Posts Tagged ‘ symphonic Power Metal ’

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’


Interview: Versailles’ frontier defying spirit

B7 Klan offered me the opportunity to interview Versailles and of course I took that opportunity. What follows here is a translation of the article I have written in Dutch for The Sushi Times. If you can read Dutch, I would strongly recommend you to read the original article right here.

With their bombastic power metal sound and their almost fairytale-like appearance, Versailles grew to be one of the most important players in 21st century visual kei. In late 2012, the band took a break, but as of last year, the band is active again. After a few one-offs in Japan, the band’s first tour will follow and just like in their early days, it will remarkably take place in Europe. “The time was right for Versailles again“, says guitarist Hizaki.

In the intervening years, the band fully committed itself to other projects. Singer Kamijo went solo and all of the other members formed the excellent power metal band Jupiter, which will remain active alongside Versailles. “I compose imagining the person who will sing the song“, states Hizaki, who also released his instrumental solo album ‘Rosario’ earlier this year. “The melodies I write will always be a reflection of the singer’s personality. I do like the fact that I can now show in Versailles the skills that I have developed in my personal activities.
Kamijo also doesn’t rule out the opportunity that his solo adventure will get a sequal. “I’m sharing my feelings with different audiences“, he describes the differences. “In both cases, we are playing my melodies, but the reasons why I’m writing each project’s songs are different. In 2017, Versailles celebrates its tenth anniversary, so you can imagine that there will be some new projects.“”On February 14th, we will release our new album“, guitarist Teru already spills. As for the rest, the band still keeps their plans strictly secret, but bassist Masashi calls on the fans to keep an eye on their website and social media: “We have many projects planned.

For a Japanese band, Versailles has always been surprisingly internationally oriented. Before the band even went on its first full tour through Japan, their first European tour with Matenrou Opera was already a fact. Later on, the band came back to Europe twice, so it’s not a complete surprise that the band once again aims for Europe after a couple of one-offs in Japan. “I can’t wait to come back to Europe“, Hizaki agrees. “Since we can’t meet our fans out there often, I want to enjoy them as much as possible. It seems to be even harder to bring our music overseas to America, but I would like to make it back there as well someday.“”I notice that European audiences want to show their power in a different way“, says Kamijo. “In some countries, they shout. In Japan, they synchronize their choreography.
It’s beautiful to see the different reactions in each country“, Masashi confirms. Teru agrees: “When I play overseas, I truly realize that the reaction in Japan is really original.
And yet, it’s remarkable that Versailles is one of the very few bands that tours Europe somewhat regularly. “I don’t know exactly how we did that“, says drummer Yuki. “But I am really proud of Versailles’ music. We only stick to our own convictions.
I guess some bands get too discouraged by certain details“, Teru thinks aloud. “It’s important to make music with a spirit that transcends frontiers and nationalities.
And the band rehearses for that with full determination. “As usual, I’m practicing by playing a lot“, Yuki says. “Besides that, I listen to good music and I imagine myself playing it, drum acting. And because I’m trying to be more familiar with the English language, I also watch some movies.
I record myself in ProTools and then check the results of my playing“, Teru shares. But, Hizaki emphasizes: “You who will be at our live shows must be ready too.

Versailles’ music contains quite dense arrangements. Besides the five band members, a vast amount of choral and orchestral samples deliver a significant amount of bombast. However, the spectacular guitar work of Hizaki and Teru always remains prominent. “There is always an orchestra in my head“, the latter smiles. “It’s important to listen to all of the band members’ sounds. I always try to think of all the elements when I’m playing. Concerning my guitar sound, I try to reduce the gain and keep the peak in the middle and high frequencies.
When we practice the songs, we always make it“, Hizaki adds. “The synthesizer parts always tend to be gathering into midi arrangements, so I try to be attentive of those in terms of my phrasing.
An additional problem for many Japanese bands is that they can’t take all of their equipment with them to Europe. Amplifiers are rented, but every member at least takes his own instrument with him. “And I’m taking my sticks and pedals with me. And my love for Versailles“, Yuki states. “I’m considering taking a Fractal Audio system with me“, Hizaki thinks aloud.
When asked if they would ever like to play with an actual orchestra, everyone answers affirmatively. “Of course“, Yuki continues. “It’s one of my biggest dreams.” “Please organize it!“, Hizaki begs.

