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Often overshadowed by more well-known German power metal acts such as Gamma Ray, Freedom Call, Iron Savior and Helloween; At Vance has been a consistent source for a more straight forward approach to the Power Metal genre, combining simple song structures with a varied approach to tempo and style. One of the principle charges against them is that they have not evolved much at all, and if one would look at releases falling close to one another, there would be some merit to the charge. However, when you look at the entire process of the evolution from the debut up until this album, a radically different story is told.
The evolution of this band has definitely been gradual, one would say so much so that it could be compared to the strict discipline of a soldier. “No Escape” and “Heart of Steel” are nearly interchangeable with each other, while “Dragonchaser” and “Only Human” share a lot of common musical themes although the lyrical subject matter changed a bit. Even the changes occurring between this album and “The Evil in You” are quite small and localized to a few specific tracks, though they are much more apparent than the 2 previous comparisons. But when comparing the debut to this album, the changes are rather sizable, the recurring tendency of remaking classics by Vivaldi non-withstanding.
“Chained” shares a lot of commonalities with its predecessors, we have the traditionally sizable collection of speed metal tracks with catchy and accessible choruses and riffs such as “Rise from the Fall” and “Tell me”. The surprise in these songs is that Mark Cross has been able to pull of the extremely fast beats on here despite having developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. “Run for your life” follows in the same spirit of speed and precision; although the riffs found on here are more ambitious and the thematic material a bit more interesting. We also have an upper mid-tempo track in “Run, Leave” which reminds heavily of the title track of “Only Human”.
Other tracks on here follow the slower 80s rock/metal approach that can also be found on all of At Vance’s previous albums. “Heaven” and “Two Hearts” are both obviously inspired by 80s acts such as Dokken and Scorpions, though with Mats Leven’s unique vocal approach. Upper mid-tempo cooker “Now or Never” has a nice lead intro and reminds of faster paced Motley Crue material. “Who’s Foolin’ Who” has a nicely exposed vocal performance by Mats, although the louder guitar steeped chorus is the high point. But my favorite out of the 80s category is “Two Hearts” for the solid chorus and the low end bass groove.
The instrumentals found on here are mostly par for the course when compared with previous work in this category, although the remake of Vivaldi’s “Winter” is an interesting take on the original classic, adapted for the electric guitar yet still maintaining the funeral march atmosphere quite well. The adaptation of “Flight of the Bumblebee” is a nice touch, although Olaf Lenk is not the only guitarist to have mastered this difficult work, and Joey Demaio’s will obviously go down in history as the most over the top.
Though like all of At Vance’s previous works the entire album is a consistently good listen, on this particular album we have a truly innovative and towering song that all but crushes the rest of it, and that is the title track “Chained”. The main riff is probably the most spellbinding ever put out by Lenk, not to mention that the overall atmosphere is the heaviest I’ve heard. The tempo is so slow that it flirts with being Doom Metal, although the melodic tendency still keeps it within the Power Metal realm. Mats’ vocal performance is raw and gritty, reminding heavily of his best work with Malmsteen and dwarfing the material he put together on the last At Vance release. If this band does decide to take a more rapid evolutionary route on their next release, I hope it will include expanding on the dark atmosphere found on this song.
This album is mostly geared to fans of more straight style of Power Metal in the Hammerfall style, although it is a bit more atmospheric and the guitar work is a bit more complex. It is a testament to the age old cliché “Don’t mess with perfection”, and this band has yet to disappoint me in any way. At Vance is and will probably forever be an underrated band, mostly due to the tendencies of listeners in the genre to become infatuated with more symphonic bands such as Rhapsody or progressive acts such as Pagan’s Mind and Lost Horizon, but they continue to be my favorite in the genre because of their refusal to change to fit someone else’s standard of greatness.