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Before starting the actual review, I must say some very important things, to all who dont know this album and band, and why not to those who do. First, Visions Of Atlantis play symphonic power metal, not gothic, as I see them labelled often as such, at least at last.fm and in some reviews; secondly, they are not Nightwish copycats, rip-offs or whatnot. This is simply untrue. Power metal is a very limited genre, and the most predilectional for kitsch of all the metal subgenres. Even gothic metal cannot beat that kitsch factor so outrageously thriving and plaguing power metal, mostly the ''epic'' kind. Nightwish is considered as the unreachable ideal in symphonic power metal. This sounds just like an urban legend. This album will dissuade you. If not, you may be deaf, or close-minded anyway. The best students are those who surpass the teacher. With that in mind, let me start the review.
I loved Nightwish, but they released Once, which made me loathe them deeply. Dark Passion Play made me loathe them even deeper, as Tarja left them. Visions Of Atlantis started to show very often in my recommendations, but I kept dismissing them, until one day, something clicked in my head and I decided to give them a try. What ensued was a breath of fresh air, in which was thriving my disregard of power metal. So, I must thank Visions of Atlantis for having restored my faith in this genre.
Fortunately, I got this album first and not Cast Away. Cast Away is a good album, but this one is just more complex and more mature, and why not less catchy and commercionnal. The pointless intro bursts into Lovebearing Storm, one of the best songs of the band. The keyboard intro is pure beauty, welcoming us and inviting us to pay full attention to pleasant surprises yet to come. I confess that it made me love this band. Indeed, the sound of those keys evokes some longing, it is atmospheric and the melody it plays is beautiful. The music suits perfectly the name of the band. Of all the instruments, the keys have the most important role. They create the atmosphere, that of dreams, fantasy, fairytales, and of course distant seas and oceans, something like a world of untouched beauty beneath the sea. It is calm, soothing, atmospheric, albeit the pace is predominantly very fast. Guitars are, dare I say, discrete. From time to time, a beautiful solo emerges, but usually, riffs provide rhythm, supporting keys and giving the necessary heaviness. Even the production is geared towards a such effect. While not bad, the guitars are put to the background except in solos. Drums are what they should be. Althoug mostly hyperfast, they dont muffle other instruments nor the vocals. They suit the music perfectly, never keeping the same pace through a song, but changing often, playing interesting and driving patterns and breaks. Indeed, while keys create the atmospiere, drums drive the music. The bass follows the guitar riffs and adds to the heaviness and depth.
Vocal duties on this album are shared by two singers. Male vocals are sung by Christian Stanni and female by Nicole Bogner. While male vocals are not exceptional, they are good, emotional and dont have that power metal ''someone-ripped-my-balls'' styled falsetto/scream. But, what takes this album a level above is Nicole Bogner. Her mezzosoprano vocals make the music shine. Her voice is thick, rich and expressive. Her vocal lines flow with ease with the music. Never seeming restrained, but natural, once full of longing, then switching to a melancholic tone, the emotions from the lyrics are transferred very well through the vocal performance of Nicole and Christian, as well. From Lovebearing Storm to Atlantis, Farewell, she displays her talent and skill, as many vocal lines she sings are complex and technichal, but never sounding cold and distant, but always emotional and passionate. The most beautiful parts are in Lovebearing Storm, especially the ending section starting with ''a different kind of morning...'', in Mermaid's Wintertale ''Would anybody ever care for me...'' and the beginning and ending chant of The quest and Atlantis, Farewell. I once wrote Nicole Bogner is the archetype of the siren, and I still deem it. Something I'd call a trademark of Visions of Atlantis is the interplay between their singers. They often have a conversation, and complement and harmonize with each other beautifully when they sing at the same time.
The lyrics tell the tale of two lovers, a man and a siren. The story is a bit loose, but the lyrics are very beautiful and poetic, having depth and composure. What I'd like to point out about their lyrics is that they have a personal, intimate value, which means that every listener could identify with the characters in the songs. This adds some warmth and a feeling of closeness, and enhances the musical enjoyment greatly. This is another trademark of the band and they maintained this practice to their latest album.
If there is a flaw about this album, it would be the muffled production, but I would not call this a flaw, as the production benefits and enhances the listening experience this album provides and suits its musical ideas perfectly.
If someone would like to start with this band I'd recommend this album over both Cast Away and Trinity. Maybe the listener will even be disapointed by the latter two, hah, but this shouldn't happen! This album is their most cohesive work to date, even later albums have better production and/or technicality. The listening experience this album gives is yet to be surpassed. Maybe this is due to their instable line-up. Time shall tell. Who knows?
Finally, a few spins will be needed to trully appreciate this album, as songs tend to blend into one at first listens. Afterwards, you will notice they are all different and that every song has its own personnality. Just sit down, relax, unleash your romantic and soft side and this album will captivate and take you into its submarine world with its tender, warm and passionate beauty.