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Fairyland, formerly Fantasia, is a symphonic power metal band from France, but in my opinion they sound more like their Italian counterparts.
‘The Fall of an Empire’ is often overlooked, in favour of their debut ‘Of Wars in Osyrhia’. Elisa C. Martin (ex-Dark Moor) quit soon after their 2003 tour. She had brought a lot of attention to the band and gave them a distinct sound, so her departure could have been a huge loss to the band. Fortunately Elisa had little or no input into song writing. All songs are composed by Philippe Giordana and Anthony Parker (ex-Heavenly), and they took the opportunity to change things up a bit and evolve their sound.
The debut is a blend of Rhapsody (of Fire) and Dark Moor, and is just about as ‘flowery’ as power metal can get (no surprise for a band named Fairyland). Avid fans of Dark Moor may well prefer ‘Of Wars in Osyrhia’, for obvious reasons.
Although still very much in the same vein, ‘The Fall of an Empire’ is more accessible for the average metal fan. It’s catchier, heavier and even more bombastic, and quite simply has more balls.
If you compare the artwork of the two albums, a fantastical landscape and a gruesome battle against the undead, you would expect such differences in sound. The latter imagery may be somewhat deceptive, as this is not the aggressive onslaught that you may be led to expect, but it is nonetheless great cover art. Fairyland is much less ‘speed metal’ sounding than standard European power metal (Helloween, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian etc).
The replacement vocalist, Max Leclerqc, is a very polished and accomplished singer and adds more of an edge to their sound. At times he actually sings in a very similar style to Elisa, but his stronger male vocal cords are naturally better suited to the new heavier sound. As good a singer as Elisa is, I find she can become boring over the course of an album. Max’s powerful voice is far catchier and more memorable. He has an impressive vocal range and bares similarities both to early Russel Allen and to Fabio Lione. His performance is one of the highlights of the album.
A guest female vocalist makes a few appearances, singing the parts that would have been more suited to Elisa than Max. The two singers combined are more than a match for Elisa.
The guitars have become more prevalent, coming to the forefront for some of the heavier sections. Anthony Parker’s leads are impressive without ever becoming indulgent. Thomas Cesario’s bass and rhythm guitar are paramount to achieving this heavier sound. However, Philippe Giordana’s excellent keys are still the driving force of most songs. There are some great solos from both keyboards and guitars.
The bass and drums are pretty fast for symphonic metal, but are rather secondary in the mix to the keyboard and guitars. This is probably both intentional and profitable to the atmosphere they have set out to create.
The song writing has also improved on this album, compared to its predecessor. The overall composition is exceptional. A good balance of soft, slow sections and fast, powerful moments prevents this 63 minute album from dragging. Orchestral interludes are well used, bridging the songs to help the album flow. The emotions of desperation and sorrow are portrayed well, both by vocals and instrumentation.
‘Eldanie Uelle’ is a particularly catchy song and demonstrates both the soft and the heavy sides of Fairyland at their best. ‘In Duna’ is closest to ‘Of Wars in Osyrhia’ era Fairyland, with all female vocals and the electric guitars replaced by orchestral instruments. This slow, graceful song is well placed, as it is followed by the 10 minute epic ‘The Story Remains’. This is possibly my favourite song on the album, and is for the most part more similar to Symphony X than to Rhapsody (of Fire) or Dark Moor.
Although not perfect, it comes as close as anyone and rivals early Rhapsody (of Fire). This album is therefore essential to all fans of symphonic power metal. Unfortunately, all too many people are put off by the band’s name.
(Orginally posted at http://liferthereviewroom.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/fairyland-fall-of-empire.html)
The album begins identically to the previous one, a slightly tedious symphonic keyboard affair beginning in ambience leading to pseudo-choir "chanting" and after barely over a minute cuts into the first song. The title track makes a less brash impression than the previous album's opener did - this is actually surprising given how much the previous album relied on keyboard pyrotechnics. The super-heavy keyboard saturation has been cut back a little, and there is more focus on the guitars, both in their riffing and their role in leading the songs. As a result this album's style has less of an immediate entertainment value, but fortunately the song writing stands up to increased scrutiny. The drums are more prominent both in the mix and the song structures, and are well-played. The slightly more downbeat tone fits very well into Fairyland's existing style and the vocal tunes remain as brilliant as before. The new male vocalist fits so naturally into the band's style that you may be forgiven for assuming it was the same person singing slightly differently if you hadn't heard the albums back to back.
