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While this is certainly far more melodic (even dare I say it, commercially-oriented) than my usual listening fare, it is far from bad. This Austrian band are good at crafting clever and melodic songs with lots of good vocal melodies and some good catchy choruses and that is no crime. While they do rely far too much on keyboards for melodies, which often end up sounding very similar, and the songs tend to get stuck in a similar uptempo rut--hence the less than perfect rating--there still is lots to like here.
Most notably American vocalist Melissa Ferlaak, who if the adverts are anything to go by is definitely Napalm Records' focal point in their usual fashion. But DAMN, is this woman a talent! After listening to the first couple songs on here all I could say was "Tuomas, what were you thinking!" as it became crystal clear that Melissa blows Annette Olzon out of the water. Her statuesque beauty (and she is gorgeous, make no mistake) is easily matched by her stunning pipes--think Tarja Turunen minus the accent and amped up a few notches. Melissa dominates every song with her amazing vocals and when she goes for those high notes, not only are they effortless but they go right through you. This woman needs to be heard!
Mario is a competent vocalist in comparison, his raspy yet melodic style contrasting hers without resorting to death growls, and he is passionate and eager in his delivery. Which makes up for some of his vocal parts not being as imaginative as Melissa's. His smoother vocals on the beautiful ballad, "The Poem", come as a surprise as he sounds like a totally different singer and it makes me enjoy the song all the more. The choir that pops up at the end not only comes as a surprise but really enhances the feeling of the song and Melissa hits some extremely high notes in those parts that are amazing to hear.
Musically, the band is skilled if not a little faceless in comparison to all this vocal talent on display. Solos are short and sweet with just the right amount of technical skill, the drummer doesn't rely on double bass all the time--in fact, his playing is very rock oriented with tasteful flurries of double kick here and there--and the bassist anchors things as tight as a drumhead. And this is an immaculately produced album, too, with a perfect mix where everyone gets room to shine. While this would be classified as "symphonic metal", I'd say it's more accurate to call this just melodic heavy metal musically. This is not entirely a bad thing, mind you.
For good songs, "In The Back of Beyond" is a great opener and "The Poem" is heartfelt and doesn't seem gratuitous at all, and Melissa's showcase, "Return to You" will raise a tear or three with her soft and loving delivery.
Overall, while some will slag this as too commercial and polished and as Nightwish wannabes, I would not go as far. For one thing, this is not as obnoxiously mainstream as NIghtwish's current direction is, and Melissa is far too talented a singer to be lumped in with the likes of Amy Lee. What's more, I do believe this band are actually opening for Nightwish on their current US tour, and if this is so, Tuomas will see the error of his ways in more ways than one when Melissa blows Annette off the stage every single night. Check this out for a nice take on what Nightwish could've been, I suggest.