Album Review: Krossfire – ‘Shades of Darkness’

I doubt any long time reader needs me to discuss this, considering the site has covered bands from a lot of international countries, but I might as well briefly talk about this again for the benefit of those who are new to the site (or just don’t keep track of the genre as a whole): despite what a lot of people might expect, metal as a genre is one which has bands in many countries, some of which are ones which you might not think would have music from in general, let alone metal music! Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Botswana, Cuba, Gibralta, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, The Isle of Man, Israel, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Korea, Libya, Madagascar, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Trinidad (and Tobago), Tunisia, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia are all countries which can claim to have (or, at least, have had) metal bands from them, most of which are places that I’m pretty sure most people would not expect metal music to have come from. While none of these countries have really had a band who has really made a huge impact on the international scene (at least, not on the level of Helloween, Iron Maiden or Metallica), it’s really this fact that makes me question why so many people seem to think that metal as a genre is dead or not worthy of proper respect as a genre in and of itself. I will not be so rude as to imply ignorance on the part of those living under those beliefs, since I am well aware that music as a whole is a very subjective thing and a lot of stereotypes about the genre’s fans and the music itself do the genre a grave disservice, but it is certainly strange to me that people seem so willing to write off the genre without at least taking the time to see whether there is more to the genre than they think.

…Hey, it was either this introduction or a lame joke about how this band clearly played too many board games growing up, take your pick!

Anyway, Krossfire are a Bulgarian progressive/power metal band from the city of Plovdiv, which is the second largest city in the country after capital Sofia. The band formed in 2001 and have a very small overall discography of five releases: a single released in 2008 that contained the songs ‘Touch of Destiny’ (which later appeared on their 2011 record, Learning to Fly) and ‘Angels Cry’ (which have not appeared on any following release by the band), a DVD titled 7 Years on Stage that was released in November 2009, their debut full length album Learning to Fly (which was re-released by Pure Steel Records in 2012), a single released in 2015 that contained the song ‘Fall From Grace’ (which is present on this album) and this upcoming album, Shades of Darkness. Aside from this record (and the earlier mentioned re-release of the band’s debut), the band’s material has all been released independently, making this a band that most are unlikely to be all that familiar with. While the band’s lineup is not the same as it was when they formed, it has been consistent since the band started releasing material: bassist Georgi Driev, drummer Spas Markov, guitarist Georgi Kushev, vocalist Dimo Petkov and keyboardist Peter Boshnakov.

Since I’m approaching this band blind, it’s fair to say that I had no expectations going into Shades of Darkness. So, how does this record sound to me? Pretty good, actually! There are a few things which I think the band needs to improve upon, but, for the most part, this is a really solid record that I can see going down well with fans of this style of music!

Cover Krossfire_Shades Of Darkness

The band’s sound is one that is surprisingly difficult to pin down to a single band in terms of obvious influences. It’s indisputably progressive/power metal, but I can’t say that there’s any progressive or power metal bands that immediately spring to mind with regards to comparison points. Due to the band’s fondness for more symphonic elements (choirs make appearances across this record while the keyboard deliberately goes for instrument sounds that create a symphonic effect) and Kushev’s somewhat operatic vocals, Kamelot seems like a good comparison on paper, but, surprisingly, they don’t actually sound much like them. I’m honestly not sure whether this is a point in the band’s favour or not: on the one hand, I can’t pick an immediate point of reference for the band’s sound beyond giving it a genre and noting that they add more elements to their sound than might be expected on paper, which is a good thing because it shows that the band aren’t just trying to sound like everyone else, but, on the other hand, it doesn’t make them necessarily unique either, just that pinning down a band they sound like is difficult. I’ll be generous and call it a point in their favour, though!

The band’s songwriting is really the thing that keeps this album working. Now, I’ll admit that progressive-tinged power metal can be a bit hit-or-miss with me, as I tend to find that bands either lean too far towards the progressive side of things and end up becoming too dull to really work well or too far towards the power metal side of things and end up feeling like they’ve crammed too much into their songs, but Krossfire manage to avoid that, getting a good balance of both sides of the genre and making sure that they keep things varied as well. This is definitely the work of musicians who know what makes the genre work and how to do it well. I do think the band struggles a bit with their longer tracks (with the worst offender, ‘Annabelle’, simply failing to sustain itself over its ten minute run time well enough to keep me interested), but, for the vast majority of the album, the band manages to do an excellent job of making the songs work well.

The instrumental performances are actually not too shabby by the genre’s standards, with some genuine talent to be seen in the record. Kushev’s guitar playing and Boshnakov’s keyboard playing is pretty good overall, with ‘Rule the Dark’ showcasing some particularly good playing that is beyond what might be expected from a typical progressive power metal band. The drumming by Markov is a bit more conventional in terms of skill, but certainly not bad by the genre’s standards, as he does a fairly large amount across the record and does it well. Driev’s bass, unfortunately, seems like it has been neglected in the songwriting, as he doesn’t really get an opportunity to do anything of major interest to most people, which is a bit of a shame!

Petkov’s vocals…I’m not actually that impressed with him, if I’m honest. He has a decent range, certainly, but the tone of his voice’s typical range grates on me, for some reason. This doesn’t necessarily mean he is bad, I’ll admit, but his somewhat operatic vocal style makes this a very strange issue, as it’s rare that I have this particular reaction to this vocal style. I honestly find Petkov the weak link in the band, as, though he isn’t necessarily bad, he isn’t on the level that the band needs to reach the heights that I think they are capable of.

The production on this record…eh, I have no complaints about it. The mastering is fine, the overall mixing is fine (could have done with a bit more bass, but that’s just my personal preference), the instruments sound fine…no real complaints to note down, really. This is definitely a production job by people who knew what they were doing and wanting to get a production job that is professional without being too overly studio sounding, for lack of a better word. Credit to the production team for their good work!

Ultimately, I have to say that Shades of Darkness pleasantly surprised me. I do think the band are held back a bit by their vocalist (who isn’t bad, just not particularly noteworthy overall) and their longer songs (which feel like they had a great idea behind them and just went on too long for their execution to pay off properly), but the band’s songwriting is generally very strong and the instrumental performances on the record are actually stronger than I was expecting to hear. I’m honestly curious to see where these guys go in the future, because this is fairly solid stuff that I could see going over well among fans of power metal and the lighter styles of progressive metal and, with some refinement of their songwriting, I can see them going on to fairly good things!

Shades of Darkness will be released on the 3rd of June by Pure Steel Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.