival-esque nod that reminded me of Battle Beast’s latest album, “Circus of Doom.” And aside from the intro, “Radiant Halo” was pretty epic as well, with some soaring melodies that complemented the march-like instrumentals. I also have to give a shoutout to their killer album art which, with its fantasy-blue swirl featuring a surrealist clock, also reminds me of the album art from “Circus of Doom” (which featured a grim reaper magician in the same sort of fantasy blue swirl aesthetic).
However, I do wish the lyrics were more interesting. While they aren’t bad, per se, they’re just kind of forgettable, and sound like something one might find in an Imagine Dragons song. And they’re the same across all of the tracks, really – I’d have preferred some more diversity in that regard.
The album seems to get more electronic and synth-heavy as it goes on: Especially in track 7, “I am I,” which also starts out with a falsetto high note almost exactly like in the opening of “Blind and Frozen” by Battle Beast’s identical twin, Beast in Black. I don’t mind the synth, but it’s used better in the quicker moving tracks than in the slower ones (like track 10, “Eternals”), where you can hear the clearly artificial vibrato in the acoustic instrumentals.
Overall it’s not a bad album, and definitely outshines any classic Christmas music, so it’s more than likely going on my holiday playlist. “Once Upon A Time” is fantastic if you’re looking for vanilla melodic prog power, but doesn’t add too much else to the holiday metal scene, except perhaps a unique rehash of sounds from a handful of popular ensembles. Based on “Once Upon A Time,” I’d definitely go see Excalion if they ever toured internationally, even if I wasn’t particularly emotionally moved by their music.
Release Date: 24th March 2023
Label: Scarlet Records
- Words Cannot Heal
- Amuse Me
- Once Upon a Time
- I am I
- When a Moment Turns Into a Lifetime
- Radiant Halo
- Band of Brothers