Album Title: AQVA
Label: Rockshots Records
Date of Release: 21 January 2022
It was the rather striking cover artwork that drew me in to this album, but it was the music that made me stay and ultimately pen this review. I’ll always be someone who takes notice of the imagery and if it catches my eye in a good way, it is likely that I’ll check it out. In the past, I’ve even been known to take a listen to an album or two I just knew I wouldn’t like simply because the album cover spoke to me. Thankfully, pursuing a progressive power metal path meant that Beriedir had an advantage and I’m glad that the fruit of their labours didn’t fall short of the album’s visual aesthetic.
I doubt I am in the minority if I declare that I knew absolutely nothing about Beriedir going into this review. After a bit of diligent research, I can now attest to the fact that the band hail from Bergamo, Italy. A five-piece, they were formed in 2015 and up until now have released a debut album, ‘The Path Beyond The Moon’ (2018) and an acoustic EP, ‘Lullabies Beyond The Moon’ in 2020. ‘AQVA’ is their sophomore full-length and sees them presenting a little shy of an hour’s worth of new material spread across ten individual tracks.
Even if I’d failed to do my homework, it would not have taken me long to guess the nationality of Beriedir (apparently the Sindarin word for “Guardians”) because there’s something about it that screams Italy. I’ve tried to put my finger on what exactly it is, but I’m still not totally sure. To be honest, I think it’s a combination of small things; from the tempos to the direction that some of the melodies take, to the vocal delivery and more besides. I hear echoes of DGM, Vision Divine, and even Rhapsody in the material, but at no point do Beriedir fall into copycat territory. That said, you’d be hard pressed to honestly refer to the music as entirely original but having listened to this album a lot of late, I really don’t think that matters. Not for the first time this year, I find myself agreeing with the sentiment that music doesn’t have to be original to have genuine worth; ‘AQVA’ is an enjoyable ride regardless and there will be many out there who will want to seek out Beriedir.
What I particularly like about ‘AQVA’ is that it contains plenty of each of the elements that this kind of music requires. From the power metal side, it has that oomph that you want, or to put it better, the tempos are regularly nice and brisk, driven by an authoritative rhythm section including moments of double pedal excess. The riffs are crunchy and strong, and there are plenty of melodies to enjoy, both within and without the choruses. From a progressive perspective, the songs are laced with keys and importantly, there is technicality as well as exploration in terms of time signatures and instrumental prowess. However, the latter is never at the expense of the songs and these sections never meander without focus; to demonstrate this point, the longest track clocks in at just under seven minutes, so extraneous waffle is kept to a relative minimum.
If the progressive aspect of Beriedir was in any doubt, the Italians put that doubt to bed within seconds as opening track, ‘At Candle Light’ kicks off with bold keyboards before the rest of the band launch into a fast, energetic assault. There’s plenty of crunch and power as you’d hope, as well as a fair dollop of groovy endeavour, whilst synths bathing the metallic soundscape liberally. The tone is quite dark until a classic soaring power metal chorus enters the fray to lift the gloomy atmosphere.
The positive start is then built upon by what follows, with ‘Departure Song’ being one of my personal highlights. The first half is much more power metal in tone and delivery, complete with a rousing lead guitar solo, only for it to be replaced initially by just a tinkling of ivories that usher in a gorgeously rousing melodic section underpinned by majestic keys and a driving rhythm section. The lead guitar lines that sit upon stop-start crunchy riffing is wonderful, as it the seamless segue into a keyboard solo.
If I had one small criticism, it’d be that the production could be just a little more rounded and richer, as the bass in particular has a tendency to be overrun slightly when the band are at their most aggressive. And the vocals, whilst perfectly reasonable and rather good in places, occasionally feel just a little unremarkable. More accurately, they lack a true identity, which I’m sure can be worked on with the next release. But I’ll also admit that I’m being incredibly picky, as these are very small aspects that don’t detract overly from the enjoyment that ‘AQVA’ offers.
Given the overall consistency of this record, it is a challenge to pick other highlights. That being said, there’s something about the slower, more atmospheric ‘The Angel In The Lighthouse’ that pulls me in each and every time I listen. The sprawling chorus is a real grower, whilst the outro that features just a lone cello is a lovely touch.
‘The Drowned’ has a wonderful groovy quality right from the outset, that soon develops into a cracking song with a vague Middle Eastern vibe, as well as an effortless ebb and flow. ‘Stormbound’ by contrast, is a more no-nonsense power metal track with a properly feelgood chorus, but my favourite song on the record right now has to be ‘Of Dew And Frost’. It kicks off with more of a mid-tempo stomp, before unleashing some swagger and then some of the most immediate hooks on the record, hooks that lodge deeper with repeated listens.
Over the past couple of years, Rockshots Records has become a label that I trust. They have released a few duds along the way, but who hasn’t? More often than not, though, their judgement is sound, and so it has proved here. If you’re on the lookout for a slice of progressive power metal that actually delivers a well-rounded end product worthy of the genre tag, then Beriedir should be high up on your list. With ‘AQVA’, I am utterly convinced that Beriedir will begin to achieve a level of success that their obvious talent fully deserves. This record comes with a very solid recommendation from the Man Of Much Metal, should you care what this old hack thinks.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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