It’s never good to start off a piece of writing with a cliché, but this one is too apt to not use: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Despite being a through-and-through metal fan, it can become very difficult to apply that adage given the tendency of record labels and magazines to make metal look as utterly badass as possible. I recall Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth describing how for one photoshoot he had to wield a sword; having seen Opeth live, I knew that wasn’t exactly befitting of his personality. Despite how mild-mannered a metal artist might be, for some reason it must be the case that a band’s visual aesthetic must be as imposing as their riffs and blastbeats. Though I was initially put off by the overused band-standing-in-an-imposing-formation cover used on Hammers of Misfortune’s 17th Street, upon pushing past the cover I discovered one of 2011’s best metal releases.
All of this is a brief introduction to the scene that was set when I first laid my eyes upon the album artwork for Lost Horizon’s only two releases, 2001’s Awakening the World and 2003’s Flame to the Ground Beneath. Several thoughts ran through my mind immediately: A really bad sci-fi B-movie. Straight-to-DVD movie starring Dolph Lundgren. 5 dollar gas station CD. Or, perhaps most fittingly, Utter cheese. Then, upon pressing play and hearing the power metal riffs and wails, all of those previous thoughts began to make sense.
First, a qualification: power metal doesn’t have to be bad. Sure, its bombast can be overbearing, but there is a general degree of musicianship that can be quite impressive. Epica’s Requiem for the Indifferent, released this year, is an impressive work of power metal that is able to display its theatricality without seeming completely ridiculous. In fact, that level of theatricality quite benefits the music, especially considering its role as a concept album, a format that tends to lend itself to grandstanding. I’m not outright opposed to power metal any more than other sub-genre of metal. It’s all about the execution.
Unfortunately, it’s not long into Awakening the World that all of my initial expectations were confirmed. Whenever someone mentions power metal in a vague, stereotypical fashion, Lost Horizon is the band that fit the bill: oodles of shredding guitar lines, imposing riffs, and a lead singer who sounds as if he hasn’t left the 1980s. If the album’s cheesy sonics or artwork aren’t bad enough to convince a first-time listener, a lazy glance at the band’s website will drill the final nail into the gaudy coffin. The band members are referred to as “The Warriors”, fans are called “Believers”, and the site’s banner is emblazoned with the trite existentialist motto, “No Fate. Only the Power of Will.” If you aren’t at least chuckling at this point, then you are either a devout “believer” or you just lack a funny bone.
As much as I’d like to break down both of these albums, this is truly a case where what you see is what you get. The requisite traits of power metal are in full form on both albums, without much variation or embellishment. Part of me wants to believe the band is actually a long-standing satirical experiment of power metal, but given the re-release of these albums has come with little press material identifying the band’s purpose, sadly I’m left only with my initial conclusions, which does not bode well for the band. This is especially problematic in the case of the records’ production quality, which from what I have gathered has not changed from their original releases. Not only are the albums atrocious; their re-releases are entirely unnecessary.
For a laugh, give these records a spin. If you’re a fan of good music or metal… avoid at all costs.