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An eclectic reemergence. - 80%

hells_unicorn, May 31st, 2011
Written based on this version: 2010, CD + DVD, Frontiers Records (Digipak)

It’s been upwards of 17 years since Michael Kiske had put his efforts into something resembling a metal band on a full time basis, though his voice always has managed to find itself onto a number of projects since, almost like a ghost haunting the house that its temporal self had built with its own hands in its former life. In essence, the European power metal scene is as much his creation as it is that of Kai Hansen, Michael Weikath, Piet Selick, Ralf Scheepers and all the other early players in the German scene. His voice has been widely imitated by a number of vocalist both in and outside of Germany, from Alex Koch to Tobias Sammet. But none were a perfect emulation, let alone a substitute for the original.

Having now teamed up with Amanda Somerville of Avantasia and Aina fame, and backed up by a fine crop of seasoned instrumentalists, Kiske has now reemerged from semi-obscurity to move mountains with his colossal voice, culminating in the mostly metal and sometimes rock project that is “Kiske/Somerville”. Interestingly enough, the fruits of this endeavor are not much in line with the power metal orthodoxy that Helloween established in the late 80s, but are more in line with modern practices, resembling a number of both singers’ recent collaborations such as After Forever and Avantasia, along with guitarist Magnus Karlsson’s various projects. In fact, putting aside the large amount of symphonic additives and mellow rock elements, this bears a fairly strong resemblance to The Codex, but without the one-dimensional songwriting.

The results of this de facto super-band is actually pretty impressive considering the somewhat poor track record that the concept has had when the music begins. Amanda’s mostly mid-range and expressive voice is a fine foil for Kiske’s semi-operatic, attention grabbing tenor. Their performances are largely conventional, avoiding the extremely high notes that have often typified Kiske’s power metal work, and all circles around voice quality. In similar fashion, Karlsson keeps to his usually formulaic riff work and pristinely atmospheric keyboard backdrops, putting together songs free of overt showboating that would get in the way of the main attraction. In fact, the areas where the riff work gets really flamboyant are the Sander Gommans songs, which have a more dissonant and percussive feel, particularly in the cases of “Set Afire” and “Arise”, veering into the heavier symphonic sound that typified After Forever.

The only thing that really works against this album, and it’s a pretty minor flaw, is that it gets just a little too eclectic for its own good. Trying to square overt Deep Purple inspired songs with a symphonic twist like “Devil In Her Heart” with formulaic mid-tempo power metal anthems such as “Nothing Left To Say” and “If I Had A Wish” on the same album is a bit of a chore, though on their own all of these songs work very well. Even straight up ballads such as “One Night Burning” and “Second Chance” are fun and easy to get into despite being about as conventionally tailored as can be. But the real slices of genius come into play in “Silence” and “End Of The Road” where catchiness is tempered with atmosphere and development. There’s no high speed glory or all out shred fests, but there’s definitely no shortage of winning ideas spun together into a couple of compact songs.

Given Kiske’s recent association with yet another full time project in Unisonic, which will hopefully be getting some material released soon, the jury is out as to if there will be a follow up to this album. But this collaboration was definitely a winner, and a nice breath of fresh air from the stereotypical beauty and the beast couplings that have since become cliché with the continual division of bands from After Forever and Epica, to HDK and Revamp and whatever other projects may come about as musicians split up and reform. Kiske fanatics may or may not take to this depending on how lighter gothic bands agree with their ears, but pretty much anyone who has followed Somerville’s or Gommans’ work will like what they hear on here.

Quality duet album with some fillers - 80%

aplws, April 27th, 2011

The "Kiske / Somerville" project was promoted as being the melodic metal debut album of the year. While not exactly true, this is an enjoyable duet album with a lot of hooks, exceptional vocal performances and several outstanding songs.

The idea of bringing Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Place Vendome, Avantasia) and Amanda Somerville (Aina, Avantasia) together to form this project was conceived by Serafino Perugino, president of the record label Frontiers Records. The songwriting was assigned mainly to Mat Sinner (Primal Fear) and Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Allen/Lande), with further input from Sander Gommans (After Forever), Jimmy Kresic and Amanda Somerville.

The self titled debut album finds the two vocalists dueling with one another and singing together in unison, in a diverse sounding project. The music includes melodic rock tracks, melodic metal numbers, ballads, AOR moments, along with some symphonic touches as well.

Just to get things out of the way, the vocals throughout the album sound amazing, with great trade off lead passages as well as harmonized choruses. Both Kiske and Somerville give their best, delivering diverse vocal performances and working with one another as if they had sang together for years. While neither singer tries to overshadow the other, or to display his/her full range, they still manage to individually shine throughout. The instrumental portion of the album is also solid and filled with memorable guitar riffs, wonderful solos, orchestrations and great drumming by the numerous participants.

Highlights of the album include Silence, Arise, End Of The Road, Devil In Her Heart, If I Had A Wish, Don't Walk Away and Set A Fire.

The single "Silence" is a melodic hard rock ballad with some of the most memorable vocal performances on the album. Violin backing, keyboards, guitar riffs and energetic drumming provide the backbone for both Kiske and Somerville to interchange both emotional lead vocals and harmonized choruses as well. The addition of orchestral moments together with some keyboard soloing gives us one of the stand out songs on offer.

"Arise" is a groovy hard rock number. The song includes impressive guitar riffs, squeals ala Zakk Wylde, nice bass lines, soft verses, a fitting guitar solo and an infectious chorus, carried mostly by Somerville and finished in a higher pitched mode by Kiske. This is one of the heaviest, more up-beat and more memorable moments of the album.

"End Of The Road" is a symphonic ballad done in a magnificent way. Emotional vocals, orchestral parts, some heavier outbursts and an addictive chorus provide the recipe for one of the best tracks on the album.

"If I Had A Wish" is a strong melodic metal track and another stand out song. It starts with a melodic intro and continues with catchy guitar riffs, impressive drumming, nice guitar solos and exceptionally well sang verses (but suffers a little from a somewhat uninspired chorus).

"Devil In Her Heart" includes a bombastic arrangement, a catchy double chorus, memorable guitar/keyboard solos, along with a lot of vocal transitions and trade offs. A very well done melodic rock song, which brings to mind the most impressive duets of Meta Loaf.

"Don't Walk Away" is an up-beat AOR track, which resembles the happier moments of Kiske's Place Vendome project. An uplifting tempo, Kiske's flawless higher range vocals, a catchy chorus, a simple but fitting guitar solo and you've got another good track.

"Set A Fire" is the heaviest song on offer and closes the album in a great metal form. The track is characterized by heavy and melodic guitar riffs, emotionally sang verses by Amanda and backed by Michael and a heavy chorus containing higher notes by both vocalists.

The down side of the album are some weaker tracks, one of which seems rather strange as it conveys a mixed feeling of trying to be both a little heavy and mainstream at the same time. The inclusion of some generic choruses, doesn't help the weaker tracks either.

Fans of Michael Kiske, Amanda Somerville and Place Vendome will surely love this effort. Fans of Mat Sinner's and Magnus Karlsson's songwriting will also enjoy most of the songs. Hard core metal fans will probably like 3 or 4 songs and hate the rest. The majority of the album features truly great tracks, excellent musicianship and amazing vocal performances.