One can’t think of contemporary visual kei without thinking of Versailles. At least as much attention as they put into their music will also go into their flamboyant clothing, hairdos and album covers. “What do you like more?“, Kamijo asks. “A wonderful movie without images or a beautiful movie with images?
The music and the visual aspect are inseparably connected to each other“, agrees Teru, himself a graphic designer. “The artistic value of the music can be increased by this combination. I am proud of visual kei, but I don’t want to be too occupied with trying to fit that genre or category. I only go forward with what I like and what I think is beautiful.
And there’s another mission for Versailles: bringing the visual kei audiences and the metal audiences together. “There is a barrier between them higher than the highest frontier“, Kamijo states. “We are there to destroy this barrier.
The band is not interested in ever making music without the visual aspect. “Impossible“, they collectively say. “My spirit is always in heavy metal“, Hizaki continues. “But I can’t feel any attraction towards artists who neglect their appearance.
Only Yuki leaves the door slightly ajar. “I think we and our audience would still like our music“, he says. “Otherwise we would have never started doing this. But I do think that it adds an element with which you can tell the listener more than with just the music.
And how do the guys stay fresh and inspired after playing together for so long? “By stimulating each other to become better“, Kamijo resolutely says. Masashi agrees: “We all evolve together with the other members.” “It’s simply interesting to work with the music of other people than myself“, Hizaki concludes.

Versailles’ ‘Renaissance’ tour travels to the following venues in early 2017:

January 26th: Teatr Club, Moscow, Russia
January 27th: Gloria, Helsinki, Finland
January 29th: O2 Islingron Academy, London, England
February 1st: Zeche, Bochum, Germany
February 2nd: Hybrydy, Warszaw, Poland
February 4th: Salamandra 1, Madrid, Spain
February 5th: La Machine du Moulin Rouge, Paris, France

Interview: The second life of Yoshiki and X Japan

Last week, I had the chance to speak to Japanese X Japan’s drummer, pianist and band leader – and visual kei superstar – Yoshiki. He was in Amsterdam to promote the new documentary about his band, ‘We Are X’. What follows here is a translation of the article I have written in Dutch for The Sushi Times. If you can read Dutch, I would strongly recommend you to read the original version right here. All pictures are courtesy of Drafthouse Films.

Since their breakthrough in the mid-eighties, X Japan became one of the biggest and most influential bands in Japan. How big? That goes well beyond what we can imagine, but the brand new documentary ‘We Are X’ now also gives the rest of the world a look into the crazy and at times dramatic history of the band. Prior to the showing at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), we spoke to drummer, pianist and band leader Yoshiki about the past and the future of X Japan.

The vast majority of the thirty million albums that X Japan sold went over the counter in Japan. That’s why it may seem strange that ‘We Are X’ is presented to the whole world, but the history of the band is at times stranger than some fiction. Not only was the band there for the genesis of the extravagant visual kei scene and does Yoshiki possess an enormous archive with spectacular pictures, according to director Stephen Kijak, but with a singer who left the band under the influence of a cult leader and two dubious suicides among their band members, the band had to endure its share of drama.
My agent in America approached me to do a documentary a couple of years ago, because the story is crazy“, Yoshiki explains. “But I said: no way, it’s too painful for me to even revisit my memories, that kind of nightmare. But eventually, people around me started convincing me that the story of X Japan may help people.
The timing seems ideal, because there’s a new album coming; their first in twenty years. ‘We Are X’ seems like the perfect way to promote the band’s new international ambitions. According to the band leader himself, this is a coincidence: “We didn’t have any plan anyway. Everything has happened organically and naturally. Coincidentally, the film is going to be out when we are about to finish the album. We have one show already scheduled at Wembley Arena on March 4th, 2017. That could be the beginning of a new world tour. I’m actually talking about it.


