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I used to say this was one of my very favorite guilty pleasures, but you know what it is? There's nothing to be guilty about at all when loving this album. Why is that I hear you whisper?
Why? Simply because this album is awesome fun. Only Human is a romp in unashamedly over the top, hard rocking power metal. Loads of neo-classical guitar work, double kicking drums, songs about facing your destiny and chasing rainbows, even a Rainbow cover, this just has it all, sautéed in the finest, richest gorgonzola sauce.
Oliver Hartmann leads the At Vance boys through thirteen tracks of excellent melodic power metal, his voice is of a husky timbre, sounding like a sweaty sock in the greatest way possible, and is a surefire example of the kind of singer your dad could appreciate. In fact, At Vance are just about universal in their appeal, I think anyone into melodic music in general would find something to enjoy here, particularly the title track with its massive sing-a-long chorus.
Fortunately At Vance don't lose themselves amidst a sea of sing-a-long songs, nor do they fall into the Clichéd 80's Malmsteen worship that fells a good amount of their peers, although that isn't to say the lean mean, airbrushed 'Steen isn't duly worshipped. On the contrary, Olaf Lenk wears his influence proudly on his sleeve, which no doubt starts at Blackmore and ends at Malmsteen. Still, he isn't too bad of a clone, and actually spews forth some badass lead work, not to mention some jolly good riffs.
"The Time Has Come" shows exactly what At Vance are all about, neo-classically tinged chord progressions led by double kicking make way for Oliver's hard rockin' vocal work, before a massive chorus opens up and you've got your first bang up in the air head-banging like they did in '82. "Take My Pain" presents a wicked riff, that will guarantee the arrival of the air guitar. "Fly to the Rainbow" should have earned each member of the band a cheese sculpted likeness of the album cover, how they could make a track with such a pink name so badass is beyond me.
The later half of the album has a whole host of cool stuff, from neoclassical guitar covers of Vivaldi, to dancing witches, Only Human is all good. Even the "I Surrender" cover is great; you're a fucking puff if you don't like that song.
All in all, and trying to bring back some slight degree of seriousness. Only Human is going to appeal to fans of melodic power metal, especially fans of all things neoclassical, and even those who are more into hard rock and AOR might find a good amount of enjoyment here. While At Vance would never touch the heights of this album again, I think Only Human is somewhat of an unsung classic amongst the power metal genre, and is nigh on essential for fans of the style.
I've been a fan of power metal for a few years now and in that time I've discovered that there's a few crimes in the genre when it comes to which bands get all the glory and which bands go unnoticed. For those of you who don't know, At Vance has been releasing albums almost every year for 9 years straight now, and just about every one of them rules. However, I feel that Only Human is probably their crowning achievement, which is both good and bad considering it serves as original vocalist Olver Hartmann's final effort with them.
This album brings a lot of different elements to the table, some of which many power metal bands don't focus on. One aspect that this album keys in on that may seem a bit overused in power metal is the neoclassical aspects of the music. It's no secret that Olaf Lenk (guitarist, primary writer, founder) is big into both classical music and neoclassical players such as Yngwie Malmsteen. The presence of this style is not only in Olaf's solos but also in the chord structures and melodies of the guitar leads. However, despite how cliche the idea is for most bands, At Vance manages to pull it off in a unique way that's not near as trite.
Another thing this album offers up is the vocals. Oliver Hartmann is probably most well known for his work on Avantasia, but that's not nearly a good indication of what he's capable of, which is brought completely to the table here. Hartmann's voice is both powerful and melodic. He doesn't get too engulfed in the overly melodic cheese vocals like some other Melodic Metal/AOR singers tend to, yet he really has an amazing set of pipes that seem to be the best when tackling more emotional vocals.
Possibly the biggest thing this album brings to the table than many other power metal albums seem to leave at home is amazing songwriting. Every song on this album is a keeper, and that's a rarity in this genre. I can listen to this album from start to finish and honestly say I love every song. The choruses are strong and memorable, the soloing is quite tasteful and the songs never drag yet never seem too short.
All in all, if you're a fan of melodic and power metal, this is an album you simply need. I'd probably consider this one of the top 15 power metal albums ever released, and certainly the crowning achievement of At Vance's career.
In 4 years At Vance has popped out a whopping 5 full length studio albums, something that only Black Sabbath and a few other bands in the metal genre can brag about accomplishing. Through this time period they have maintained a very consistent sound, combining the melodic and speed elements of bands such as Helloween and the symphonic/shred elements of early Rising Force. The result is an interesting blend of melody and power that can be summed up as Neo-Romantic Metal.
The primary complaint levied against this band is that they have not evolved at all, which is not an accurate statement. Between Heart of Steel and Dragonchaser there were some rather large improvements in the overall production, not to mention a dramatic shift in the cover concepts, which further display an evident growth in lyrical content. Their sound is quite consistent, however, and thus it doesn’t really qualify as Progressive, but its unchanging approach to melody and speed is what continues to win me over every time I listen to their material.
“Only Human” picks up in the gradual evolution where “Dragonchaser” left off, and features more brilliant speed tracks with an even heavier production. “Take me away” and “The Time has come” are your standard catchy power metal tracks, featuring great drum and guitar work, the latter being the more memorable of the two. “Witch’s Dance” has a heavily catchy lead guitar riff, but the lyrical content is the most appealing part. “Fly to the Rainbow” is my pick for best fast track on here, having an almost thrash type gallop to it and the most powerful chorus of the lot.
