Hey Hibria: you have a lot to answer for. You basically ruined power metal for me, did you know that? It used to be a genre I’d dip in and out of occasionally when I heard something that took my fancy, but that was before the day I came across your first two records, 2005’s “Defying the Rules” and 2009’s “The Skull Collectors.” I emerged from my reverie six months later to realise that I’d listened to “Tiger Punch” and “Millennium Quest” roughly one-and-a-half thousand times apiece and that my family and friends were giving each other meaningful looks when I walked into rooms. I needed either to find a way to distill those two records into a form that could be administered intravenously, or break the habit by finding something, anything else in the same genre that approached their blinding, intoxicating magnificence. Thus, I can be found gaunt and pale at my PC at 3 in the morning, night after night, poring through Bandcamp, Reverbnation and Myspace (fucking Myspace! In 2013!), digging through the bio of some three-piece garage band from Indonesia in the hope that somewhere, under some unturned stone, there is some font of talent that can equal or best the near-perfection of Hibria’s first two records. That IV idea is looking better every day. Your average gold prospector in the Old West laboured more fruitfully than me.
To top it all off, the Brazilians’ 2011 effort “Blind Ride” did little to quell the insatiable thirst for more of the same. It was made following the departure of the band’s original bassist Marco Panichi, and the difference in their style was immediately evident. Where the first two albums were characterised by dramatic, dynamic key changes, complex but catchy interplay between the two guitars and the bass and long solo sections that escalated to impossible pitches of intensity as a matter of course, “Blind Ride” reigned things in. The tempos were slower, the guitars tuned lower,the solos were shorter and Iuri Sanson’s ultra-charismatic wails were less histrionic. It bulldozed rather than soared. It was still an excellent album in its own right, and intermittently (“Shoot Me Down,” “Sight of Blindness,” “Rotten Souls”) it kicked more ass than most power metal acts would know what to do with if they found it, but it felt like ersatz Hibria.
The band’s new outing, “Silent Revenge,” comes after the departure of another original member, guitarist Diego Kasper, leaving only two of the lineup of five present during the recording of “Defying the Rules,” those being Sanson and guitarist Abel Camargo. The position originally occupied by Kasper is now filled by Renato Osorio, a veteran of a handful of obscure Brazilian metal acts. The early promotional material for the record had me anxious that the Ship of Theseus had claimed another victim, but hearing the final product largely alleviated those fears. “Silent Revenge” is pretty good. If I try to be objective and retain a measure of perspective, I might even be tempted to call it excellent, although the shadow cast by the first two albums looms long indeed. It is, however, on about the same level as “Blind Ride;” which one of the two I prefer varies depending on the day and on my mood.
It very much carries on in the vein established by that record, the classic power metal gallop calcified by influence from thrash and the modern metal of the Century Media/Roadrunner roster. The songs have a violent, hungry tone that might flirt with the label of metalcore if not for being elevated to a more exalted register by Sanson’s distinctive voice. The singer is on top form here; however much he mangles his English pronunciations, his characteristic blend of childish over-enthusiasm and hyper-masculine bravado expressed in bellowed high notes enlivens the songs to no end and provides them with a charismatic front. It’s due in no small part to his efforts that the onslaught of downtuned riffs and double-kick drumming plays as invigoratingly badass rather than thuggish.
Well, actually that’s not fair. Despite the post-Pantera / Lamb of God nightmare that seems to be implied by its guitar sound, Hibria are still a great deal more melodically erudite than most of their American contemporaries. They pepper their songs with a variety of instrumental flourishes and harmonic details that make “Silent Revenge” an altogether involving and rounded experience. For one thing, they continue to cement their reputation as a bassist’s band, Benhur Lima frequently spicing up the chug of the riffs with licks and arpeggios of his own rather than contenting himself to plug away at root notes.
Other variations include the piano interlude in the middle of “Deadly Vengeance” and Hibria’s first attempt at an honest-to-goodness power ballad in “Shall I Keep on Burning?” These details do help to render each song distinct, but as often as not they occur as a compromise of the band’s traditional balls-to-the-wall approach without a suitable payoff. While I appreciate an earnest attempt to change things up, the most enjoyable moments on “Silent Revenge” are those that most recall the joys of the group’s earlier works – the absolutely astonishing leads in “The Scream of an Angel” are the best example, the closest the album comes to replicating the slack-jawed reaction of the first time I heard “Steel Lord on Wheels.”
One thing is consistently true though – the guitar solos are superb. In this respect at the very least, Osorio proves himself the equal of the departed Kasper, and his chemistry with Camargo during the sections of dueling leads is palpable. That the guitar work is technically challenging goes without saying, but they also incorporate genuinely creative and interesting melodic phrasing that regularly strays a long way from the generic territory of European-style power metal. Most memorably bizarre is the section mid-way through the eight-minute closer “The Way It Is” based on a rowdy swing/ragtime rhythm. It’s gimmicky but kind of inspired, grabbing the listener’s attention without disrupting the song’s energetic groove.
It would be petty of me to denigrate a good album because It’s Just Not The Same Anymore, and “Silent Revenge” is a good album by any realistic yardstick. The fact is, with only two of the original five members left, the Hibria I fell in love with simply don’t exist anymore; the band using their moniker now are fine in their own right and have created a record that bears up under the scrutiny of multiple listens. I will cheerfully continue to listen to them in the months and years to come. The sad fact is though that in my quest for new power metal that affords me the same rush that “Defying the Rules” did, “Silent Revenge” registers as barely a blip on the radar. I was hoping for something just a little bit more than very good, which is why this may be the most rueful four-out-of-five review I’ve yet written.
Track List *:
01) Silent Revenge
02) Lonely Fight
03) Deadly Vengeance
04) Walking to Death
05) Silence Will Make You Suffer
06) Shall I Keep on Burning?
07) The Place That You Belong
08) The Scream of an Angel
09) The Way It Is
*Note – there is a tenth track entitled “Bleeding on My Regrets” exclusive to the Japanese edition of the album. Though it’s not present on the European AFM release, I have heard it. It’s good, though not so good as to significantly sway my opinion of the record as a whole.