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I have to wonder if Thomas Caser is an agreeable fellow, considering that he remains the only member of Vision Of Atlantis' current entourage whose been there through thick and thin since their inception without taking an extended break or permanent leave of absence. He has to be either this "fly on the wall" character perched behind his drum-kit observing numerous feuds and hair-yanking between bandmates with detached amusement, or a sordid deviant who trashes hotel rooms and tosses whiskey bottles at his drum techs while whistling at the female singer's buttocks. Either way, the man is an immovable monolith amongst such a revolving door entity. Visions Of Atlantis doesn't accurately fit a band persona whatsoever, but alternatively resembles a project by which musicians join under that moniker to wax philosophical and record symphonic metal music for an interim of time until replacements arrive.
Plagued by a plethora of lineup changes, it's amazing that this group still exists, grinding out new material and touring after receiving a jolt of fresh and eager new faces between album releases. What is also significant is that the evolution of their music remains markedly persistent despite the numerous abrupt performer adjustments. From the marshmallow shitstorms of their early material, through the improved yet still average effort in Trinity by which the packaging and comeliness of Melissa Ferlaak triumph in notability over the musical contents, up to this release, the ascension remains a steady flow upwards in ecumenical quality.
Although it lacks the pure crystalline polish of recent Edenbridge or Nightwish recordings, those behind the knobs more than capably separated the instruments to easily discernible levels to avoid a potential symphonic morass effect. Keyboards swirl and encompass the metal backbone ceaselessly, providing an equal degree of melodies as the guitars, which could render most novice engineers dealing with these songs bed-ridden thanks to each instrument vying for bombastic supremacy. In the case of this album, balance between instruments is maintained, aside from a few relatively inconsequential incidents of muddiness.
As with many acts of this nature, vocals are usually regarded as a key ingredient and often the primary distinguishing feature, and Visions Of Atlantis on this occasion deliver the goods. Maxi Nil's name may be deciphered as "a whole lotta nothing", and she may not add a new dimension to the band's sound, but her delivery is no less potent and professional than her immediate predecessor, and despite the roots of her singing career firmly planted with the goth genre, her admittedly minor tremor of a transition to pure symphonic pastures was a seamless shift. Male counterpart Mario Plank possesses the more unusual pipes of the two by circumventing the more standard approaches of vibrato-drenched pseudo operatics, death grunts or lunkhead gang shouts. His technique rather suggests an 80's cock-rock swagger more befitting a performer who dons a headband and a strategically torn leopard print shirt while pumping his fist at the crowd with reckless abandon. Together they form an agreeable team rattling off the lyrics with aplomb while never crossing the line into over-emoting drama and self-parody.
The album starts off strong, with "Black River Delta" providing a strong overview as to what constitutes this band at their foremost capabilities. Symphonic as hell and backed by driving rhythms, the opener balances sweeping majestic passages with metallic fortitude while Maxi belts her opening lines with zeal. Her vocals are not pushed to the forefront production-wise, thus she becomes a piece in the overall puzzle rather than the main focal point. In this instance it works in establishing an all encompassing vision of bombast, and likewise on a few other occasions during this album that degree of quality is duplicated.
Truth be told, the album is somewhat front-loaded, with the following two tracks completing the list of paramount songs within Delta. "Memento" is the epic track, gliding through various tempos and riffs deftly to the point where even some odd clunkiness towards the song's climax involving drunk pirates warbling lyrics that seem to involve spiritual enlightenment can be forgiven. "New Dawn" is the requisite short catchy mid-tempo number with the all-important focus on love and a snazzy hook for a chorus. Yeah, trite it is, but damn, that chorus is almost maniacally catchy and the tune has a nice overall 'punch' to it, though softened a bit by keyboard pomp.
And that is what eventually brings this album down from what began as an excellent release. The persistent orchestral programming and keyboard melodies wafting over the entire proceedings gets tiresome as the album soldiers on from track to track with no relief from the incessant embellishments that half the time aren't even necessary. If the revolving door policy of the band continues unabated, I'd like to see keyboardist Martin Harb take a hiatus since he obviously wants to drench every second of every song with his ostentatious presence.
This release doesn't completely falter after the formidable opening momentum though thanks to a few choice cuts that offer a bit of variation. "Reflection" is the ubiquitous power ballad that gives Maxi a chance to seize the spotlight, and she pulls off her showcase admirably. "Conquest Of Others" is Mario's shining moment, channeling a Pain Of Salvation vocal delivery while Nintendo missiles rain down from the heavens onto Yoshi's Island. "Twist Of Fate" is notable for the cheerful keyboard melodies in the background (I'll give Martin a free pass for this one) that, combined with the mid-paced metal chugs, accord the song with a positive and even "cute" vibe, in a good way. Finally there's the instrumental "Sonar", which perfectly envisions the band members, after treacherous travels and hardships, finally reaching that vista displayed on the album's cover sleeve where the mysteries of life are revealed in all their shimmering glory. Or maybe not...who fucking knows?
As for the rest, including the final track, there's generally nothing loathsome about them, but they do little to perk the ears thanks to the bloated symphonics and rehashed rhythms. The prevalent sound of the band works well enough for a certain extent, but by not changing the dynamics at any point throughout the recording, it can hurt the accessibility of the later tracks which need all the help they can get since the most memorable tunes in terms of songcraft are firmly entrenched at the commencement. Without a doubt, though, this is currently the band's finest achievement, and if they can stick together as a team for once, focus on strong and varied compositions with an edgier vibe and regulate the amount of keyboard slush appropriated, they might just cross that barrier towards the upper tier of symphonic power-tinged female-fronted acts. It can't be that hard, can it?