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Theocracy: Theocracy

Theocracy's self-titled debut probably would have knocked me on my ass, anyway. But when my mind finally absorbed the fact that everything on this outstanding slab o' symphonic metal -- from the vocals and choirs, to the guitars, keyboards and orchestration, to the production, engineering and mixing -- was done by one guy in less than 18 months, I was (and pretty much remain) speechless. I mean, here's a guy, 26-year-old Matt Smith, who must have spent a good chunk of his life scheming and dreaming this masterpiece that, as the band's name implies, overflows with spiritual references. Even symphonic metal's most famous one-man band, Ayreon, uses guest vocalists. God bless Smith for taking this on all by himself.

After hearing only the brief orchestral opening "Prelude" and the next track, the stereotypical power-metal scorcher "Ichthus," it would be easy to jump to the oh-so-false assumption that Theocracy is simply an Americanized Rhapsody. But then, lo and behold, Smith gives listeners "The Serpent's Kiss," a 12-minute epic that begins rather shakily but then crescendos into complete bombast with a chorus that wraps itself around you like the song's title serpent and then squeezes. By the time the next track, "Mountain," hits its bridge, you'll be hitting the "repeat" button. The remaining six tracks include two more epics that each push the 12-minute mark. "The Healing Hand" is a sprawling piece with more progressive-metal elements than some of Theocracy's other songs, while "Twist of Fate" opens with distorted vocals before evolving into some of Smith's most aggressive singing. Meanwhile, "The Victory Dance" incorporates Celtic influences into heavy riffs, and "Sinner" seeks eternal salvation with a sing-to-the-heavens chorus.

Smith's voice rings loud and clear throughout Theocracy, and each song emerges as a small production -- sometimes with up to 70 layered vocals for the choir sections. The overtly-Christian lyrics will likely be embraced by some listeners and disdained by others, but as Smith writes on his web site, music this majestic needs equally muscular lyrics. Personally, they don't bother me. If forced to point out a flaw or two, I would instead mention the somewhat thin and sometimes muddy production in certain areas, plus the need for real drums rather than programmed percussion. Nevertheless, I salute Smith on a stunning achievement.

Album of the year? God willing...

Added: December 8th 2004
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Theocracy Web Site
Hits: 4645
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Theocracy: Theocracy
Posted by Steve Pettengill, SoT Staff Writer on 2004-12-08 08:20:38
My Score:

Though Theocracy was reviewed here a year ago, a great performance deserves an encore. Usually before I play a new CD, I browse through the liner notes and lyrics to get a feel for the message in the music. This time, I simply popped the CD in the player without prepping myself. Two thoughts immediately came to mind: why have I never heard of this band and what is it about Sweden that always seems to crank out premium power metal? To answer both my questions, the band is actually a one man show conducted by a young American named Matt Smith. So I played the CD again, after learning that this Matt Smith guy played all the guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and sang the intricate layers of vocals all by himself. Just as remarkably, Smith and not Roy Thomas Baker produced and recorded this project in his home studio. According to the booklet, it took him over a year to complete the project, which is no surprise after hearing the bombastic production values. I'm not kidding, aside from the drum programming which admittedly becomes a little stale, this CD sounds fantastic.

All of which would be for naught if Matt Smith didn't have a keen ear for tuneful compositions. Judging by the remarkable high quality on display in every composition, the sky must have been raining melodies during the recording sessions. Influences are not hard to pinpoint and one can hear snippets of Stratovarius, Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, Helloween and even Europe (yes, they were good once) in many of the songs, although Theocracy is hardly a carbon copy of the glory days of Euro metal. Besides, how can one argue with an artist when he has equalled the very best of his progenitors? Whether delivering traditionally flavored power metal epics such as "The Serpent's Kiss" and "The Healing Hand" or succinct songs like "Mountain" and "New Jerusalem," Matt Smith is equally proficient. As one would expect given the project name and song titles, Christianity is a major theme; but Smith is far too intelligent to merely proselytize and instead uses Christian imagery as a means to communicate a message of hopefulness.

I'm still astounded that Theocracy is a debut album and that a one man band from Georgia can sound like a seasoned band of veterans from Sweden! Matt Smith has hit a homerun his first time at bat and I'm sure if he does it again, he will be in the major leagues. Meanwhile, buy a copy of his debut and maybe we won't have to wait so long for a follow up.

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