Once Upon A Time
Review by Lynxie on July 6, 2023.
I've been a long-time fan of Excalion. I definitely hold them in higher esteem than either of the Finnish legends. Their sixth studio release Once Upon A Time just strengthens that belief more. All the more so because of the darker, more intense elements I seem to sense every now and then throughout my listening experience. Yet they are consistent, so to speak from the bigger picture. Probably that's why I love them.
I think this is the first time the Finns have opted for an atmospheric opener, and the folkish 'Keitele' starts to pull me towards the land of ice and snow with its tide-like cadence (and Lång's accent, of course) almost immediately. But the seas are tough, and even as we slide smoothly into the proggy 'Resolution', shits are about to go darker as Aleksi's chugging riffs and Onni's meaty bass hooks start banging you on the head. There's an almost Primal Exhale-esque energy around the opening and verses of the first three tracks, especially 'Words Cannot Heal', though of course, the choruses remained as brainwashing and Trusty as ever.
Then we would come to the more modern, somewhat Arion-like 'Amuse Me' with thrashy riffs and heady basslines. I really like the whole vibe to this one; I'd never thought Excalion could pull off this maniacal zeal around both the solo and the bridge leading up to it. It's not just about Lång's laughter either. The tune just radiates off wackiness and a slightly twisted feeling. And we also have slower numbers like the title track and 'When A Moment Turns Into A Lifetime'. I can see these are probably a callback to the epic 'Callsign', but the general dark aura around this album lingers, and the proggy rhythm, flowing orchestras, and dynamic keywords seem to give Excalion the haunting beauty of early Kamelot.
Now, towards the latter half of the album we would have more typical Excalion tracks, 'I Am I' and 'Radiant Halo', to satisfy the old fans with proper 'Man Alive'-burst of speed, massive ultra catchy choruses and 'Sunshine Path'-reminiscent uptempo synthworks, though the vigor of those two were slightly dragged down by the slower tracks that sandwiched them. But then again, it might be the logical step. At least for me my irritation would've grown stronger if the power ballad 'Eternals' followed 'When A Moment Turns Into A Lifetime' directly, even with Lång's powerful lines and Aleksi's slick guitar leads thrown into the bargain; now I could at least call it an intriguing ride. While there is no 'Portrait On The Wall' grandeur about the closing speedster, 'Band Of Brothers', the banging, chugging riffs are compensations enough.
Also, shout out to Mularoni, I've seldom heard the bass mixed this forward on melodic power metal, and I'll always enjoy myself some heady bass hooks. I finally seem to understand what my friends meant about wintry keys too, certainly I could not fault Jarmo Myllyvirta for his commanding presence. They are Finnish after all, and the whole moody, tense atmosphere sort of calls for some grand key works.
Well, dark Excalion may seem to be a strange one at first, but after a few spins I'm sure you'll find them as fun as ever, and the old Excalion is never far away.
Highlights: 'Keitele', 'Soulbound', 'Words Cannot Heal', 'Amuse Me', 'Once Upon A Time', 'I Am I', 'Radiant Halo'
Rating: 9.8 out of 10688