Dire Peril was a side project of Helion Prime guitarist Jason Ashcraft, releasing a couple of so-so EP:s starting in 2012. In 2015 Judicator and Disforia vocalist John Yelland joined up, and the team is just now releasing the band’s first full length, The Extraterrestrial Compendium. It comes just months after both members released full lengths with their main bands too, so both of them are obviously keeping busy. You take some Helion Prime and some Judicator, twirl them around and hurl them into space, sprinkle a touch of Arjen Lucassen on top, and voila, Dire Peril lurches forward like a melodic piece de resistance of Blind Guardian worship not taken to the sometimes too high levels of Judicator and old school guitar driven power metal. In a way it can probably be compared to Demons & Wizards, which blends the rifflicious American style of Iced Earth with Blind Guardian’s European approach of deep, melodic vocals.
To get it said immediately, The Extraterrestrial Compendium is a damn good album, packed to the brim with cool moments, inspired lyrics and musical prowess. While there’s plenty of goodness and ample sweet spots to be found in the extensive lyrical themes and Yelland’s always impressive vocals, the true gem in the treasury is Ashcraft’s guitars, which ooze of fun and enjoyment; be it the thrifty intro riffing to most every song on here, the flashy solos or the leads invoking days of old, Ashcraft turns every moment into something fun, interesting and genuine. While Helion Prime’s recent outing was certainly not a bad affair by any means, the songwriting on here from Ashcraft feels heaps more inspired and filled with love for the tunes, the music and the influences, whereas Helion Prime focused on an underlying theme they failed to fully deliver and capitalize on. It helps that Yelland has written the lyrics here, all inspired by various science fiction flicks, both old and new.
Yelland adds his Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) inspired vocals, but holds it at a more laid back level than in his main band. There’s still plenty of layered vocals and exploration of his diverse range, but he comes to his own better here. Sometimes the choruses could to well to stand out a bit more, some more bombast to lift them, and the closing track, featuring a guest appearance by Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon, Star One) seems like a kind of missed oportunity to go full on epic and instead opting for a more somber approach. Those however are minor complaints on an album so fun and packed with great moments such as the duet between Yelland and Brittney Hayes (Unleash The Archers) in Queen of the Galaxy, or the straight up fun riff fest that is Total Recall, or how about the fleshy opener Yautja (Hunter Culture) that features some of the best riffing Ashcraft ever got from a guitar. In closing, The Extraterrestrial Compendium is a fine debut album, an even finer salute to melodic power metal, arguably stronger than Judicator's recent, universally praised, output.
Standout tracks: Yautja (Hunter Culture), Total Recall, Heart of the Furyan, Altair IV: The Forbidden Planet