Nightmare - The Dominion Gate - Regain Records / Candlelight Records USA 2006
Running Time: 65:40
While The Dominion Gate will act as an introduction to this power metal beast for many stateside metalheads, France's Nightmare have been kicking around the scene (though admittedly on a more subdued level) for the better part of two decades. Truth be told, my first experience with Nightmare was as recent as 2003's five-chapter concept album, Silent Room. Still very much under the helm of lone original member (bassist, Yves Campion), the band has soldiered through record label shifts, members exchanging one instrument for another, and opening for the lords of metal bombast themselves, Blind Guardian, to deliver their new effort, The Dominion Gate.
I could do without the arcade-styled keys during the verses of opening number, because they take a chunk of "bite" out of the song, so much so that even the gritty vocals of Jo Amore can't save 'Temple Of Tears' from inducing a cringe with every listen. Guest vocalist (the amazing Floor Jansen of After Forever) does her damndest, but when the best part of a song is performed by someone not even directly involved in the band...well...you know. The main riff of 'Messenger Of Faith' sounds far too close to a less urgent 'Gods Of Wrath' (Metal Church) to pass inspection, and the dual lead trade-off (3:23-4:00) seems tossed off, and would be more at home on any album by (Insert Second-Tier 80s Hairband Name Here). Criticisms aside thus far, Nightmare finds their groove with the sinister 'Secret Rules', leaving behind the keys for a more direct attack, focusing on Amore's classy delivery. Hearing this man sing, it's a wonder that Nightmare kept him behind the drums as long as they did. Vocally, Amore brings to mind a more mid-range Les Carlsen of Bloodgood, or a slightly less operatic Warrel Dane, and his presence here elevates material like 'The Dressmaker' beyond the realm of merely "listenable", and into the "damned good". Musically, again Nightmare lifts itself above the moderate quality of the previous material found here, and proves that when they follow their muse, there is quality Power Metal within. Unfortunately, as good as the previous two songs were, 'Endless Agony' is just that forgettable. I've long gone on record as saying that far better it is for a song to suck vehemently than to have it just lie there as dead weight, taking up space on an album already over the one-hour mark. Predictably - by this time at least -, the choral quality of 'Paranormal Magnitude Pt. II' yanks the corpse of 'Endless Agony' up by the bootstraps, and provides a fantastic intro to the Savatage-inspired 'Circle Of The Dark'. We're talking Hall Of The Mountain King era here, just before the 'tage became the hairy, beer-swilling version of a Phantom Of The Opera cast party. It's not up to the HOTMK level, and the duo of Milleliri/Hilbert isn't worthy of being bitchslapped with the strap of Criss Oliva's axe, but they do what they can. At times, they're quite good, as in the ballad 'Haunting Memories', their playing tasteful without being over the top, managing to carry the song quite ably. Amore's vocals again step to the forefront here, showcasing more of a range in this one song than in the entire album up to this point. Floor Jansen returns for the epic title track, adding flavour to a song that (were the rest of the album anywhere near this caliber) could easily establish Nightmare as one of the best-kept secrets of European metal. Who knows? It still may. The crystalline foil to Amore's gravelled vocals, Jansen's presence here creates quite possibly the best melding of male/female vocals in recent power metal history.
After throwaway 'The Watchtower', the album closes with the historically-based 'K-141', which tells of the 2000 sinking of Russian submarine The Kursk. Nightmare have, with The Dominion Gate, crafted an album that both great heights and plummets to cavernous depths. To those looking for something that stands out from typical power metal, Nightmare may be right up your alley. If Nightmare had clipped around five songs from this lengthy album, this review would likely have read very differently.