Engage - Demo 2005
Self Financed
Power Metal
7 songs (34:45)
Release year: 2005
Reviewed by Kayla

Last Tuesday I went to see Cellador perform at Jaxx in Springfield, Virginia. I was looking forward to the show, although I wasn’t familiar with either of the opening bands on the bill. I wasn’t expecting much from them, given the hit-and-miss nature of most local bands. However, when Engage, a young power metal band from Richmond, took the stage, any skepticism I’d had was obliterated. Upon learning that they were selling copies of their demo, I was delighted, and picked one up. Although the production is the level one would expect from a band whose members are all below the legal drinking age (according to the Sharpie marks on their hands), the music itself is of a quality that I would expect from a major label act.

Engage play in the same school of energetic power metal that spawned bands like Lost Horizon and Stratovarius. Their lyrics deal with fighting the epic battle against one’s enemies and living free from chains and oppression, and are delivered in true power metal style, hitting notes that some female singers can't reach, with lower group chanting (Pain And Glory, Enslaved) and wordless vocal melodies to accent. The bass line in most songs has a galloping quality to it, which is especially strong in Fury. The riffing usually ascends in waves, giving the impression that the listener is riding some inexorable force onward, and hooks abound. Pain And Glory in particular is very catchy, but the riffs are deep and heavy enough that it feels more like a battle hymn than anything commercial-friendly. The latter half of the demo relies more on leads and melody than straight riffing, but once again, they’re meaty enough to be catchy and enjoyable without cloying. They deliver soloing in spades; tight and skillful, they fit quite well into the songs.

Enslaved in particular feels like something you would play for medieval-armor-clad masses, beginning with a slower guitar riff and marching drumbeat. Enslaved gives away to Epic, which has an even slower intro, sounding like it’s going to be the requisite power ballad. However, the acoustic picking is quickly superseded by a growling, driving lead that pushes into one of the best songs on the demo. Enslaved and Epic also have better vocals than the rest of the songs; while they’re delivered quite skillfully, they can sound very strained at times. I don’t know if this is a function of production or if their vocalist has simply gotten better, as he sounded quite good and not at all strained live.

The production is very much Engage’s Achilles heel. Besides the strained sound of Chad Brown’s vocals, the drums have a flat, hollow quality to them that’s very common on amateur recordings. The snare sounds as if it’s made of wood; for all the skill with which it’s struck, the sound quality is a big enough problem to be a serious distraction, especially in a genre like power metal, which tends to favor clean production. I can only hope that they’ll soon get the wherewithal to afford better; without the production problems, this would be a top-notch piece of work.

Engage close their demo with something I can honestly say I never expected to hear in my life; a power metal version of Pachelbel’s Canon. As someone who played the violin for eight years (and thus had to vibrato my way through those damn opening notes more times than I really care to contemplate), it was very bemusing to hear the main theme wailed out by an electric guitar, with drum fills underneath. If nothing else, it points to a certain streak of creative humor about the band.

I can only hope that these guys either get signed or have a sudden windfall that will allow them access to better recording facilities. Given the level of their skill, a clean debut would make Engage a heavy hitter in the field of modern power metal. Until then, even with the production flaws, their demo is a worthy acquisition for any power metal fan.

Killing Songs :
Pain And Glory, Fury, Live Your Life
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