That album was supposed to be released early this year. However, the release was slowed down due to unforeseen circumstances, among which serious health issues for guitarist Pata. “He is fully recovered“, Yoshiki reassures. “It’s almost a miracle. I thought he was not going to survive. Early this year, we were actually recording in Los Angeles with our vocalist and our guitar player – Toshi and Sugizo – when we heard the knews that Pata was in ICU. I said: can I talk to him? But they said: no, nobody can even talk to him. I tried to find out how bad it was.
His doctor said that he’s conscious, but he’s not eating anything. He didn’t know if he was going to survive. A few weeks later, I finally talked to Pata. I asked him if he would fully recover, but he didn’t even know. That took several months. We stopped recording, but at some point, we had to move on. There is a song Sugizo and I played his parts to.

Meanwhile, the as of yet untitled album is almost finished. “The recording part is nearly done“, Yoshiki states. “There’s a few more piano parts left, but otherwise, the drums, guitars and vocals for every single song are done. It’s going to be really edgy. There’s going to be some heavy songs, some ballads as well. We don’t want to be just repeating the same thing. So I’ll say it’s a new era of X Japan.
While Yoshiki was the main composer in the heyday of the band, he was often supported by guitarist hide and bassist Taiji, both of whom have passed away in the meantime. “There is an amazing song on it from our new guitar player Sugizo“, he explains. “So not the whole album is written by me, but the majority is.

Self expression

In their early days, X Japan – still under the name X at the time – was there for the birth of the visual kei scene, known for their flamboyant outfits and hairdos and a complete disregard for musical boundaries. “I came from a classical background“, Yoshiki explains. “When I was playing Beethoven or Mozart, it was all about how you could get close to what Beethoven or Mozart was thinking. I thought that was cool too, but I wanted to create something of my own. When I found rock, I thought: this is complete freedom, you can do anything. Complete freedom for describing yourself. When we started playing live, we played punk rock, heavy metal and soft ballads. Then all the critics told us we had to decide on one direction. I was shocked; I thought rock meant that you could do anything.
As a result, we couldn’t belong anywhere. When we were playing club shows, we were having a hard time finding other bands to play with. Nobody wanted to play with X, because they couldn’t categorize us. We just kept doing what we wanted and eventually the audience started growing. Visual kei doesn’t have to be one specific sound, it’s more like a freedom of how you can express yourself.

In Japan, there is very little overlap between the visual kei audience and the “regular” metal audience. Much to Yoshiki’s joy, there is an overlap in Europe: “When we toured Europe in 2011, both audiences came. I think that’s really cool. I live in America; when you go to Ozzfest or something, there are the heavy metal people, but when you go to a visual kei band, there are really cool fashinable Japanese Harajuku people or animation cosplayers. I love both of them. The cool thing about X Japan shows is that we have both kinds of people coming. We enjoy that.


X Japan’s rush was ended quite abruptly in the mid-nineties when singer Toshi announced he would play his last show with the band on New Year’s Eve of 1997. He claimed no longer being able to get any satisfaction from his rock star existence, but later admitted being pressured by the leader of the Home Of Heart cult. His departure meant the end of the band and less than half a year later, the immensely popular guitarist hide died. Officially by suicide, but people close to him suspect that it was an accident.
According to many, the death of hide also meant the end of visual kei. “Everybody died when hide died“, Yoshiki agrees. “I died as well. I don’t remember that time that much, because I was kind of blacked out. I didn’t even want to be in this world. I think you can say that the entire scene kind of died, but the younger generation of bands kept going with the visual kei spirit. I actually should thank them; because of a lot of new bands, we kind of woke up several years later and realized that visual kei is not only a one-time thing.
In the late nineties, Dir En Grey came to my studio in Los Angeles, where we were recording a part of their first album. At that time, I couldn’t even talk about X Japan without crying. After hide passed away, I didn’t even want to touch the subject. But Dir En Grey were talking about going to see X Japan shows. Kaoru, their guitar player, loved hide and Shinya, their drummer, complimented my performances. I couldn’t avoid the X Japan subject. Actually, I started thinking of doing something on my own – not even with X Japan, but a new band or something – when I started producing Dir En Grey.


