Bands rarely get second chances and I would be willing bet quite a few would love to go back and rerecord their debut albums. While not exactly what happened with the Theocracy self-titled reissue, it is a bit different sounding than the original release from 2003 as the original featured a drum machine but this reissue now features real live drums in the only part of the album that was rerecorded.
Theocracy started in 2002 in Athens, Georgia as a one man project by Matt Smith. Given that Theocracy fall into the genre of progressive power metal, which typically features epic orchestration and larger-than-life sounds, one has to be impressed that the debut, self-titled album was recorded solely by Matt Smith, who played all instruments and supplied all vocals. Matt went on to add band members and Theocracy has released two other albums, Mirror of Souls in 2008 and As the World Bleeds in 2011. Although I have not personally heard the debut album in its original form, I have seen many comments around some production issues and of course, the use of programmed drums would be legitimate reasons to go back and clean things up for a reissue. Add in the fact that the original is out of print and can be difficult to find, and you have some good reasons to do a reissue. Current Theocracy drummer Shawn Benson came in and recorded the drums, while Matt Smith took over remixing and mastering was taken care of by Mika Jussila (Stratovarius, Edguy, Nightwish). The result is a very well, produced and mixed recording, very bright sounding with instruments and vocals nearing perfection as those familiar with the genre would expect. Although no longer a one-man project, this is still an amazing achievement in terms of recording given the complexity of the sound and structure of the songs. To my ears though, it seems a bit overproduced, maybe too smooth, especially the guitars that seem to lack a bit of the crunch and bite that I prefer.
For those unfamiliar at all with this album, there are some songs that stand out as a bit different from the rest, notably “The Serpents Kiss”, “The Healing Hand”, and “Twist of Fate” which are each over 11 minutes long. As different as they are in terms of structure, organization and length, they perfectly cover the elements of the Theocracy sound and can serve as descriptors for the album. “The Serpents Kiss” opens up with vocals sung over a mournful piano for about the first minute until the guitars come in and the song takes off at a much higher pace. The song itself is built around an extended five minute instrumental break in the middle with soaring vocals and choir-like choruses on both sides, some of which in a live setting could be sing-along opportunities reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark”. The extended instrumental section never seems to get boring as it is filled with starts and stops, tempo changes, and lots of good guitar solo work.
The second epic song on the album “The Healing Hand” starts off with a long guitar riff that is eventually joined by other guitars and the rest of the band and for a small part sounds like Metallica’s “Broken, Beat & Scarred” (from Death Magnetic), which is a bit interesting as Theocracy came out 4-5 years before Death Magetic. “The Healing Hand” has some really good driving metal passages and some shout and response vocal sections as well as the soaring vocals and chorus sections common in this style. As one would expect in an epic song, there are several style and tempo changes that keep the listener engaged.
Perhaps fittingly, the final epic song on the album “Twist of Fate” is also the last song. This song is one of the heavier songs on the album, fitting with the nature of the song which describes peaks and valleys in life, focusing mostly on a a descent into a dark valley and the journey through the valley back to the peak. There is a decidedly darker metal riff in the opening section of the song and the vocals have a harder edge to them as the journey through the darkness and confusion begins and progresses. Through it all there still is a strong sense of melody as the voice in the song describes not losing hope. The middle, instrumental section of the song changes tempo and becomes a bit faster and again my ears are picking up tone and riffs that sound like snippets from Metallica’s Death Magnetic, as odd as that may sound. Maybe it’s just me and I’m delusional, but that is what I hear from time to time. This album is not similar to Death Magnetic overall, so don’t let this bother you and I just mention it as I find it intriguing. As the song progresses it takes on a brighter tone and ends with a multi-part chorus as the journey through darkness is complete.
03. The Serpent’s Kiss
06. The Healing Hand
08. New Jerusalem
09. The Victory Dance
10. Twist of Fate
Matt Smith – Lead vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards & orchestration
Shawn Benson – Drums
Record Label: Ulterium Records, Nov. 2013
Video below ‘Theocracy’
Video below “Theocracy” [Album Teaser #1]
Video below “Theocracy” [Album Teaser #2]