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From the first seconds of the opening of "Second Sight", you know you are in for something different from the norm.
The baroque stylized choirs, orchestra (though synthesized), the piano, the melancholy guitar soloing of Stephen Forte, the 7th string heavy riffing, the occasional church organ, bells or harpsichord and David Readman's (hard rockish but strangely not out of place) voice all combine to create a glorious atmosphere that summons up images of Gothic Cathedrals and sophisticated French aristocrats.
The tone of this album is pretty dark, focused on minor key melodies, but its all in the name of epicness instead of anger so works perfectly with the posh vibe. When you're in the right mood the atmosphere will envelop you completely and you will be inclined to get out some expensive red wine. Having so much poshness on an album these days is very refreshing. Even the lyrics are deep and tackle topics such as death (Stringless Violin), sin and "Second Sight". Some tracks like The Inner Road are more philosophical. There seems to be a Catholic vibe to the lyrics especially in songs like "In Nomine..."
There are no ballads but there are 2 instrumentals (excluding the bonus demo track), one of which is a cover of Led Zepp's famous Immigrant Song which is barely recognizable in its new neoclassical attire. They are not out of place as this is quite an instrumentally driven album. Speaking of which we have top tier musicianship on this album. I have already mentioned Stephen Forte's truly excellent and virtuosic guitar playing but Anderson on keyboards (excellent solos and keyboard tone choices) and the other members of the band (the bassist and the drummer get their chances to shine) do a fantastic job too. David Readman has a fantastic range (very high notes as well as lower more relaxing notes are hit) and he does a very professional job on the vocals matching the tone of the album.
It is difficult to pick stand out tracks (a great compliment to the band!) but personally my favorites are the anthemic “In Nomine…”, the truly epic “Seven Lands of Sin” (clocking at just under 12 minutes and featuring memorable lines such as “wandering the labyrinth of tears...scaling the pyramids of despair”) and the closing track “Panem et Circences”. It is impossible to say which of the songs are actually the best.
The only negatives I can think of about the album is that the unique atmosphere is persistent throughout the whole album so if you aren’t listening properly you may feel like its is getting monotonous (mostly minor key). This is Progressive Power Metal remember so you as a listener have to focus a little to fully appreciate the music.
Secondly, superficially this music sounds like a Malmsteen, or Symphony X clone and it may not hit you immediately that Adagio has taken the genre to somewhere different and darker.
No two Adagio albums are alike but they all share a few key elements such as the generous use of the piano. “Underworld” is at a tie with this one for what I consider their best albums. “Sanctus Ignis” is more accessible, more focused but less Progressive than “Underworld”. “Archangels in Black” and “Dominate” are a big step in a different (more straightforward and less atmospheric direction) and require a different frame of mind to enjoy fully than the first 2 albums.
Fans of this album may also enjoy Stratovarius, Galneryus, Winds (the use of piano being the similarity here), At Vance or Symphonic X.