REVIEW: SEVENTH WONDER – “The Testament”
Seventh Wonder might be one of the few prog metal bands still unscathed by subpar quality albums alongside Threshold, Vanden Plas, and maybe one or other act out there. While not as long-lived as the mentioned groups, the Swedish wonderboys have been on a near-perfect run since their inception in 2000, having carved their way – in my opinion – into the Mount Rushmore of prog metal with the universally acclaimed ‘Mercy Falls’ (2008), and now they’re back with the 6th full-length album of their careers, ‘The Testament’.
I think it’s a little unfair on my part to review a Seventh Wonder album because I was introduced to the band exactly with ‘Mercy Falls’ back in the day – their masterpiece and frankly one of the best albums of all time of the genre – but having extensively listened to the rest of their discography after that I can safely steer out of the exception and focus on the rule, which is a bass-driven, melodic-first type of prog band that has plenty of quality even when running away from a thoroughly crafted conceptual work.
It was like that with the awesome ‘The Great Escape’ (2010) and long-awaited follow-up ‘Tiara’ (2018), and it continues to be here. Using the same song-centered approach to the overall experience as in the aforementioned past works, Andreas Blomqvist and company manage to keep their often-times laid back and radio-friendly songwriting style untouched while still inserting good doses of epicness and emotions in the songs.
Direct, fun bits like “Warriors”, “The Light” and “Invincible” will quench the thirst of the casual listeners with high amounts of Johan Liefvendahl’s more melodic riffs and unpretentious, almost happy vocals from Tommy Karevik. In turn, “The Red River” and “Mindkiller”, for instance, will bring the other side of the coin with amazing broken-tempo bass lines and a better overall musical display for prog aficionados. The hooks and choruses throughout the album are catchy and clean, the atmosphere is often lively and colorful and the execution is obviously top-notch.
The most classic Seventh Wonder-esque track here, though, is definitely the epic “Under a Clear Blue Sky”, featuring familiar riffs, keyboard passages, and an unmistakable atmosphere. Fast and slow, prolific and melodic intertwine together here and make the tune serve as a perfect example of what the band is all about. The album has, of course, several moments where we can reminisce other prog acts such as Shadow Gallery, Fates Warning (in the more keyboard-driven parts), and Dream Theater when it comes to the heavily melodic occasions.
If I had to choose my favorite parts here, they would definitely be the monstrous instrumental piece “Reflections” and – surprisingly enough for me, because I always prefer my metal as aggressive as possible – closer “Elegy”, a song that serves as the ballad for the record. I would put this as one of the greatest compositions of Seventh Wonder’s career, tracing a parallel to the amazing “Tears for a Father” and “One Last Goodbye”. It’s amazing how these guys have a knack for writing ballads that are emotional and touching without sounding exaggerated or cheesy.
The mixing, mastering, and production are flawless and the dynamic range sits comfortably enough to make every instrument crystal clear. As we would also expect, the instrumental performances are top quality both collective and individual-wise. Liefvendahl’s riffs are surgically placed, while the support from Stefan Norgren on drums and Andreas Söderin on keyboards are always grandiose and wholesome, but the obvious highlights go to Blomqvist’s bass that owns the whole album, and Karevik’s ever-powerful and surprising vocal range.
‘The Testament’ easily surpasses its predecessor both in quality and execution and rescues a little bit of the true prog DNA of Seventh Wonder’s sound by being less sugary and more direct in its premise. If you ally that with some of the greatest songwriting of the Swedes’ discography in tracks like “The Red River”, “Under a Clear Blue Sky” and “Elegy”, you have a juggernaut of an album, especially so given that this time around we didn’t have to wait for 8 years for new material. This is, indeed, a testament to Seventh Wonder’s power and importance to the prog metal scene and a reminder that these guys are among the best musicians out there. Highly recommended.