Slower tracks such as “Take away my pain” and “Hold your fire” carry as much melodic power, the former being a bit similar to the title track of “Heart of Steel”, the latter having some highly inspirational lyrics. “Time” and “Sing this song” are a bit more haunting and show some signs of motion towards a progressive sound, although maintaining the consistent melodic formula. The latter has an interesting keyboard intro, while the former sounds almost like Pink Floyd at times. “Wings to Fly” is probably the most passionate ballad on here, playing off of some extremely poignant lyrics; it almost sounds like a funeral march.
The remakes on here are also in top form, as has been the case since the debut album. “I Surrender” is a faithful, yet heavier and more powerful cover of the Rainbow classic. Oliver Hartmann’s vocals match Russ Ballard’s high end notes perfectly, and his harder edged voice gives it an edge over the original version. “Spring” is yet another amazing rearrangement of a movement of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons. Although not quite as dramatic as the remake of “Summer”, it rocks hard and utilizes the same approach to tertian dynamics that was commonplace during the Baroque era. The C.P.E. Bach remake is my pick for best instrumental on here. The lesser known son of J.S. Bach was instrumental in the move from the Classical Era to the Romantic Era, and was probably the biggest influence on Beethoven’s later music. His music was also influential in how Yngwie Malmsteen developed his own playing style, which is directly connected with the rise of the metal guitar hero. “Solfeggietto” is highly flashy, but also carries a highly musical quality that is sometimes missing in the works of composers from the Romantic era.
The highlight of this album, however, is the title track. Although it is not the fastest song on here, it embodies everything that is great about this band. An unforgettable main riff, a hypnotically catchy chorus that forces you to sing along and one of the most brilliant guitar solos I’ve ever heard. Oliver Hartmann shines the brightest on here vocally, letting out some real emotion as he flies up and down his rather large singing range. Lyrically it underscores the artistic brilliance of Luis Royo, who painted the art that became the cover of this album. The message of this art work is clear enough that it is accessible to all, yet simultaneously is abstract and general enough to be translated a number of different ways in the musical medium. The message is both one of passion and sorrow, which is observable in how the female angel weeps as she embraces her quasi-cybernetic mate. This message is given a more personal and human light in the way it is lyrically interpreted in the song.
This is currently my favorite release by At Vance (Centers is the only one I haven’t tracked down yet). It is lyrically and musically the most mature work I’ve heard by them, though it carries the same consistent formula that has been left unaltered since the debut. Unfortunately this is the last release with Oliver Hartmann on vocals, but now with ex-Yngiwe Malmsteen vocalist extraordinaire Mats Leven at the helm, the days of glory are far from over for this German Power Metal outfit. If you like Helloween, Freedom Call, Yngwie Malmsteen, Iron Savior, or Melodic Power Metal in general, this is the album for you.
This is by no means a bad album, but after being overwhelmed by the greatness of Heart of Steel, I was definitely disappointed. Their sound hasn't changed much at all, it's pretty much all the same- and while they are a very good band, at times it does get old. Though there is one notable change, in that they keyboards have a bigger part, which is seen right from the first song featuring really cool alternating guitar and keyboard solos.
The production has improved also, with a much thicker and stronger sound, but this doesn't cover the fact that the album is also much less consistent than Heart of Steel. There are several weak points scattered across the album that take make it much worse than it could've been, and also makes the great songs seem less great. And the fact that remains that the high points generally aren't quite as excellent as Soldier of Time, for example.
Also, some of the melodic ideas found on Heart of Steel have been copied and placed on various places around on this album. One example is the verses of Take Me Away, which sound pretty much exactly the same as Soldier of Time. Stuff like that only occurs about three times on the album, and while it doesn't really matter much, it does give the feeling that they're running out of ideas. Perhaps it was merely mistakes, but it still gets annoying at times.
But like I said before, this is not at all a bad album on it's own, not at all. It just feels rather pale compared to Heart of Steel.
They still don't really sound like any other band I've heard, and they've got their own thing going, and the songwriting is for the most part very strong, despite some filler material that abound.
The Time Has Come is a fast-paced, very melodic and very memorable opener much in the vein of Soldier of Time. The title track follows it, and is incredibly catchy yet still pretty emotional, and has an awesome melodic chorus. Fly To The Rainbow is pretty long for this band, reaching just over, and is easily the highlight of the album. Only the intro is amazing, alternating between wicked heavy riffwork and the melodic main-lead in a great fashion, and the vocal lines are very memorable. And check out that monster speed metal riff kicking in at about 4 minutes. Take Me Away is killer speed metal featuring a completely awesome, huge melodic chorus, and is incredibly solid tune despite the recycled verses. But aside from Fly To The Rainbow, the two greatest songs are the ones closing the album: Witches Dance and Wings to Fly. The former being a wicked uplifting speed metal tune with a menacing melodic main riff and a very memorable chorus, the second continuing the band's tradition of writing splendid emotional ballads. And on the limited version, there is also the bonus track I Surrender, a magnificent cover of the Rainbow classic. There are also two instrumental tracks, being two more well executed renditions of classical pieces.
So the band still have some excellent songwriting in store. Their music as usual has a rather emotional touch and is played with great passion and inspiration, which is another reason why this band still stands out among many other bands.
But the fact remains that the album is pretty inconsistent. Hold Your Fire has a decent melodic chorus but the ballad-ish verses seem very extended and don't really make sense. Time is just utterly boring, and then Sing This Song is very average, with a rather silly chorus.
So while Only Human is another solid power metal album by these guys, it could be much more. They need to take it a few steps further and move into unknown territory, because bands that stay the same all the time really have no future. Maybe that is just what they did on their new album The Evil In You, I will have to check it out. The band has talent, it would be a shame to see it go to waste.