Guardian at the Gate is album number three from New Jersey-based heavy metal outfit Arctic Flame, another of the traditional metal revivalists on the Pure Steel label. Like most bands in the so-called New Wave of Traditional metal, Arctic Flame cite Judas Priest and Iron Maiden as key influences, but their sound is a bit more complex and hard to pin down than the average White Wizzard-style band.
As soon as opening monster "My Little Slice of Hell" kicks in you wonder whether someone slipped in a Candlemass or Solitude Aeternus disc by mistake. That song and the lumbering title track have that old school doom metal sound down perfectly. The album takes a sharp turn into safer, more expected territory with the Judas Priest-style "Raise Your Glasses" and the thrashy "Bloodmotor." A melodic metal anthem awaits after the instrumental "Falkenfels" with "The Creeper," which may be the album's best song. The album takes on a power metal sound with "A Wailing at Glen Corr" and the 10-minute epic "The Eternal," both of which bring to mind Obsession and even Iced Earth. Throughout the album Sebastian Garcia serves up impressive riffs and melodies to accompany Michael Clayton Moore's powerful and just aggressive enough vocal style.
While it's good to know that Arctic Flame isn't limited to the confines of a single genre, the constant shifts in style prevent Guardian at the Gate from developing a cohesive sound and identity. There are great songs to be sure, but the album as a whole never seems to come together.
Guardian at the Gate is a very solid, totally enjoyable slab of old school heavy metal. It's a bit too unfocused to make the jump from good to truly great, but there are definitely some memorable songs here. Unfortunately for the band, 2011 gave us so many amazing traditional metal albums that this album may end up getting overlooked entirely.