Posts Tagged ‘ Olaf Thörsen ’

Album of the Week 16-2017: Labÿrinth – Architecture Of A God

Despite their distinctly Italian power metal sound, Labÿrinth was a pretty unique band in the country’s mid-nineties metal scene. They shared their countrymen’s melodic sensibilities, tendency towards higher tempos and somewhat symphonic approach, but also had an uncommonly romantic vibe for a metal band. However, not long after founding guitarist Olaf Thörsen left, the band entered an unprecedented identity crisis. Thörsen eventually returned, but band members were shuffled around freely. Luckily, the core of Thörsen, fellow guitarist Andrea Cantarelli and singer Roberto Tiranti is firmly intact on ‘Architecture Of A God’, easily the best Labÿrinth album since their masterpiece ‘Return To Heaven Denied’.

While the last album was good enough, it featured Labÿrinth playing things too safe by trying to create a copy of ‘Return To Heaven Denied’ to the point of self-plagiarism. On ‘Architecture Of A God’, the self-referencing is limited to a brief section on ‘We Belong To Yesterday’ and the atmosphere is more spontaneous. Personally, I was glad to see Thörsen’s former Vision Divine bandmate Oleg Smirnoff vacate the keyboard position. His greater focus on atmospheric texturing than neoclassical virtuosity makes him a unique musician within the genre and gives the album a breath of fresh air at times.

That is all relative though. Because ultimately, ‘Architecture Of A God’ is a typical Labÿrinth record. Speedy, somewhat progressive power metal tracks with highly melodic choruses are alternated with dreamy semi-ballads full of bright, shimmering acoustic guitars and if Tiranti isn’t wailing or crooning passionately on top, Thörsen and Cantarelli are elevating the melodies or shredding their hearts out. ‘Stardust And Ashes’, the surprisingly aggressive ‘Take On My Legacy’, ‘Someone Says’ and especially ‘Still Alive’ are all excellent melodic power metal tracks like we’ve come to expect from Labÿrinth through the years.

For all its class, ‘Architecture Of A God’ does take a slight dip in quality halfway through. While all separate sections of the title track are amazing, the transitions don’t flow as well and the novelty of the following cover ‘Children’ from dream trance legend Robert Miles wears off quickly. But the rest is incredible; ‘A New Dream’ is one of those progressive ballads Labÿrinth excels at and though it mirrors ‘The Night Of Dreams’ somewhat, it certainly improves upon its formula, resulting in an atmospheric work of art. Smirnoff’s compositional contributions ‘Random Logic’ and ‘Diamond’ are the album’s most unconventional moments. The latter – a beautiful, scarce ballad that is highly electronic in nature – closes the album in style.

After hearing the first tracks that surfaced, my expectations of ‘Architecture Of A God’ were sky high and I can gladly say they were exceeded. Everyone who likes their power metal with a healthy dose of melody and romanticism should give the album a spin. The guitars – both electric and acoustic – sound as good as ever and Tiranti hasn’t lost one bit of his emotional power. It may be a bit premature to call the record album of the year material, but I will be very surprised if I hear a better power metal record this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Still Alive’, ‘A New Dream’, ‘Someone Says’, ‘Diamond’


Album of the Week 41-2016: Labÿrinth – Return To Heaven Denied

Romantic isn’t the first word you think of when it comes to metal. Yet it’s exactly the first adjective that comes to mind when describing Labÿrinth’s sophomore album ‘Return To Heaven Denied’. That doesn’t mean the record is full of shallow love songs. Okay, it’s not extremely heavy, but there’s plenty of fast, intricate riffing going on to please the fans of more progressive metal styles and the celestial melodies should enchant those who love the more melodic side of power metal. To me, the album has yet to lose the appeal it had around its release almost two decades ago.

When ‘Return To Heaven Denied’ was released, power metal did go through some sort of underground revival sorely needed to counteract the tough guy posturing of hardcore and nu-metal, but even within the relatively lightweight Italian scene, the atmosphere on ‘Return To Heaven Denied’ is unique. The production helps; guitarists Olaf Thörsen and Anders Cantarelli lay down some impressive chops – and their acoustics shimmer! – but they never overpower the rest. Even when Frank Rublotta’s drums roll at full speed, they blend in. Roberto Tiranti’s voice is expressive enough to fit an Italo pop record, but also powerful enough for metal.

