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When I originally approached ‘Utopia’ it was because one review from another webzine stated it was damn good and when you check the awesome cover you might (I at least) could get curious about what it might actually sound like but then I investigated a little further and some of the reviews have been really bad for this band. Thus I downloaded some songs and boy was I glad I did that! I haven’t heard any other album by this band, although I’ve read ‘Kingdom of the night’ is excellent. Therefore I have no previous opinion or preconceptions about how this band should sound.
What we have here is a crossover between melodic heavy metal and power metal glimpses here and there, much like Stratovarius has us accustomed to (please note that I am not saying they sound like Stratovarius because that would be atrocious for both bands). Sailing the middle waters between these two sub genres could be dangerous and the line between the two is thin, thus I have to mention 3 important factors which this bands their direction to, in regards to these statements above. First: you could reach levels of boredom very easy by using double bass drumming mindlessly at the speed of light. Fortunately, Axxis avoids this and the songs are most of them mid tempo paced so it is their first point high.
The second factor is the fact they use mostly song structures from classic heavy metal without overusing any element from nowadays and the balance of heavy tunes but not overly fast bordering of guitar stunts wankery without any sense of melody or anything for that matter.
Third factor in line is the weird vocals of Bernard Weiss and I mean weird, they, in some instances he sings using the same tons of Final Frontier’s singer and hard rock vibe. In some other places he sounds more like the regular yet middle ranged power metal singer without overusing his voice. The direction of the band can be annoying to some metal heads but I find it otherwise interesting if I analyze the album in its context and not something trying to re-invent the power metal or melodic metal wheel as far as composition, arrangements or any cliché you might think.
But let’s dig into the utopian sea and see what we are dealing with: ‘Journey to Utopia’ is the mandatory intro most used on power metal and as you guessed, it is completely unnecessary. ‘Utopia’ is the second track and it has a march like 80’s main riff and very good sound. This is a powerful track without double bass drum and a good solo. They keyboards are very prominent and yet they do not overpower the tight riffing section and the chorus is ultra catchy. At some point the keyboards carry the melody but yet, they do not sound annoying to me. ‘Last man on earth’ has a classic music intro ala Angra, but when the main riff comes, as far as I listen to it, you get a more powerful riff than the title track although it has this march like riff again, taken from 80’s majority of bands. The keyboards here go to the background and they provide a thick atmosphere to this song. The vocals are a little lower than the title track which is really nice for me. The chorus is not as catchy as the previous one but the melody of the entire song is very good. Keyboard solos trading with the guitar solo are also thrown in the middle, very much in the same vein of Stratovarius. ‘Fass mich an’ is sung in German and I got to say is an awesome track because the guitar riff is vicious and exquisite. Actually, the lyrics fit well the song. What it is not that good are the female voices because they sound a little out of place. But then again, the chorus is catchy enough to be humming it while you are listening to this wonderful album. The solo is rhythm based mostly but it goes perfectly with the rhythm guitars and the powerful rhythm section. This song has a lot of twists, even double bass in the bridge and weird drum patterns but is a very powerful song.
I would say that ‘Sarah wanna die’ is the heaviest song of this recording. The riff is so simple it seems impossible how it sounds so heavy (for this band’s standard) but then again the bass lines (which are very nice at one of the stop and go of the song around the minute 2) are augmented and the double bass drumming accentuates this perfectly. Keyboards are placed in the right place and the vocals with the chorus are wonderful. ‘My fathers’ eyes’ is the first ballad and boy is this a ballad! This is how metal ballads should sound without the cheese of Narnia, Impelliteri or the lack of cohesive writing and flat vibe most of Helloween’s ballads or Gamma Ray have. This is a good tempo ballad with good guitar melodies. The vocals do transmit emotions and the keyboards do not take the lead but more the background following the guitars during the chorus. By the way, Bernard dedicated this song to his father who passed away in Nov’ 08 so this is the way to dedicate a song for your beloved father, with passion, emotion and a solid songwriting although the lyrics can be a little (just a little) silly, such as: ‘’the day you die—you can hear me cry’’ I mean, I understand his point but come on, this has been written million times but even so, this is a masterful performed ballad.
Now the tone of the album changes with ‘The Monsters crawl’ that which is a mid tempo song but really heavy. Some growls are added during the chorus to back the title lines and epic battle pre-chorus adding a touch of ‘evilness?’ to the song. The riff is again very simple, not necessarily memorable but effective. In here is where I think the keyboards take some predominance to provide this epic feel. ‘Eyes of a child’ comes next and we get this 80’s march like riff again. This song has powerful keyboards during the rhythm sections and it is catchy as hell due to the vocal melodies and the keyboard fills which are really cool. This is 80’s retro feel coming back with powerful production and kickass sound. I like the chorus which will stick in your mind for long. ‘Heavy rain’ is another heavy metal anthem tune with catchy chorus and powerful bass lines. ‘For you I will die’ have the keyboards playing this weird sound but the guitar riffs are good but it has too much breaks between the verses so it diminishes the flow of this song although the chorus is good. ‘Underworld’ closes and it is the fastest track and now we are talking power metal here, just listen to it, double bass drums all around and power metal riffs are all over the place. Dual guitar soloing and keyboards ala Stratovarius and Rhapsody provide quite entertainment here.
Perhaps one of the low points found was the recurrent use of 80’s retro riffs with some little differences between them which kind of makes the songs repetitive and that is why I guess they get so catchy as well, since the same formula is used over and over. But on the high points is the way the songs are ordered so they keep the flow of the album with the exception, perhaps of the title track with its (kinda) weird tone on the keyboards which could (just could) take listeners away immediately due to power metal overused element. As far as I am concerned, they don’t annoy me but I understand some listeners can tie them to cliché power metal too fast. This makes me think that, sadly, the weakest track is actually the title track and ‘For you I will die’. The first one opening the album so if that is about to drive you away, give it a shot to the rest, the later before the last song.
By the way, the cover indeed is simply AMAZING! One of the best covers I have seen in years of any sub genre. What a magnificent concept and kickass artwork! I was, am and will be very pleased with this album and it is still getting a lot of airplay in my home theater. It is varied enough because of the many elements thrown in the mix such as growls, female vocals, different voices used, dueling keyboards and guitars solos, powerful rhythm sections and tempos throughout the album. This is a very good melodic metal with power metal hints album, one that has everything I need and offers me the best elements of two worlds without boring me and actually, giving me a hell of a listening experience. In other words a fairly solid effort from a band I haven’t met before and a very welcomed cd to my shelf. Utopia does not exist, but I can escape to this world through this album whenever I want to.