Remarkable in ‘We Are X’ is the large amount of attention for the physical pain Yoshiki has caught due to years of headbanging and playing with the wrong technique. According to Yoshiki himself, he’s been suffering that pain “pretty much from the get-go”. “In the beginning, I didn’t think of drums as a musical instrument“, he explains. “When my father took his own life, I was so angry, I was breaking things, punching the wall and everything. So when my mother bought me a drum set, I was basically punching drums. Kicking drums. When people saw me doing this, they said: Yoshiki, your body is going to break if you keep playing like this. I didn’t care. I had so much pain inside, I almost wanted to do something physically to compensate for my mental pain.
Many years and several surgeries later, he is still playing. Hard. “When hide died, I died“, he emphasizes once again. “But our fans around the world actually kept supporting us. Almost unconditionally. So basically, I still exist because of our fans. Our fans gave us a second life, a second chance. So I just want to thank them. And for me to thank them, I just have to keep on rocking, keep on breaking all those walls. We don’t have a specific plan, but I hope that the show at the Wembley Arena will be the beginning of a world tour.

Album of the Week 40-2016: Epica – The Holographic Principle

Regardless of your opinion on Epica, you have to admire their ambition. This time, the band decided to beef up their already bombastic sound by leaving orchestral samples for what they are and using only real instruments. That may seem like a minor detail, but it won’t take long to realize that ‘The Holographic Principle’ is sonically spectacular. All instruments have an unprecedented brightness and an energy to them. And even more impressively: the increasing heaviness of the Dutch sextet surprisingly also continues here. Everything about the album is supersized and that works much better than it should have.

Admittedly, I also dismissed Epica as just another Goth band initially, but ever since former God Dethroned members Ariën van Weesenbeek (drums) and Isaac Delahaye (guitars) have joined the band, their sound grew heavier and more interesting. A lot of things happen within the songs. Not just arrangement-wise, but also compositionally. There are bands on the more progressive end of the spectrum whose material is more predictable. And there’s something exciting and energetic about the record that should be the norm in contemporary Metal. If it was, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about the future of the genre.

What impressed me most upon first notice is how memorable the riffs are. Even moreso than the choruses. The main riff to ‘Edge Of The Blade’ refused to leave my head for days. This is essential to the album’s brilliance, because even though there is quite a bit of chugging on the lowest string, this memorability gives every song a face of its own. None of the songs sound alike. Riff heavy monsters like ‘Divide And Conquer’, ‘The Cosmic Algorithm’, the closing titular epic or the amazing ‘Tear Down Your Walls’ all approach the guitar work differently. It’s what keeps the album interesting through multiple spins.

Obviously, the orchestral instruments leave their mark on the sound of the record. The band has worked with actual string instruments and choirs in the past, but the input of the flutes and other wind instruments is notable here. Or listen to how the percussion augments the atmosphere of the darker sections in ‘Dancing In A Hurricane’. Or how cinematic the interaction between the heavy guitars and the orchestra is in ‘Ascension -Dream State Armageddon-‘. But even when the record focuses more on Delahaye’s guitars, like on ‘A Phantasmic Parade’ – of which the verse sounds like an inversion of the one in Black Sabbath’s ‘Behind The Wall Of Sleep’ – there’s a certain bombastic quality present.

Vocally, the band has made quite some progress as well. Regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of grunts, but Mark Jansen’s sound nice and intense here. Simone Simons still isn’t my cup of tea; she’s a very capable mezzosoprano, but I don’t find the higher registers of her more “Pop” range very pleasant to listen to. However, even in that range, she delivers one of her best performances yet here. A special mention goes out to Van Weesenbeek: he is simply what a contemporary Metal drummer should sound like. Technically superb, but also a hard hitter. Simply excellent.

Ultimately, only ‘Beyond The Matrix’ fails to impress me and that’s just because I think its chorus lacks power. It’s quite simple: ‘The Holographic Universe’ should be a delight to anyone who enjoys symphonic Metal, regardless of what additional subgenre you choose to decorate it with. It’s a highly dynamic, energetic record with a dozen of very interesting compositions. In a way, it’s the album I’d wanted Rhapsody to make for a long time, albeit with a more contemporary edge in the shape of grunts and seven string guitars. One of the better Metal releases this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ascension -Dream State Armageddon-‘, ‘Tear Down Your Walls’, ‘Edge Of The Blade’, ‘The Holographic Principle -A Profound Understanding Of Reality-‘

Album of the Week 37-2015: Blind Guardian – At The Edge Of Time

Generally, ‘At The Edge Of Time’ is seen as Blind Guardian’s big return to form after ‘A Twist In The Myth’, which I personally didn’t consider as that much of a departure from the rest of their discography, but whatever. The album does however bring something back to the table in the sense that it is a stylistic anthology of everything the German Power Metal quartet has done in the three decades of their existence. That alone is enough to justify all the praise ‘At The Edge Of Time’ has received. It is most definitely their best latter day record and one of their finest overall.

