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For all of the trappings normally associated from the land that gave us such legends as Dracula and the werewolf, Magica has been somewhat reserved in their tendency to embrace these clichés, at least when compared to some bands not from that area who take them on such as Powerwolf and Timeless Miracle. This changed with the release of “Wolves And Witches”, a name that has all of the subtlety of the plotlines featured in the ever popular “Underworld” series and the ill-fated attempt at playing up classical horror that was “Van Helsing”. But thankfully these seasoned Romanian power metal artists are less inclined to modernistic pitfalls and have managed to render a highly enticing romantic tale of an album that brings a bit of charm back to female fronted power metal.
Stylistically this is a bit of a departure from the subdued “Hereafter” and plays up the faster and more epic character of the band’s sound, coming off as less of a “Century Child” follower and something slightly closer to the majestic character of “Wishmaster”. Comparisons to Nightwish are woefully unavoidable given the heavily similar sound and stylistic character of singer Ana Mladinovici, and throughout most of this release here voice seems even more obvious than previously. But this band also does well to remain distinct by playing up the guitars and restraining the keyboard and symphonic trappings, resulting in something that is a slight bit closer to the straight line power metal character of Firewind, though guitarist Bogdan Costea is less of a shred fanatic and much more focused on memorable themes and pounding riff work.
While the format here is a bit plainer and less conceptually bound than the typical romanticism of Nightwish, there is a certain mystique that dominates this album that is pretty hard to miss. Sometimes there will be a brief atmospheric interlude or intro such as the creepy séance sounds at the beginning of “They Stole The Sun” or the equally otherworldly sounds mixed into the breakdown just before the solo on “Until The Light Is Gone”, but even the predictable sections that come and go in each song is possessed of a certain nuance and charm that gradually works its way into the forefront after repeated listens. Perhaps the two plainest offerings to be heard on here in “Just For 2 Coins” and “Hurry Up Ravens” offer the most triumphant elements to the mix, reminding heavily of the flash and splendor of the late 90s revival of the style, but also incorporate that slightly progressive mixture of rhythmic drumming and guitar grooves that was brought in by Arwen and Landguard soon after.
Bands like Magica are something of a godsend for those who were happier in the days when Tarja was fronting Nightwish and Within Temptation was sort of following after the former’s niche on “Mother Earth” as they have never veered too far from that romantic and poetic character that defined that era. Furthermore, a lot of the less metallic elements that came along with the majesty of those albums are also less present here, and what instead manifests is a heavier, harder edged version of them that has a better memory of where it came from. It’s fitting that this band named itself after one of Dio’s masterpieces, as they display a similar loyalty and tenacity towards an established, albeit newer tradition that they have helped to bring about.
I make no secret of the fact that I despise a great deal of the female fronted metal band explosion of past decade, the endless parade of shallow Nightwish clones is both trendy and tasteless. Now, to preemptively silence unfounded cries of misogyny , this has NOTHING to do with some belief that female vocals and metal do not go well together. In fact, in many cases, they go together extremely well. I'd love to hear a good female vocalist just as much as any good male vocalist. But it seems after the success of a few bands (Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, etc), thousands more have suddenly sprouted up with the hack female vocals, which might be 'in key', but simply cannot do the supporting music justice (or vice versa). Magica is such a band, and they're not exactly newcomers.
Wolves & Witches (give me a break) is the 4th album from these Romanians, and they seem pre-occupied with romantic horror/fantasy novels or crappy fashionista vampire films like Underworld or Blood & Chocolate which have all the substance of a strip mall manicure. It's possible the entire album is a concept based around a particular novel, film or original story, but I concede that my knowledge of the romance/horror genre is lacking. The music here consists of some straightforward melodic/power metal smothered in Ana's 'angelic' voice, which is sadly very monotone and lacks much expression and power. Frankly, it's quite annoying, not for the accent, but for the needless layering and the fact that it sounds so separate from the music. She doesn't have the operatic hooks of a Tarja Turunen, but she meanders along with the same dreadful pitch. The lyrics seem to be a smorgasboard of other previous fantasy power metal stereotype lines with a gothic/vampire/werewolf theme, they come across completely goofy and I actually found myself laughing out loud numerous times, take a listen to "Just for Two Coins" for example.
The riffs might not be all that bad under a different set of vocals, but they're not very good of their own accord. These guys can play their instruments. They can shred. But what develops is a very light and feathery, average melodic European power metal. "Chitaroptera", an instrumental, is the most tolerable track I heard here. Actually, it's not just tolerable, it's decent. But try as I might, I cannot find another silver lining on this album. This is the fairy bubblegum pop metal I can't recommend to anyone outside of people who read Laurell K. Hamilton novels or went to see that movie Twilight and then actually obsessed about how hot those guys were afterwards.