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Canada has produced some respectable power metal of late, and the author of this review has to admit a strong approval of the work of Icewind in particular, a band that essentially helped to resurrect the melodic and speed infused sound that Sonata Arctica has since abandoned. A newcomer to the scene dubbed Instanzia comes from a very similar persuasion, though they've gotten a bit closer still to that constant speed metal character that is more along the lines of Celesty, a band that is essentially a stronger and more consistent version of Sonata Arctica, and sadly one that hasn't been very active in the studio for the past 4 years. This is the sort of catchy, melodic and lead guitar happy goodness that has been all the rage in Finland since the late 1990s, but has only recently come into any level of prominence in North America save a few token bands like Kamelot that have enjoyed more exposure on the opposite side of the Atlantic.
The first impression given off by "Ghosts" is actually a bit deceiving, as the instrumental intro "Omen" starts off with a vibrant piano and string sound that is a bit more of a staple of symphonic outfits like Dark Moor and Fairyland. About halfway through things take on a bit more of a conventional ballad tone and the beginnings of what is an album that is somewhat reminiscent of a Sabaton album emerges, but without shying away from laying on the speed constantly and not constantly resorting to slower, conventional 80s trappings. The keyboards morph into more of a tasteful, supporting element once the full length songs come into view, and the guitars generally dominate the arrangement. While the heavy Kai Hansen influences on the rhythmic elements of the guitars is pretty blatant, there are also some Iron Maiden influenced gallops and slower pummeling sections here and there, and much of the non-shredding lead guitar lines have a strong similarity to the animated yet repetitive character of "Somewhere In Time".
There are no dull moments to speak of here, though there is a lot of recurring ideas that occasionally throw the listener and check the playlist to see if the repeat song button wasn't accidentally hit. Much of this comes in the form of similar lead riffs that are along similar lines to that classic Adrian Smith line from "Wasted Years", and the drum work does generally stick to the double bass oriented fury that typified Dan Zimmerman's work on Gamma Ray's late 90s material. But the job gets done particularly well during the chorus sections, and such triumphant ones as those heard on "Ghosts Of The Past", "Power Of The Mind" and "A Genius Who Believes" hit the ears with the same irresistible smoothness that early Freedom Call and Heavenly did, commanding repeated listens and strong memory retention. The vocal work of front man and guitarist Alexis Woodbury is a bit squeaky clean and reminiscent of Tony Kakko without much of his upper range, and though is performed quite adequately, does come off as a tiny bit vanilla at times.
However, this album really brings home a winner in the closing epic "The Desert Fox", which is essentially an abridged musical adaptation of the biography of WWII German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. In the same winning tradition as established by Iron Maiden on numerous long-winded epics covering historical topics and literature such as "Alexander The Great", "The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" and "To Tame A Lamb", this song just oozes with glory, though it takes a bit more after a Helloween take on metal with a heavy amount of speed riffing and drumming, though the melodic contours and occasional employment of mid-eastern musical ideas is definitely reminiscent of Maiden. This song basically destroys just about every historical WWII oriented song that Sabaton has ever put out and rivals just about everything that has come out of power metal that clocks in over 10 minutes in the past several years. This song alone makes this album worthy of consideration by any fan of the style.
It might be a bit premature to say that this band has replaced Icewind as the new powerhouse of Canada's affiliate European styled power metal bands, but with a new album coming out at some point this year, this will definitely be a band to keep an eye on. All the needed elements are in place, the band gets the job done in terms of production and overall clarity of sound, and all without turning into an over-polished, mundane affair. For an album that deals primarily in apparitions that lack a truly physical presence, it is quite solid.