For when Zelda metal isn’t enough, nerd culture pulls another on us with Magic: The Gathering metal, coming in the shape of Planeswalker. Rising where the second Helion Prime album lineup didn’t stick, Planeswalker is the result of American and European power metal clashing to make an intriguing affair with all things melodic and nerdy. The first half is Helion Prime and Dire Peril songwriter, guitarist and allround guy who just can’t not release a bunch of music at any given time, Jason Aschcraft. Sozos Michael, who sang on Helion Prime’s second album Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster (2018) and who recently picked up the goblin slaying hammer for Gloryhammer, makes the second half. Obviously there are the similarities to Ashcraft’s other entities, most notably (of course) Helion Prime, but it also brings in heaps of European influences. Near prog-ishness and storytelling influenced by Ayreon, while the Sammet inspiration can be felt as well.
Tales of Magic turns out a theatric, uplifting and adventurous entity which starts at its most accessible - the very European sounding title track. From there it goes on to evolve its soundscape through dramatic and proggy twists and turns until the storyline reaches a zenith in the operatic almost-closer Oath of the Gatewatch. On the surface, Planeswalker offer a romp of cheesy, adventurous fun - and that’s not to be scoffed at - but delve just a little deeper and all the nuances and theatricality the guys have put together come into play that much more. They start off with the two perhaps most straightforward power metal tracks before taking things further. Shadow of Emeria sees Michael duet Kristin Starkey in a darker setting. The atmosphere thickens and the riffs turns heavier, keyboards laying misty melodic aura through the dark middle section. Then of course, Oath of the Gatewatch which is as towering and majestic as it is ambitious. Brittney Hayes (Unleash the Archers), Heather Michele Smith (ex- Helion Prime) and R.A. Voltaire (Ravenous) all enter the fray alongside Michael, giving the story much needed depth as they battle it out, each one giving a fantastic performance, all coming together like a powerful Avantasia epic.
Ashcraft’s riffs and powerful melodic lead guitars throughout the album are things of beauty and come inspired from entities throughout the metal kingdom. Lighter, perhaps than his other bands, and more straight forward power metal in many places, he still pulls some massive tricks. Those phenomenal closing few minutes of Shadow of Emeria stand out as some of his finest on the album. Obviously, I have to mention the filler too. Padding the runtime right at the end is a pretty pointless cover of Kiss classic A Million to One. Sure, Michael puts in a commendable effort, but in the forty minutes prior these guys prove way better than this; it’s just a by the numbers cover that brings little of interest - very much unlike the rest of the album which is definitely a must hear for any fan of melodic power metal, be it of the American or the European school. With Tales of Magic, Planeswalker finds, through powerful, intriguing songwriting and stellar performances, a way to balance and bring the best of both realms.
Standout tracks: Tales of Magic, Shadow of Emeria, Oath of the Gatewatch