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The post-Leven era of At Vance has been marked by a continual cover art theme, and with it a less speedy take on the 80s revivalism that has been apparent since the band's inception. The quality has naturally taken a downturn in light of this, as a once varied formula that included Helloween inspired glory alongside the typical mid-tempo groove machine, as well as a more virtuosic guitar display and a number of brilliant arrangements of classical works by the likes of Vivaldi and Bach. Essentially, since 2007 Olaf Lenk has opted to stop competing with Malmsteen and Petrossi for who could win the Neo-classical crowd and has jumped on board with the more rock oriented craze spearheaded by Masterplan, a fitting eventuality one could argue given that Rick Altzi has been tapped as Jorn Lande's replacement in said band.
Of the 3 latest albums under the At Vance name, "Facing Your Enemy" is arguably the most formulaic and stylized, following the AOR format to the point of shedding the power metal style and having a bit more in common with Whitesnake and Ratt than previously. Granted, while the rhythm section and riff attack are far more simplified, they are consistently heavier than said 80s icons and does bring to mind the laid back yet hard-hitting character of Masterplan's "Aeronautics". There are semblances of a slightly faster formula at work on songs like "Heaven Is Calling" and "Eyes Of A Stranger" that are reminiscent of faster songs heard out of Dio or Astral Doors, but barring perhaps the brief instrumental "March Of The Dwarf", nothing on here can qualify as speed metal per say.
The majority of this album is an exercise in slow paced, melodic fanfare that conjures up some occasional inklings of "Chained" and "The Evil In You", particularly the title songs of said albums. The two most auspicious and memorable of these being the lead off single "Tokyo", which listens like it a heavier variation on the sort of keyboard oriented music that graced the soundtrack of a number of iconic 80s movies, and the slow trudging title song "Facing Your Enemy", taking after the title songs of the two Leven era albums with an even smoother melodic contour. Altzi's vocals are loud, gritty and bombastic, perfectly matching the sort of David Coverdale sound that has made a comeback lately. Much of the album tends to follow the lead of these two songs, save the 2 token ballads "Don't Dream" (heavy on the keyboards and light on metallic edge) and "Things I Never Needed" which might lead to Lenk getting slapped with another lawsuit, this time by Boston songwriter Tom Schultz for its heavy similarity to said band's 80s AOR ballad hit "Amanda".
If one discounts the ballads and sticks to the rest of this album, this is a decent listen, though not quite up to snuff with the glorious "Only Human" or the mythic "Dragonchaser". Anyone who needs their Masterplan fix and need more than the new upcoming album featuring the same vocalist, "Facing Your Enemy" will definitely take the edge off. Olaf Lenk hasn't jumped the shark as of yet, but hopefully he'll put a little more flash into the next At Vance offering so as to remind his steadfast following of how they first fell in love with their sound, the writer of this review being among them.
If ever there ever was a band that I’ve always enjoyed, it’s At Vance. Fair enough, there have been instances where they’ve had a slight fumble, but for the most part they’ve been a solid act. I’ll always retain a soft spot for the Oliver Hartmann era of the band, with Only Human remaining a personal favourite to this very day. Still, it’s been years since Oliver Hartmann has sung, Mats Levén of course did a couple of albums, and as of VII they’ve had the capable Rick Altzi handling vocal duties.
The previous album, Ride the Sky, was sadly the weakest link in their discography, so I approached Facing Your Enemy with much trepidation (I was shaking like a recovering drug addict to be frank). After hitting that play button I was greeted with a face melter the likes of which At Vance always manage to create. “Impressive” I thought to myself, and I was digging that Only Human vibe that bled out through the track. Then I broke into a cold sweat remembering their last album, At Vance always does this, they always make a promise with a great opener that sometimes isn’t fully realized across the album. Listening on with further caution seemed the best approach here.
“Damn, this is good.” That trepidation slowly drained, churning into full fledged joy, the air guitar was out, and a smile was painted across my face. Rick Altzi has really come into his own as a singer as of late, and on both Facing Your Enemy and the latest release from Herman Frank, he delivers probably his finest performances, giving the likes of Jorn Lande a run for their money. His tone is impeccable, and he really captures that neo-classical vibe well, so well in fact I’m surprised a certain Mr. Malmsteen hasn’t snapped him up. There is a definite hard rock (as per) feel going on here as well, but it is entirely beneficial on Facing Your Enemy and really makes the likes of the title track and “Fear No Evil” pop.
It isn’t all smooth sailing though. “Don’t Dream” is a stinking ballad that Whitesnake wouldn’t touch, and it hurts the flow of the album which is a damn shame. “Tokyo”, whilst good enough, sounds like it would be better suited to a Rocky film soundtrack. However, in saying that, there’s still plenty of treats lying in wait on the later half of the album. “See Me Crying” is a majestic track with brilliant hooks, “Saviour” is neo-classical At Vance magic at it’s finest, and “Fame & Fortune” is one of the finest tracks the band has penned in ages. It’s typical At Vance, but you can’t help but love it!
With Olaf Lenks’ awesome guitar skills and session drumming courtesy of Casey Grillo, the performances here are stellar, and in all honesty I’ve really enjoyed Facing Your Enemy. This is head and shoulders above the last few At Vance albums, and totally reminds me of Only Human (which is absolutely a good thing). Whilst hardly breaking new ground or original by this band, what they do is play with the kind of conviction not heard since The Evil In You. Fans of neo-classical and hard rocking power metal would do well to check this out, and I’m pleased to see At Vance back on form. Recommended!
