To an extent, artists need to adhere to certain conventions of their chosen style(s); otherwise, sales may decrease, longtime fans may revolt, and critics may dissuade their audience from checking out that latest release. That said, sticking too closely to clichés and playing it totally safe is also a detrimental move. Sadly, that’s exactly what’s happening on Dawn of the Dragonstar, the third LP from Swedish symphonic/power metal troupe Twilight Force. Aside from the requisite exceptional production/mixing and musicianship—as well as a handful of notable moments here and there—it’s as forgettable and formulaic as possible. Diehard genre enthusiasts will probably still like it, but anyone looking for even a morsel of newness, variety, and intrigue will find it frustratingly wanting.
Dawn of the Dragonstar follows 2016’s Heroes of Mighty Magic, and it’s clear from their press release, with descriptions like “Sharpen your blades, brew your potions, mend your shields and brace yourselves: A storm is coming,” that they still commit fully to their fantasy aesthetic. (There’s even a new “bard,” Allyon, “at the helm” to replace their former singer, Chrileon.) The problem isn’t Twilight Force’s narrative or background lore—hell, complete dedication to imaginative gimmicks can be quite entertaining and ambitious—it’s that they very rarely do anything fascinating or go-getting with it. Rather, more than three-fourths of the sequence is nearly identical, and when that foundation is filled with maddeningly generic and soulless theatrics, there’s very little to like or remember about it.
Credit definitely needs to be given to the entire team—especially multi-instrumentalists and producers Lynd and Blackwald—for how Dawn of the Dragonstar sounds on a technical level. There’s no doubt that they’re all exceptional players, with virtuosic stuntwork coming from all six members at pretty much all times. It’s almost impeccably mixed and recorded as well, with every timbre (including Allyon’s booming boasts and innumerable orchestral treatments) situated right where they should be. Of course, such benchmarks come with the territory, but they’re admirable achievements nonetheless.
Likewise, there is some appeal to be had with it, however brief and infrequent it may be. For instance, “Long Live the King” is fairly enticing from a melodic standpoint, with catchy verses and choruses effectively pulling you into its operatic and relatively pastoral arrangements and gimmicks. Later, both “Hydra” and “Night of Winterlight” throw in sufficiently exciting symphonic deviations and respites while also capturing some of the zany fun of, say, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Honestly, these selections standout mostly by default (so they barely rise above the ordinariness that surrounds them); still, if there are any highlights to the journey, it’s these stops for sure.
Outside of those commendations, Dawn of the Dragonstar is unbearably and relentlessly average in terms of checking off symphonic/power metal tropes. Its lyricism is colorfully resourceful, yes, but also uninvolving; its shrieking vocals are strikingly powerful yet ceaselessly one-dimensional; its music offers virtually no escape from maddening histrionic showmanship. If that weren’t bad enough, the songwriting is downright indistinguishable from track to track most of the time (especially consecutive assaults like “Winds of Wisdom” and “Queen of Eternity”). By the end of it, you’ll swear that you’ve essentially heard the same track ten times.
Again, the parameters of a genre need to be upheld to a degree, and Twilight Force inarguably nails what they’re going for when it comes to the basic requirements of their field. What they should be chastised for, however, is doing only the bare minimum in every respect. Many of their peers maintain a comparable coating and grounding in the midst of innovating and intriguing along the way. They change things up by implementing different, more idiosyncratic techniques and approaches to set themselves apart from the pack. By comparison, Dawn of the Dragonstar is as rudimentary and rigid as you can envision. As with everything in life, there’s never a good reason to settle for something that’s merely adequate.