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Superior Symphonic Power Metal - 85%

A Friendly Observer, June 3rd, 2018

This album is cut from the same cloth as Century Child-era Nightwish: the production has a layer of grittiness, baroque keyboard lines abound, the chord progressions keep you on your toes, the guitars are crunchy and propulsive, and the bass is almost an afterthought. The atmosphere is full of longing, loss, disillusionment -- but also grandeur and fantasy. This album is coming to grips with the darker side of life. The melodies lift you up and let you fall down again; they are passionate, playful, and frequently bring a smile to the face with their songcraft -- when they aren't breaking your heart, anyway. The band is out to prove something with this album; it's firing on all cylinders. And it proved itself as a top-tier power metal act with this album.

The nearly nine-minute 'White Pearl, Black Ocean' is a melodic tour de force with a gut-punch of a climax, elevated by its pitch-perfect production. It is a world-class power metal epic, and a great example of what the genre can really accomplish. Angsty 'Misplaced' is well-placed as the album opener, followed shortly after by 'Ain't Your Fairytale', whose verses particularly shine. The album also passes the all-important closer test with the emotional 'Shamandalie', which builds as it goes on. This is 'flower metal', sure, but nobody will question whether this is a genuinely metal record. There's nothing pandering about this album. The tempos are speedy, and the guitars are prominent. Tony Kakko's voice is theatrical and a little self-indulgent, but never at any time falls into any bad genre cliches. He frequently shines, in fact, especially, to my ears, in 'White Pearl, Black Ocean'.

The album isn't without clear flaws. The melodies meander a little too often for this record to be a masterpiece. There are a couple of failed experiments -- the obnoxious 'Wildfire' and overrated 'Blinded No More', which doesn't know what it wants to be. Another few months in the studio might have given us an even more polished record. But on the whole, this is clearly superior symphonic power metal -- a must for any genre fan and something likely to appeal to metal fans who don't normally check out symphonic power metal.