Norman Skinner – the leather-lunged frontman of Californian newcomers Niviane – has been around the traps a while, plugging away in a series of bands all ploughing a roughly similar power-metal inspired furrow. He’s got a great voice – somewhere between Halford and Owens in it’s upper registers, more Tate-like lower down, but until now those bands have never provided the calibre of material such talent clearly demands.
Niviane could change all that. Everything clicks for Skinner on The Druid King and it’s easily the most accomplished-sounding release the man has been associated with. Starting wisely with a Painkiller-style belter – The Berserker – Niviane then set about establishing themselves as a versatile heavy metal vehicle capable of covering all the trad bases with aplomb and panache.
Adrestia is a martial follow up to the opener, strident in all the right places, whilst the more progressive Watch the Banners Fall lets everyone stretch out a little, creating an otherworldly vibe not too far removed from Queensrÿche’s Warning debut.
The superb Into Twilight is late eighties US power metal in excelsis, bringing to mind such disparate names as Leatherwolf and Virgin Steele, the stop-start main riff from Mark Miner and Gary Tarplee being one of the highlights of the whole album.
These four tracks open the album in crushing style, leading you to believe that you might be on to power metal’s next big thing; However they do constitute the album’s high watermark, quality wise, and whilst the rest of the album is strong- very strong at times -there’s just a little too much padding for true greatness.
Gladiator features more fine soloing and a battering performance form percussionist Noe Luna, whilst Arise Samurai starts dramatically but doesn’t really follow through on the early promise. It does, however, allow Skinner to show off his less extreme side, as he handles the melodic verses with an ease you might not have expected from a man who’s made his reputation on the strength of his scream.
Elegy is another musical standout, with perhaps the best soloing of the whole album, but there’s something about the song – possibly the chorus – that just sounds a little unconvincing. March of the Jötunn is a solid enough romp through Norse mythology, but doesn’t really pique the interest overmuch, whilst longest track on the album War of the Immortals sees Skinner unleashing his full vocal arsenal with exciting results.
The closing pair of tracks, Heaven Overflow and The Druid King are also a bit humdrum if truth be told, meaning that the album ends with a relative whisper after all the screaming, but the overall verdict of us here at Sentinel Daily is that this could well be the album to introduce Norman Skinner to a much-deserved wider audience. If you love metal in it’s essential form, there is plenty here to get your teeth into. Take a bite.
Niviane are set to release The Druid King through Pitch Black Records on November 3rd.