Originally written for http://blackwindmetal.com
Great bands will occasionally trip over their own success and slam into the rocks with an awakening force. It's the truth, kids; shit really does happen. Germany's At Vance has a fairly stellar record of fantastic albums despite many drawbacks, particularly a revolving door of members shuffling through albums and packing their bags shortly thereafter. Hell, Olaf Lenk—the group's only remaining original member—recruited Rick Altzi after Mats Levén hit the road, and together the mastermind behind At Vance and the faction's third spokesmen released "Ride The Sky" in 2009; not really an exciting album, but certainly a listenable one. With "Facing Your Enemy," I'm beginning to think At Vance's force has dwindled down to a dragon's droppings. No power, no variety, and no signs of a fantastic band; just a fading reflection in a run-of-the-mill cycle of average power metal.
Throughout "Facing Your Enemy," it feels like At Vance is lacking the ingenuity of previous releases and just wanted to heave an album without much care. You could reasonably call what they do here uninspired, as Lenk sleepwalks through a multitude of banal tracks which all sound like they were cut from the same postulate of semi-generic, hard rock-laden songs running between identical tempos and poor choruses. I assume the main idea was to be catchy or somehow memorable, but that isn't the case. I like the way Altzi sounds, yet at times he seems too saccharine and bombastic; it's the way his voice melts into the music that really irks me. The pair of ballads—"Don't Dream" and "Things I Never Needed"—are completely disposable. Altzi's voice is oversaturated to fit the emotional (or whatever) chimes going on behind him, and the tunes lack any sort of instrumental power, just like most of the record, unfortunately.
I did slam some of Altzi's performances, but it should be noted his stature as a singer is amazing, and he definitely has his positive moments here. The melodies and riffs throughout the short instrumental "March of the Dwarf" are amusingly more riveting than most of the album—kind of defeats the purpose of an interlude if it has more substance than the actual chapters it connects, right? "Saviour" has a sturdy neoclassical mold that leaves a big impression on the listener, and the opening "Heaven is Calling" is a traditional At Vance anthem gushing streams of beef. Sadly, these three tunes are the few truly consistent portions lurking between the cracks of "Facing Your Enemy." Acceptable slices are around, sure, but not without their banes balancing out the equation.
Oh yea, "Tokyo" would fit perfectly on a soundtrack based on Miami Vice; I'm still not sure if I like the overabundant keyboards and pop-structured choruses, but I always find myself singing along. It's an appealing track for what it is despite the obvious commercial direction. However, "Facing Your Enemy" leaves me feeling hungry and mildly disappointed, as if this meal hit more like an appetizer. Maybe it's just me, but I expected more out of this. I mean, "Facing Your Enemy" has the essential components of an At Vance release. This is album number nine, after all; it would be outrageous to assume they haven't established a stable identity by now. However, the whole package feels lacking, and I'll take the band's other releases over this.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Germany's At Vance have released a slew of a albums over their fourteen year existence, and always seem to have a revolving door of members, as the line up has been historically inconsistent between albums. At Vance return once again with “Facing Your Enemy” sporting only one original member, Olaf Lenk, on guitars and keyboards. Generally classified as a neoclassical power metal act, “Facing Your Enemy” steers away from the classical components of many competitors, and instead, opts for an AOR inspired Power Metal album with more touches of hard rock than neoclassical flourishes.
The vocalist, Rick Altzi, is main factor responsible for the overwhelming AOR sound on this album. Songs like “Tokyo” and “Don't Dream” sound straight off of the “Rocky III” soundtrack. Altzi has a nice, soulful mid range tone, but sounds too similar to any number of 80's icons. A few tracks show the guitars with that tried and true 80's vibe and the keyboards sound almost like MIDI files (if you're old enough to remember those) or new wave pop synth-laden overdubs. Fortunately, At Vance doesn't give us an entire album of AOR arena anthems.
The band does, for the most part, stick with a rather heavy power metal front. The drums, in particular, are extremely heavy, sounding straight out of mid 90's Gothenburg. The drummer utilizes an awesome double kick technique and rarely strays into standard double bass running, adding a modern vibe while not detracting from the rest of the band. The guitars, aside from the arena rockers, retain a heavy tone, opting to use simple power chords and chugging palm muting. Tasteful leads are thrown around through the entire album. The Neoclassical elements are only displayed during the solos, which are well thought out and not too pompous (like others in the genre).
Altzi's vocals range from the AOR-esque sounds on the ballads and arena rockers into an awesome mid range. The mid range vocals really remind me of Russell Allen's recent output with Symphony X (minus the growling stuff). There is plenty of energy in his vocal performance and his vocals, while not the best I've ever heard, are sung with enough conviction to be more than mildly entertaining. Altzi's vocals, while performed well, sound like they were recorded in 1985 because of his delivery style.
At Vance's “Facing Your Enemy” does have some modern moments. The drum work is outstanding and is much more advanced than standard hard rock / AOR bands. The guitar work, while for the most part simplistic, still has a post 90's feel to it, with the chugging, powerful riffs. Even with some modern elements, this album cannot break free from the nostalgic factors. The synths, AOR vocals and overall atmosphere of this album are stuck in the 80's.
Overall, “Facing Your Enemy” is an average album. There are some really enjoyable tracks here, but there are also some terribly sappy, poppy, synth-laden songs too. The AOR influence is way too prominent throughout the album for my liking. That being said, if you love AOR and you love power metal, there's a good chance you will love At Vance. Recommended to listeners stuck in the 80's. If you can't stand AOR, well, let's just say you've been warned.
Written for the Metal Observer