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Sea Shanties for the virtuoso. - 80%

hells_unicorn, May 29th, 2013

Lately when there's a band that touts imagery associated with great bodies of salty H20, a story involving either pirates or stereotypical 18th and 19th century seafaring period stories tends to be the norm, and usually comes with a sound along similar lines. Artlantica are not of this persuasion, which is expected given the lack of previous dabbling in the recent pirate craze by the likes of Steve DiGiorgio, Chris Cafferty or John Macaluso. The gathering of an impressive array of usual suspects in present day USPM excursions is actually a tiny bit deceptive none the less, given that one might expect an album that resembles Savatage or any number of projects that Tim Owens has been mixed up with of late and that the reality is actually a bit closer to something normally found among Lance King's lot over at Nightmare Records.

In many respects, this is a prototypical USPM album, putting a strong emphasis on speed and aggression that definitely points to some influences from Crimson Glory, Helstar and Fates Warning. The riff work is particularly reminiscent of a post-80s attempt at merging the melodic yet gritty character of said bands with a modernized sound, and strong glimpses can be beheld on "2012", "You're Still Away" and "Fight For The Light". However, it's been dressed up by a heavy amount of keyboard work and Baroque-inspired elements that definitely tilt it towards a number of European acts that have been heavily informed by Malmsteen, perhaps bearing the closest resemblance to the first couple of albums put out by Iron Mask, particularly when the virtuosic lead guitar and keyboard work comes into the equation.

Arguably the biggest surprise on this album, at least insofar as the writer of this review is concerned, is the brilliant vocal display out of John West. His earlier work with Red Sun Red was marked by a grittier and shouting, semi-bluesy character that was pretty reminiscent of Roger Daltrey, but here he actually ends up sounding more like a smooth, nimbler take on Ray Gillen, ironically the same man who he ended up replacing after his passing in the aforementioned mid 90s heavy metal project. His newer vocal persona is definitely a welcome change of pace and definitely does a lot to push this further towards the 80s Queensryche inspired progressive scene that Lance King has been promoting since the founding of Nightmare Records. And while West's vocal work is consistently strong throughout, he particularly shines on the ballad "Ode To My Angel" which sees his voice at its most exposed, breathing an air of passion into an otherwise plain sounding piano and vocal oriented love song.

While this is not quite as catchy to the point of slavish devotion inspiring that tends to go with Lance King's work with Pyramaze, nor does it possess the level of gritty edge as classic Helstar, this is a solid offering and a continual reminder that though the European scene has been quite prolific over the past several decades, that their USPM rivals are far from throwing in the towel. Those who really like the classic 80s speed metal sound of the mid 80s and don't mind a bit of extra technical noodling and keyboard presence after the mold of Kamelot are definitely encouraged to support this band. Likewise, I will have to take some time to familiarize myself with John West's projects since his stint with Red Sun Red back in 1994.