Power Theory
An Axe to Grind

I’m a trad metal fan. It is, hands-down, my favorite metal genre. As much as I try to shake things up with a bit of prog or power metal, my well-worn copy of Mercyful Fate‘s Don’t Break the Oath never strays too far out of my reach. So, with a metal palette like mine, I should be drooling all over Power Theory‘s An Axe to Grind, and I am… sort of.

Power Theory‘s take on trad metal is a mix of Saxon, Accept, Metal Church and early Savatage. It is rooted firmly in trad metal, but moments of thrash and power metal are also heard throughout (see “A Fist in the Face of God” and “The Hammer Strikes (Mjolnir’s Song),” respectively). Bob Ballinger’s riffs strut and groove through sturdy derivatives of metal’s tried-and-true past while Jay Pekala’s and Lorin Savadore’s lively rhythms provide suitable support (and steal the show on several occasions). The record’s production is also convincingly retro yet balanced and powerful enough to offer each player an opportunity to shine. Jay Pekala’s spry bass lines (see “An Axe to Grind”) are a particular highlight, and this record is further evidence of what the instrument can contribute when in capable hands and actually left audible.

The record’s lyrics stick to trad metal’s typical pastimes. Dave Santini’s gruff vocals sing of epic, meta-metal anthems (“Puresteel” and “An Axe to Grind”), a dark, mystical prophecy (“The Seer (In Dreams)”) and an ode to Norse mythology (“The Hammer Strikes (Mjolnir’s Song)”). Santini’s only missteps are his groan-inducing lyrics on the otherwise scorchin’ “A Fist in the Face of God” and his awkward melodies on “On the Inside” and “The Hammer Strikes (Mjolnir’s Song).” But I suspect his melodic choices may not be an issue for some, and it’s not as though it makes the last song’s chorus any less awesome every time I hear it (seriously, its power metal bent is fantastic).

While none of the songs here are abject failures – I actually like considerably more of what I hear than not – I can’t help but wish there was a little more aggression at times. All of Ballinger’s riffs do well to represent the style, which he clearly has passion for, but the whole record screams for a little more firepower. Each song, save for “A Fist in the Face of God,” sits at a consistent mid-tempo, but this isn’t the problem per se. Plenty of excellent trad metal records have ridden at Accept‘s steady trot rather than Iron Maiden‘s full-on gallop. An Axe to Grind just needs to widen its dynamic range a bit. It needs a little more lightning (i.e., rippin’ solos or dynamic bridges) to go along with its righteous heavy metal thunder.

But when Power Theory is good, they’re damn good. Despite my grumblings, “Deceiver,” “An Axe to Grind” and “The Seer (In Dreams)” all wave the trad metal banner high and true. They’re not only the most consistent songs start to finish, they also capture some of the energy that seems to elude the other material. Truth be told, however, excellent moments abound all throughout the record, they just don’t always make for excellent songs.

Now, as I alluded to at the top, I’d consider myself smack dab in the middle of this band’s target demographic. I’m the guy that owns a lot (read: too much) of this style, and I still find the record an enjoyable experience despite its inconsistencies. Power Theory‘s An Axe to Grind is at best a superb example of trad metal’s might, and at worst a little stale and repetitive. But any itch for mid-tempo, 80s-inspired metal should be sufficiently scratched by this record. The only question is: how strong of an itch do you have?

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jacob Brown
August 17th, 2012

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