I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Dragonrider, "Scepter of Domination"
Genre: Power/Traditional Metal
Label: Stormspell Records, 2020
It's been a while since I received a transmission from the true metal specialists at Stormspell Records, but thankfully it appears that not even the Coronavirus can stop their ongoing metal mission, as their latest release, Dragonrider's Scepter of Domination, just landed in my inbox.
Dragonrider was not a familiar name to me, but a quick bit of Google searching revealed a history that goes all the way back to 2001. Originally known as "Valderia," the band changed its name to "Dragonrider" in 2006, and they've released a demo, several singles, and an EP since then.
Dragonrider's lineup is truly an international affair, as the guitar team of Waleed Mughrabi and "Mad Rad" aka "Rad McDadi" (real name: Ra'ed Miqdadi) originally hail from far-flung Amman, Jordan, though they've apparently been based out of Germany and the U.K. in recent years. The album's recording lineup was filled out by Greek vocalist Michalis Rinakakis, who has previously fronted the cult Swedish power/speed metal act Air Raid.
...and now that everyone's score card is caught up, let's press "play" and see what Scepter of Domination is all about!
"Scepter of Domination"
The slow-burning intro "Melody of Light" sets the mood with a minute and thirty seconds of acoustic picking, horse sounds, and a grim voiced narration (shades of Manowar's "Defender!") before Dragonrider lights the fuse on the album's first track proper, the all-guns-blazing power metal stormer "Where Lightning Forever Strikes."
It's interesting to note that "Mad Rad" Miqadi wore numerous hats during the recording of Scepter - in addition to being one half of Dragonrider's guitar team, he also handled the bass tracks, the drums, and keyboards (!) on the album. As always, I'm impressed by guys who can play more than one instrument, and also play them well, since I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time...
I've only heard bits and pieces of Air Raid in the past, so I was not terribly familiar with the vocal work of Michalis Rinakakis -- but If I may drop a random, obscure metal-nerd comparison, he reminded me quite a bit of Jorge Cortes of the sadly defunct Spanish band Steel Horse, an old Stormspell back-catalog favorite of mine. In fact, when I first heard Michalis' voice on this album, I had to check the CD credits to make sure it wasn't Cortes! Immediately, his confident, commanding vocal style had me saying to myself, "So far, so good."
"The Berserker" and the title track continue in the classic swords-n-shields power metal style, heavily inspired by early Maiden and the NWOBHM, with a hint of classic speed metal practitioners like Helloween and Grave Digger. While many "modern" power metal bands tend to go for a highly polished, ultra-slick production that dilutes their heaviness, Dragonrider's melodic sound still keeps a healthy amount of old school grit and dirt that gives them a satisfyingly heavy crunch.
"Lone Rider" bounces along in fine Defenders of the Faith era Judas Priest style, with absolutely thunderous drumming and Rinakakis yowling for all he's worth. "Master of Thunder" is an effectively crunchy head banger anthem and "Call of the Crimson Moon" is an impressive instrumental piece that allows Miqdadi and Mughrabi to live out their Iron Maiden Powerslave-inspired fantasies for four minutes.
Rinakakis returns to the mic on "Below The Stars," and the aptly-titled "Grand Finale" ends the disc to a soaring, majestic, all-men-play-on-ten note. Don't press "stop" just yet, though, or you'll miss the "bonus track," an "Extended Version" of "The Berserker," which runs about a minute longer than the version heard earlier on the album.
Summing It Up
It's been a while since I've heard a good old-school leather-n-studs pure metal album, so Dragonrider's Scepter of Domination was a very welcome arrival. Mughrabi, Miqdadi and Rinakakis (say that five times fast!) have created a quality collection of songs with equal shares of melody and crunch that's bound to appeal to fans of classic Maiden/Priest and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, as well as revivalists like Primal Fear and HammerFall.
Scepter of Domination is an impressive debut from this rookie trio and I hope to hear more material from them in the near future. Horns up, fellas! Keep it true!
© 2020 Keith Abt