Every couple weeks, an indie-metal CD festooned with florid illustrations of Amazons in full combat dress or hideous ghouls who drip vile ectoplasmic gook from every pore hits the Isthmus mailbox. Most of the music is beyond aggressive, even when it's not actually death metal or one of its brain-smashing offshoots. I'm sure many of the bands have devoted followings that understand exactly where each discrete unit fits in the official heavy-metal taxonomy, but to the outsider, the blitzkrieg chromatic guitar work and the singer's inevitable Beelzebub-meets-Cookie-monster growling often sound pretty much the same from disc to disc.
Which brings us to Fall of an Empire, the latest offering of French metallurgists Fairyland. Although this Gallic crew employ the approved metal iconography on the album's cover (in this case, an alpha Amazon appears to be fighting ghouls who are also clad in full combat gear), they sound nothing like their more asocial fellow practitioners. Instead, they go in for something metal specialists call "symphonic power metal," a stately subgenre whose multitracked chorale parts owe a lot to both Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and In the Court of the Crimson King with skittering keyboards, soaring guitars and tempos that at times tease the upper limits of a metronome.
In other words, compared to Fall of an Empire, the latest Evanescence album sounds restrained, even quaint. But is the disc worth having? Man, I don't know. The endless post-Tolkien tale the album weaves of final battles between strange peoples with complex, vaguely medieval-sounding names and angry gods whose curses seal all fates isn't just prolix, it's wearisome. And frankly, although Fairyland have clearly put a lot of time into composing and recording the music, it's kinda endless, too.
On the upside, the album as a whole does refute the commonly held belief that when it comes to rocking, the French don't have what it takes. So maybe the fact that it's a bit of a bore is immaterial.