The shift from keyboard-dominated songs to more guitar-led ones is a significant one, and gives this album a significantly heavier sound than the debut (improved production certainly adds to the effect here as well). The heavy reliance on strong vocal melodies remains, and they continue to be exceptional - some songs featuring a female vocalist either alone or in duet form, but she doesn't appear very often. The song where she gets most exposure is In Duna, which I find both grating and technically mediocre. The singing isn't brilliant, and the sound of her voice is eugh, but I can see a lot of people enjoying this one. Another small difference from the previous album is the inclusion of a few interlude tracks. These are typical faceless entities in the Rhapsody mould, but are at least inoffensive and spectacularly, one of them even manages to flow well into the following song. It's unbelievable how many shitty bands fail to achieve this simple trick.
The obligatory long song is no stronger than the previous album's one, which was a little too lengthy. The more interesting (and audible) riffs and heavier production are a big plus in keeping interest, but attention does wander towards the end. I'll be kind to the last track as it is an outro. It's repetitive warbling, quite pleasant coma music, but a highly unambitious ending - think Enya. The bonus track Across the Endless Sea is not on the level of the rest of the album but is decent and worth hearing. The production is also very similar to the rest of the album, so it fits well. In terms of overall quality, this album has less of a noticeable quality drop after the first songs which the previous release suffered from. Some of the very best tracks are well-placed in the middle.
This album shows that Fairyland are far from a gimmick band, and in fact have a strong style which is recognisable and natural in two rather different sounding releases. The symphonic aspect of the music doesn't overpower the guitars as is a problem that hampers other bands of this genre, including to some extent their own debut.
Three years ago Fairyland released their breakout debut album “Of Wars in Osyrhia”, which combined the large instrumentation and playing style of Rhapsody with some Progressive elements found in earlier works by Symphony X. One of the reasons why it was so widely acclaimed was the commanding vocal presence of Elisa Martin, former front person of acclaimed Spanish Power Metal band Dark Moor, although one should not discount some rather inspired songwriting either. However, like many bands in the genre, Fairyland has been plagued with a shifting line-up, which included the exodus of Elisa along with co-founding member and drummer Willdric Lievin.
With a new line up and expectations really high there is one overriding question that a potential buyer and fan of the last album should ask, “Did the sound suffer since the previous work?” Although opinions may vary, I answer that they have risen to the challenge and even improved in certain areas. Current vocalist Max Leclercq, whose former work with Magic Kingdom I am not yet familiar with, does an exceptional job of delivering a stellar performance. Ironically the vocalist I am most reminded of when I hear him is Elisa, though there are times where his vocal interpretation also is reminiscent of both Hansi Kursch and Olaf Hayer.
The instrumentalists on here have evolved a bit, though thankfully not to the point of butchering a winning formula. Anthony Parker is still walking a fine line between sounding like Luca Turilli and Kai Hansen, although his solos on slower songs such as “Eldanie Uelle” and “The Awakening” are more melodic and polished. Likewise Phillippe’s keyboard playing mostly reminds of Alex Staropoli and Jens Johansen, but we do see more piano solo work on here, indicating a possibility that he has been listening to some of Luca Turilli’s solo work.
Some rather pleasant surprises on this release that were not found on the debut are also found in the song writing, which has taken an even more adventurous approach to structure, and also utilizes melodic and harmonic devices similar to Blind Guardian’s later work. But we do still have a largely Rhapsody inspired structure including the typical opening instrumental prelude, a few ballads and interludes lacking an electric guitar presence, and the same Neo-Classical chord progressions. In addition, we are treated to another long winded epic composition in “The Story Remains” which is largely similar to Rhapsody’s long epics such as the title tracks of their first 2 albums.
Highlight tracks include fast anthems such as “Clanner of the Light”, which contains a lot of musical similarities with faster tracks found on “Nightfall in Middle Earth”. Other fast tracks such as “Lost in the Dark Lands” and “The Fall of an Empire” are cut more from the Dawn of Victory era of Rhapsody. “Slaves Forlorn” is a brief instrumental that will likely sit well with fans of film score, particularly those of Danny Elfman. “In Duna” will be a winner among fans of Luca Turilli’s more recent solo work and features a top notch vocal performance by guest singer Sarah Leyssac.
However, my personal favorite of the bunch is the highlight catchy and waltz like power ballad “Eldanie Uelle”. Its principle piano part is a nice variation on the somber sounds found on “Harvest of Sorrow”, one of my favorite tracks off of Blind Guardian’s “A Night at the Opera”. The ¾ beat of the verses also reminds heavily of Nightfall on Middle Earth song “Nightfall”, while the triumphant chorus actually reeks of a more ambitious take on early Power Quest. I’ve had this album for 2 months now and I still am hooked on this song.
For fans of Symphonic metal, particularly those who miss the older sound of Rhapsody, this is a must have. I also recommend it strongly to fans of later Blind Guardian, as well as fans of early to mid era Luca Turilli. It showcases the same instrumental brilliance found on the debut, and nothing is lost in the performance by the new vocalist.