If the last paragraph didn’t clarify the sound well enough, everything I have just described is present in opening track ‘Moonlight’. And while many things happen within that song, it retains this smooth flow that makes it feel like one song. Of course such a great chorus works wonders, but the guitar and keyboard melodies are equally impressive. And just check out that subtle tempo change after the choruses: simply brilliant. ‘New Horizons’ and ‘Time After Time’ follow a similar formula, while ‘Lady Lost In Time’ and ‘Thunder’ highlight the speedier side of the Italian sextet.

Of course there are ballads on a record with a romantic atmosphere. And they’re quite good too. ‘The Night Of Dreams’ balances on the line between beautiful and kitschy, but ‘Heaven Denied’ has an incredible build-up and ‘Falling Rain’ is simply breathtaking with its desperate atmosphere and stunning guitar solos. ‘State Of Grace’ combines both extremes into a melodic, elegant and utterly beautiful song which could have been a minor radio hit at the time. It’s catchy enough to have been one. Of further notability is the cover of ‘Feel’, originally by German techno trance collective Cenith X, which works better as a metal instrumental than it maybe should have.

At the time, Labÿrnth’s type of melodic and somewhat romantic power metal was called “gay” or “chicks’ metal” by the fans of downtuned modern metal that I somehow surrounded myself with and admittedly, I can see why the female metal crowd would like this, but the fact is: I love it too. The atmosphere is there to carry you away beyond – to quote ‘Moonlight’ – the ivory gates of dreamland, but the album also carries enough merits from a musicality viewpoint. While Labÿrinth spent the majority of this century’s first decade in a sizeable identity crisis, not many bands get to release even one record this good. With such a perfect album cover.

Recommended tracks: ‘Moonlight’, ‘State Of Grace’, ‘New Horizons’, ‘Falling Rain’

Album of the Week 03-2014: Vision Divine – Stream Of Consciousness

Lineup changes are an indispensible part of the history of bands that last longer than a few years. These are generally frowned upon, but sometimes they can mean something of a new beginning as well. Case in point: my discovery of the incredible Michele Luppi on Vision Divine’s ‘Stream Of Consciousness’. Fabio Lione’s forced departure – Rhapsody’s contract with Magic Circle Music at the time basically prohibited any side activities for its members – let to Luppi’s hiring, while Olaf Thörsen breaking ties with all the Labÿrinth members in Vision Divine gave way to Oleg Smirnoff’s unconventional keyboard work, providing all the ingredients for the band’s most impressive album so far.

‘Stream Of Consciousness’ is a concept record and as such lends a little more of a progressive touch to the songwriting. The musicians involved may have had some effect to this as well; drummer Matteo Amoroso played with progressive Power Metallers Athena and Smirnoff’s keyboard work extends beyond his predecessor’s Andrea de Paoli’s more familiar Power Metal territory. Band leader Thörsen has never been scared of a few progressive tendencies either, it just seems that his time, the circumstances have proven a little more fitting to take this direction. And it works; all the songs are well crafted, full of great melodies and somewhat surprising.

What makes this record even better than Vision Divine’s generally great output then? First of all, and I know I mentioned this before, Michele Luppi is a revelation. To this day, I have yet to find a better singer within the more melodic side of the Metal genre. The man has an enormous range through which he races with great ease, but also knows how to wring the right amount of emotion out of every note. There’s some fantastic harmonies as well. And those are all backed by powerful riffs, songs with surprising little twists and a crisp, clean production to boot. It seems like Thörsen really had something to prove here.

Despite the conceptual nature of the album – there’s recurring themes and short instrumental pieces – there’s actually a bunch of very strong songs on here. ‘Out Of The Maze’, ‘Colours Of My World’ and ‘La Vitta Fugge’ are fantastic progressive Power Metal tracks with powerful choruses (especially the former!), ‘The Fallen Feather’ and ‘Identities’ are beautiful ballads and ‘We Are, We Are Not’ contains possibly the heaviest riff Vision Divine had done up to that point. But the true diamond here is ‘Versions Of The Same’, with its beautiful vocal lines and perfect chorus. It’s a tad poppy, but that’s also part of its irresistable charm.

For those of you into the strongly melodic side of Heavy Metal should hear this album. Period. It’s probably the best album released in the last decade in that particular segment of the genre. Also, it showed the world the incredible talents of Michele Luppi, who’s gone out to do many, many more great things in the melodic Metal and AOR genres. ‘Stream Of Consciousness’ is where Vision Divine finally prove itself as a band; it’s the evidence that Olaf Thörsen could do this without his Labÿrinth bandmates and not only that: he did it even better than with them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Versions Of The Same’, ‘Out Of The Maze’, ‘Colours Of My World’