Bookended by the epic bombast of the heavily symphonic ‘Sacred Worlds’ and – even better – ‘Wheel Of Time’, the album may trick the listener into thinking the album is a continuation of the richly layered progressive Power Metal sound heard on ‘A Night At The Opera’ and the hugely successful ‘Nightfall In Middle-Earth’. There are definitely bits of that, but other parts of Blind Guardian’s sound are highlighted as well. The riff driven Speed Metal of ‘A Voice In The Dark’, ‘Tanelorn (Into The Void)’ and to a lesser extent ‘Ride Into Obsession’ even bring back the atmosphere of ‘Tales From The Twilight World’. A very welcome return resulting in three album highlights.

Surprising is ‘Road Of No Release’, which builds from a ballad-like opening to a powerful progressive Metal track that doesn’t really sound like anything Blind Guardian has ever done before. Of course the trademark celtic flavored ballads the band seems to have more joy at than I do are here in the shape of ‘Curse My Name’ and ‘War Of The Thrones’. In addition, ‘Valkyries’ and ‘Control The Divine’ are two somewhat lighter Rock songs fairly obviously influenced by Queen. Especially the former unexpectedly blew me away with its strong composition and relatively calm production.

Where ‘At The Edge Of Time’ is sort of a triumph over its predecessor is in the production. That’s what makes the album feel so different from ‘A Twist In The Myth’. Kudos also to Hansi Kürsch. While he mostly avoids the highest peaks of the early material, he manages to convince with a powerful performance. It’s funny how he and lead guitarist André Olbrich are all over this record without ever getting in each other’s way.

Despite my opinion that the album is somewhat unjustly seen as sort of a comeback, there’s no denying that ‘At The Edge Of Time’ is one of the very best Power Metal records of this century. In fact, it hardly has any European competition. Of course, it’s easier to set up this much of a fantastic Charlie Bauerfeind production if you’re already somewhat of a household name, but without the good songs to back it up, all you have is hollow bombast. It seems like Blind Guardian set out to combine all of their best assets for this record and if that’s the case, there’s no doubt they succeeded.

Recommended tracks: ‘Tanelorn (Into The Void)’, ‘Wheel Of Time’, ‘Ride Into Obsession’

Album of the Week 26-2015: Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Prometheus: Symphonia Ignis Divinus

Three years ago, Luca Turilli released – much to my immense surprise – the best album he’s been involved with since Rhapsody’s breathtaking ‘Symphony Of Enchanted Lands’. His spin-off of Rhapsody proved to bring the focus back to the orchestral side of the band, which Turilli understandably dubbed “cinematic Metal”. Let’s just call this symphonic Power Metal though, as there are enough ridiculous Metal subgenres already. Sophomore record ‘Prometheus: Symphonia Ignis Divinus’ is finally there and although it’s not quite the overwhelming experience ‘Ascending To Infinity’ was, it’s another quality symphonic Metal record on which the orchestral “backing” is quite upfront.

Less than ever, Turilli uses his band as a vehicle for his guitar qualities. If he wants to show off, it’s probably his compositional skills rather than his riffwork or sweeping guitar leads. Of course, the latter are still there, but the guitar often takes back seat to the orchestra, choir and piano. That’s where much of the album’s bombast comes from anyway. Also, there are a few experiments with electronic elements here. None too overpowering, but some of them are featured quite promintently in the progressive ‘Il Tempo Degli Dei’ and overture ‘Nova Genesis’.

What makes ‘Prometheus’ slightly less overwhelming than its predecessor is the fact that the songs are a little less urgent this time around. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any standout moments here though. Especially the latter half of the record features a few diamonds, like the massive epic ‘Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall Part II: Codex Nemesis’ that closes the record, the bombastic title track and the surprisingly catchy ‘Yggdrasil’. Closer to the beginning of the album, ‘Anahata’ builds from a very cinematic intro (think ‘The Never Ending Story’) towards an amazing orchestral “riff” that turns into a fantastic progressive Power Metal track. Truly impressive.

