It's not often I get to listen to any kind of metal from Bulgaria, but in this week alone I've had two and the latest of which I'm not quite sure what to make of. When Pure Steel Records invited us here at MLivePro HQ to review this upcoming opus I immediately snapped up my copy and put it to the top of my to do list. What greeted my ears I can only describe as devotional crusader metal. Now feel free to correct me if I'm wrong but I only coin this term as there are references aplenty to God, Heaven and Spirit purified emerging triumphant from battles against darkness. There is without doubt in my mind that Christianity is a major influence here. This Bulgarian quintet are surely the antithesis of bands like Therion in founder member Kristoff's 'Vovin' days, as the styles are pretty much identical merging counterpoint choral and power metal vocals with symphonic power/prog metal backing, only with opposite spiritual allegiances. Despite some misgivings which I shall elaborate on further in, Krossfire's 'Shades Of Darkness' is really rather good.
As it's more than likely very few of you reading this will have heard of Krossfire, I will fill you in on the blanks. They began musical life in 2001 formed in Plovdiv, Bulgaria by George Driev (bass), George Kushev (guitar), and Spas Markov (drums). They were joined later that same year by Nikola Ivanov (guitar), and Zachary Shinikchiev on vocals. Ivanov and Markov leave briefly in 2003 for official duties and compulsory military service, but return at the end of that year. During this time Markov is replaced temporarily on drums by Svetoslav Nachev. 2003 also sees the departure of vocalist Shinikchiev and replaced by current vocalist Dimo Petkov who begins rehearsals with the band in 2004. A significant step forward for them comes in 2005 where they bag a support slot with US power metal legends Jag Panzer, then in 2006 they are invited to support the Austrian band Pungent Stench on their home turf in Plovdiv. In 2007 Krossfire replaces guitarist Ivanov with Peter Boshnakov on keyboards and head into F1 studios in Plovdiv to record the songs 'Angels Cry' and 'Touch Of Destiny' with the aid of Vasil Valchev on production. 'Touch Of Destiny' is released as a single in early 2008 to positive reviews, then later included as an opening track on a 2009 compilation CD in 'Heavy' magazine. Also in 2008 the live DVD '7 Years On Stage' is released. Late 2010 sees them returning to F1 studios for six months to record their debut album 'Learning To Fly' that released nationally in May 2011, and embarked on a thirty plus date national tour to promote the album. Early 2012 sees them signing with current label Pure Steel and releasing 'Learning To Fly' worldwide to rave reviews. In 2013, they once again bag an important support slot with Deep Purple on home ground and began the recording of 'Shades Of Darkness' a year later.
So, there you have it. 15 years summed up in brief and now onto the details.
'Shades Of Darkness' opens up with 'The Ninth' which begins with a 'Halo - Combat Evolved' style choral sequence and blasts full ahead into classic symphonic power metal. 'The Last Ride' gallops in next with the same formula blended with a full choir that appears again on track 8 'Annabelle' and the album closer 'Heaven Halls'. Track 4 'Destiny's Calling' introduces the operatic tones of Violeta Kusheva who also appears on my personal favourite track 5 'One More Time' and once more on 'Heaven Halls'. By track 6 'Farewell' we are treated to a little extra depth provided by Daniela Djorova Waldhans on cello. 'Fall From Grace' is a rather dark sounding power metal piece that sees Petkov really opening up his vocals for a very powerful performance. The aforementioned 'Annabelle' follows this with perhaps the darkest and most atmospheric track yet that conjures images of demonic possession and exorcism. 'Glory To Heavens' starts out with an Indian twist with the inclusion of a sitar to bring us into perhaps another power metal classic about holy warriors vanquishing the forces of darkness. I bring particular attention here to George Drievs punchy sounding bass. 'Like A Shadow' begins with a nice acoustic guitar/piano intro going into heavy riffage and stayed but effective solos. Track 11 - 'Rule The Dark' blasts us with heavy from the start, while the closing track 'Heaven Halls' has Violeta Kusheva's operatics bringing us into a classic power metal ending, low choral voices and all.
Throughout this experience there were a few things that let me down. At times Petkov's vocal is more emotional than controlled which seems to be the weakness of an otherwise powerful performance, especially on his high end where he begins to lose his pitch control. Also, the devotional theme of many of the tracks presented here seems to be a bit of a grey area for me. This is possibly because I don't see the interfering influence of religion as a necessity and more of a hindrance, being an opiate for the spiritually lost and the causer of more than a few pointless conflicts in our history. A book of stories that has a world of suffering to answer for. But I digress, so I'm going to end this on a positive note. Petkov has an amazingly powerful mid range, Kushev's guitar work is incendiary, injecting so much energy into an already impressive collection of songs. Driev's bass shines through on almost every track and stands out as one of the better performances I've heard in a while, and when coupled with Markov's drums, the effect is almost faultless. Boshnakov does a great job on keys, deepening the atmospherics to create a very well rounded full length indeed.