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The best kind of earworm - 90%

doomknocker, November 19th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Napalm Records

My oh my, have things been back and forth with these Finn metal wunderkinds...we were all on a great upswing with them with "End of Eden", but in the years to follow something came undone; Heidi's departure was a serious bummer, "Circus Black" was good but uneven, and then, a bout of silence, all of which didn't sit well with this reviewer. I was thrown by what they have to offer, good honest sympho-metal that made me forget the unpleasantness that I can only refer to as "The Olzon Fiasco" if you know what I mean, and as such I was still able to continue checking them out, hoping for as grand a return to form I know they're capable of. Could this very well be it?

Things this time around seem a bit more "End" than "Circus", though much of the latter's modern vibes remain (the goth-tinged keyboard movements and odd-ball Disney-like sections), leading to a grand yet pleasant listen that doesn't reinvent the Amberian wheel but can still maintain focus and attention from the listener. Nothing wrong with that at all. As before, if not more than before, the keys and lush neo-classical harmonies become the main musical focal point, even to the point where the guitars and bass are just plain drowned out by everything else time and again, but this ends up really working with the group's/album's benefit. The whole of "Magic Forest" comes out swinging and doesn't let up, adding an ebbing, almost whimsical energy with each successive track like it really has something to prove. Well, maybe it does, in the end? All's I can say is that this got under my skin is a really good way, more so than "Circus" and maybe even a tad deeper than "End of Eden", though it's still a whole other level of appreciation.

Things are still shadowy treks and searches through pagan woods, but there's also modern-meets-80s arena rock hooks that rears their ugly heads to keep the snares on the listener nice and tight (I dare you to go through the damn-near pop movement sensibilities of the synths through "Cherish My Memory: and resist the urge to head bob!). The group is in fine form here, teeming with potent renewal, but truly at the front of it all, willing or not, new vocalist Capri has a good, earthy tone and timbre, working on coming into her own yet somehow containing a touch of restraint from really going with it. It feels like she can sing rather well but hasn't reached that certain level of proper cohesion with the group just yet; no need to hold back, let your skills out and speak for you! But...that's another query for another day, and I'm certain there will be plenty more from here on out.

All in all I was very impressed with this affair, showing that there's still plenty of life within the dawn, if not more with the infusions of new and old blood into the musical form. It seems like the band is finding, if not already found, their voice and particular blend of styles, and if this keeps up the future will continue to shine brightly.

Magic Forest - 70%

Twin_guitar_attack, June 29th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Napalm Records

Magic Forest is the fifth album from power metallers Amberian Dawn, and the first full length to feature new vocalist Päivi “Capri” Virkkunen, after her first appearance on last years Re-Evolution, a compilation bringing together older songs re-recorded with their new singer. Magic Forest has Amberian Dawn taking a more symphonic driven sound than before, which when combined with Capri’s eighties metal tinged vocal style make their upbeat catchy metal songs a very fun listen.

From the outset on opener Cherish My Memory, the band use a thick layer of melodic synths to create a bombastic, almost over the top sound. With choppy riffs and gnarled wiry bass lines they add a layer of heaviness to the music, but for the most part the sound is rather poppy. With insanely catchy choruses (I can guarantee that the title track’s chorus will stay in your head for months), sugary sweet guitar melodies throughout and a great deal of bombastic synth alongside killer guitar and keyboard solos you have a recipe for a great album. The combination of the catchy pop elements and the strong metal presence works great, and the same duality can be found in Capri’s great voice. Her voices sounds like a combination of Floor Jansen’s powerful operatic style with Anette Olzon’s soft melodic approach mixed with a healthy dose of eighties grit. She puts in a really good performance throughout the album, her varied approach delivering great results, really powerful in the fantastic Warning, while softer and beautiful in the intro to Dance of Life and closer Green Eyed, a track with the most prominent symphonic influence of the bunch. Another strength is their song writing – all the songs are extremely well written, with great catchy choruses and infectious melodies.

Title track Magic Forest is a fantastic track, with an infectiously catchy chorus that will never leave your head, and a definite sense of grandeur with the most ripping solo on the album alongside some fantastic symphonic elements with horns and strings mixed in among the synths to deliver a bombastic sound really complimented by the fantastic gnarly bass. Son of River is the best track of the bunch though, with epic melodic riffs at the start delivering a great sense of power alongside Capri’s deep melodic voice and fast keyboard wizardry. Add another ripping guitar solo, a great pounding drum performance, and the tightest playing on the album and you definitely have the recipe for success.

The other tracks all combine the same sense of melody, cheerfulness and catchy song writing with power and bombast to great effect. The fourth track Agonizing Night is however a little dull, beginning with a rather underwhelming slow intro and some odd vocal lines, but it still picks up the pace towards the end, and it’s the only real let down of the bunch. Those baritone male vocals on Memorial also sound ridiculous, but they’re used very sparingly and they don’t ruin an otherwise strong track, which has some great chugging riffs.

One other criticism is that at points the guitar tone could definitely have done with a bit more beefing up, it’s definitely smothered beneath the bass and the keyboards for a good portion of the time, but when it shines through there are some great riffs and better solos to be found here.

One thing that really sets Amberian Dawn apart from a lot of other female fronted bands in the scene is that their songs are so infectiously cheerful and upbeat. Where gothic and melancholic elements make up a large part of the sound and imagery of most other bands in the style, all these songs are so happy sounding and over the top that it really makes them stand out from the crowd. Their self professed influence from Abba alongside the more obvious Ritchie Blackmore and Dio probably explains the cheerful nature of the music and though it comes across as a little cheesy at points, it’s more than fun enough to make up for it, and the metal elements add that power which makes it a great fun album. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a great album, and fans of upbeat power metal will find a lot to enjoy here.

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