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After a rather flaccid debut, Altaria decided not to be a flash in the pan and hired a new singer as well as reinventing their sound. Although I hold that The Fallen Empire is the superior album by these fellows, Divinity benefits from featuring both Taage Laiho on vocals and former Sonata Arctica axeman Jani Liimatainen on guitar, a potent Euro Metal team.
Taage was the best vocalist the band happened upon. He sings with a decent range and a very smooth command of melody. He also shows a bit more gravel in his vocals than the typical Finnish tenors, usually in the choruses. He sounds a bit more authentically like he has just got off his motorbike and walked into an '80s bar in leather trousers, rather than as if he is floating around in a big white airy shirt with Meatloaf like Altaria's other two singers.
Nightwish' Emppu Vuorinen quit the band before this album, as he would soon be busy recording the best-selling album of his career so far, touring the world and helping fire Tarja Turunen. This leaves Jani Liimatainen to handle all the guitars and keyboards himself. It must be said he does a better job with the first duty, providing expansive solos and energetic riffs. Along with Taage, he makes 'Unchain the Rain' the album's standout, with a catchy set of leads and riffs that are hopelessly romantic without spilling over into sugary, and a good deal more energy and adrenalin than elsewhere on the album. As my brother often remarks about this particular sort of happy Metal, you can almost see the big grins on their faces as they play.
As I just realized drummer Tony Smedgebacka is the only member who has been in Altaria all along, I guess he deserves a mention. He falls into that school of drummers who fail to drop jaws, but whose playing is actually very precise and ever-appropriate to the music, with an almost selflessly restrained approach to fills or any flashy business at all. Good on you, Tony. The same hesitant praise cannot be given the second longest-running bandmember, Marko Pukkila, who is something of a phantom bassist, leaving the album bereft of a more solid bottom end that could have made the band's transition to Heavy Metal-inspired songwriting more apparent.
Altaria made their first attempt, with this album, to place themselves squarely between modern Finnish and German Melodic Metal and '80s Heavy Metal. 'Stain on the Switchblade' is a decent enough bit of Priesty Speed Metal, while 'Prophet of Pestilence' packs some Magnum-esque grandeur in the widdly guitar solos and epic chorus. 'Will to Live' is a more AOR-styled song, with a radio-friendly, Sunset Strip sound and catchy melodies. Altaria make an admirable effort to keep things interesting with plenty of different sounds emerging during the runtime. 'Darkened Highlight' sounds for all the world like Megadeth's 'Symphony of Destruction' when it starts, and would have been a lot cooler where it not for the keyboards in the verse that sound like Superman in his ice fortress playing a solo on the icicles.
While the album is a mostly enjoyable disc of very serviceable Heavy/ Power Metal, there must be a reason why 'Unchain the Rain' went straight on my crappy old mp3 player years ago, then on my iPod and stayed there, while I forgot about the rest of the album completely, left it in England and had to download it yesterday when I remembered about it. With a new set of bass tracks and almost complete removal of the keyboards, we'd have a decent album with only a few yawnsome tracks like 'Haven', 'Try to Remember' and 'Enemy.' As it is, the ghost of Finnish Power Metal conventions hangs over the album, and it's all about the guitars and the vocals. Still, Divinity was more a glance at Altaria's most triumphant album The Fallen Empire than an omen of their downfall with Unholy.