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Only Amazing! - 98%

hells_unicorn, December 8th, 2006

In 4 years At Vance has popped out a whopping 5 full length studio albums, something that only Black Sabbath and a few other bands in the metal genre can brag about accomplishing. Through this time period they have maintained a very consistent sound, combining the melodic and speed elements of bands such as Helloween and the symphonic/shred elements of early Rising Force. The result is an interesting blend of melody and power that can be summed up as Neo-Romantic Metal.

The primary complaint levied against this band is that they have not evolved at all, which is not an accurate statement. Between Heart of Steel and Dragonchaser there were some rather large improvements in the overall production, not to mention a dramatic shift in the cover concepts, which further display an evident growth in lyrical content. Their sound is quite consistent, however, and thus it doesn’t really qualify as Progressive, but its unchanging approach to melody and speed is what continues to win me over every time I listen to their material.

“Only Human” picks up in the gradual evolution where “Dragonchaser” left off, and features more brilliant speed tracks with an even heavier production. “Take me away” and “The Time has come” are your standard catchy power metal tracks, featuring great drum and guitar work, the latter being the more memorable of the two. “Witch’s Dance” has a heavily catchy lead guitar riff, but the lyrical content is the most appealing part. “Fly to the Rainbow” is my pick for best fast track on here, having an almost thrash type gallop to it and the most powerful chorus of the lot.

Slower tracks such as “Take away my pain” and “Hold your fire” carry as much melodic power, the former being a bit similar to the title track of “Heart of Steel”, the latter having some highly inspirational lyrics. “Time” and “Sing this song” are a bit more haunting and show some signs of motion towards a progressive sound, although maintaining the consistent melodic formula. The latter has an interesting keyboard intro, while the former sounds almost like Pink Floyd at times. “Wings to Fly” is probably the most passionate ballad on here, playing off of some extremely poignant lyrics; it almost sounds like a funeral march.

The remakes on here are also in top form, as has been the case since the debut album. “I Surrender” is a faithful, yet heavier and more powerful cover of the Rainbow classic. Oliver Hartmann’s vocals match Russ Ballard’s high end notes perfectly, and his harder edged voice gives it an edge over the original version. “Spring” is yet another amazing rearrangement of a movement of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons. Although not quite as dramatic as the remake of “Summer”, it rocks hard and utilizes the same approach to tertian dynamics that was commonplace during the Baroque era. The C.P.E. Bach remake is my pick for best instrumental on here. The lesser known son of J.S. Bach was instrumental in the move from the Classical Era to the Romantic Era, and was probably the biggest influence on Beethoven’s later music. His music was also influential in how Yngwie Malmsteen developed his own playing style, which is directly connected with the rise of the metal guitar hero. “Solfeggietto” is highly flashy, but also carries a highly musical quality that is sometimes missing in the works of composers from the Romantic era.

The highlight of this album, however, is the title track. Although it is not the fastest song on here, it embodies everything that is great about this band. An unforgettable main riff, a hypnotically catchy chorus that forces you to sing along and one of the most brilliant guitar solos I’ve ever heard. Oliver Hartmann shines the brightest on here vocally, letting out some real emotion as he flies up and down his rather large singing range. Lyrically it underscores the artistic brilliance of Luis Royo, who painted the art that became the cover of this album. The message of this art work is clear enough that it is accessible to all, yet simultaneously is abstract and general enough to be translated a number of different ways in the musical medium. The message is both one of passion and sorrow, which is observable in how the female angel weeps as she embraces her quasi-cybernetic mate. This message is given a more personal and human light in the way it is lyrically interpreted in the song.

This is currently my favorite release by At Vance (Centers is the only one I haven’t tracked down yet). It is lyrically and musically the most mature work I’ve heard by them, though it carries the same consistent formula that has been left unaltered since the debut. Unfortunately this is the last release with Oliver Hartmann on vocals, but now with ex-Yngiwe Malmsteen vocalist extraordinaire Mats Leven at the helm, the days of glory are far from over for this German Power Metal outfit. If you like Helloween, Freedom Call, Yngwie Malmsteen, Iron Savior, or Melodic Power Metal in general, this is the album for you.