Drummer Alex Landenburg makes his first appearance with the band here and as could be expected based on his unbelievable work on Mekong Delta’s last two albums, he’s amazing. He doesn’t quite get the space to be as creative as he was with Delta, but his playing is fluent and tight. Alessandro Conti is once again a revelation: his powerful voice, enormous range and versatile approach blew me away when I heard ‘Ascending To Infinity’ for the first time and things haven’t changed here. In fact, the increased use of Italian lyrics seems to work in his favor, especially when he goes into full opera mode on ‘Notturno’.

Metal purists will undeniably cringe when they hear the guitars being pushed to the background by all these orchestras and choirs – presumably especially on the “cinematic version” of Riot’s ‘Thundersteel’ – but the fact is that this is a professional release with well-written songs and meticulous arrangements. The songwriting is slightly less consistent than it was on its predecessor, but this is again a bombastic, thrilling ride through several filmic landscapes. If you’re looking for that instead of another predictable Power Metal record: this one is for you.

Recommended tracks: ‘Anahata’, ‘Yggdrasil’, ‘Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall Part II: Codex Nemesis’, ‘Prometheus’

Album of the Week 07-2015: Secret Sphere – Portrait Of A Dying Heart

Italian progressive Power Metallers Secret Sphere were always a band I had appreciated, but for some reason, I never truly got into them. They had the melodic sensibilities and the slightly more interesting compositions than most of the other bands that followed their fellow countrymen of Labÿrinth and Rhapsody to impress me, but somehow never held my interest for a prolonged period. Enter Michele Luppi. The former singer of Vision Divine, with his impossibly beautiful voice and wide range he moves through with enviable smoothness. The band’s seventh album proves that an amazing singer was the missing piece in Secret Sphere’s formula.

Luppi’s presence is felt immediately. Not only do his voice and his trademark layered harmonies mark much of the album’s character, ‘Portrait Of A Dying Heart’ is also Secret Sphere’s most overt Power Metal album thus far. The progressive tendencies – mainly early Fates Warning-isms – are still there, but the record is more song-oriented and a tad less complex than what their fan base may be used to. In fact, Vision Divine’s work is a pretty adequate reference what the album sounds like. Band leader Aldo Lonobile did keep an eye on the fact that Secret Sphere kept its identity though.

With the six minute instrumental opening track and the following ‘X’, Secret Sphere wisely chose to open their album in the most progressive fashion possible. ‘X’ is speedy and intense, but does deviate from the standard Power Metal formula enough to speak of a surprise. The rest of the album contains blazing headbangers with killer riffs and fantastic choruses such as ‘Wish & Steadiness’ and the amazing ‘Secrets Fear’, proggy stompers like ‘Healing’ and ‘The Fall’ and passionate power ballads – they’re Italian after all – of which ‘Lie To Me’ is the most impressive. I’m not sure if closing the album with two ballads was the wisest idea, but at least they’re well written.

Not just the music, also the mixing job is clearly in favor of Michele Luppi. It’s not hard to understand why; the man is simply one of the best – if not the best – singers in the contemporary Power Metal scene. I can imagine it may irritate fans of Secret Sphere’s instrumental prowess, but I find it a very pleasant listen. Not in the last place because the guitars courtesy of Lonobile and Marco Pastorino have a very nice tone here. Nowhere near as shrill as on most contemporary Metal records and as a result, their chords have a warm body to them. Frederico Pennazzato’s drums sound surprisingly natural and – therefore – powerful as well.

And so it happened that Secret Sphere needed Michele Luppi to push me over the edge. It’s not just Luppi’s fault that ‘Portrait Of A Broken Heart’ is so good though. There is so much awesome riff work and rhythmical intensity to enjoy here that every fan of slightly more adventurous Power Metal – let’s say Angra – should find something of their liking here. You just have to be able to digest something more vocal and song driven than may be usual in the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Secrets Fear’, ‘Wish & Steadiness’, ‘X’