Back in 2001, there was a huge game-changing release that made a major impact on the power metal landscape, and ended up being a major influence on future releases: That release was The Metal Opera, created by Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet as the beginning of his own special project, Avantasia, which has gone on to be just as big a name as his main band, if not even bigger. Obviously, there had been many rock operas released before that one, and there had been many metal albums with guest appearances, but that release showed what could happen when someone brought many metal singers and musicians together and made them part of a narrative experience, without losing any of the energy or catchiness of power metal. Needless to say, the album was very well received and since then there have been many similar projects trying to recreate that success, such as Heleno Vale’s Soulspell, which remains my personal favorite, Marius Danielsen’s Legend of Valley Doom and Timo Tolkki’s Avalon. Some of these projects have been successful, while others haven’t, but suffice to say Avantasia remains the most popular and is still going strong over 16 years later.
At this point, the field has become rather crowded, with any new project needing something special to stand out. The latest artist to attempt this feat is Frode Hovd, guitarist of the lesser-known Norwegian act Memorized Dreams, with his new project Aldaria and its debut release, Land of Light. But has Frode managed to deliver something on par with his clear main inspiration, or has he fallen short? Well, the answers to that are a bit mixed, but in short: Land of Light is certainly not the game changer The Metal Opera was (nor do I think it was intended to be) and I wouldn’t quite rank it up there in terms of quality, but it’s still a damn fine release with some great guest work and some fun songs.
First off, comparisons to Avantasia are absolutely unavoidable in this case, as everything from the naming scheme to the way certain songs sound to the overall concept and even some individual lyrics, all feel like obvious nods to the German project. Perhaps the most blatant example of this comes early on, as the opening track “Another Life”, otherwise a really fun track and an excellent opener, has the line ‘Reach out for the light” as the opening of its chorus, and obviously anyone who’s heard The Metal Opera will know why that feels like more than a mere coincidence. There are obviously many other similar lyrics throughout which, intentional or not, definitely made me think of a certain album.
But anyway, aside from the obvious comparisons, there is some great music here. As expected, there’s a great variety of the tracks, with some very speedy power metal tracks, some more mid-tempo and melodic tracks, a couple ballads and a huge epic length title track to close it off. The songwriting is consistently strong all around, choruses are almost all catchy and fun, every track has memorable moments and huge vocal sections, and the overall concept, while cheesy, works out fairly well. Really, the only thing I can say about the songwriting quality is that it does at times feel very familiar, but for what Frode’s doing, he’s done a very good job of it and everything sounds great. There are some great musicians involved on the release, including keyboardist Mistheria, former Helloween guitarist Roland Grapow, Symphony X bassist Mike LePond and many others.
Obviously, vocals are very important on a metal opera, and that’s the area where Aldaria does not disappoint. There is a really huge group of guest singers on this album, far too many to list in a review, but even those I don’t recognize all sound quite good here, and obviously more well known vocalists like Rick Altzi (Masterplan), Mathias Blad (Falconer), Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire) and PelleK all sound great and many songs feature several singers together, which sounds impressive. As far as metal opera casts go, Land of Light has a pretty damn solid one.
After a brief and rather cheesy intro, opening track “Another Life” kicks in, starting off with a nice classic metal riff before slowing down a bit and letting Rick Altzi carry the track for a bit. After a while, the track speeds up and we’re treated to the chorus, and while the aforementioned line is a blatant reference, the chorus itself is very epic, very catchy and gets the album off on the right track. I’m not sure who sings the chorus there, but whoever it is, he does an excellent job. There are many great vocals and instrumental sections throughout the track, and it’s a great upbeat power metal track that gets the album off to a great start. Next is “Guardians of the Light”, a more mid-tempo track with some great keyboard work. This isn’t one of my favorites on the album, though it’s still solid overall and the chorus is very fun. I don’t recognize any of the singers here, but the singer during the chorus is very animated and brings a lot of the energy to the track, and there are some pretty cool sounding death growls in there as well.
Focusing on the speedier side, some highlights include “Lost in the Darkness Below”, a very fast-paced track where PelleK and a very nice sounding female vocalist lead the way through the verses and chorus, and the track overall is a great power metal track with awesome melodies, “Test of Time” which has one of the best choruses on the album and some great vocals from Tommy Reinxeed Johansson, mostly showing his lower register, which is a nice change of pace from his normal vocals and sounds great, “Where Reality Ends” which has another great chorus and perhaps the best vocal section on the album and “From the Ashes”, which has some of the more animated vocals on the album and another excellent chorus.
On the softer side, we have two ballads in “Sands of Time” and “Trail of Tears”. Both are very nice tracks with some great vocals and nice melodies, the former being a duet between Vasilis Georgiou (Black Fate,) his soft and expressive voice reminding me a lot of Roy Khan as usual, and Mina Giannopoulou, who has a very pleasant voice that fits the track wonderfully, while the latter is sung entirely by Falconer frontman Mathias Blad, sounding brilliant as always with his ever smooth and wonderful theatrical style. Lastly, “Answers in a Dream” is a fairly light mid-paced keyboard driven track, which serves as a nice lead-in to the grand finale, the near 12-minute epic title track. As expected, this track goes through many stages, starting off fairly slow and calm with an excellent chorus sung by the ever prolific and always great Fabio Lione, There are many other great singers on this track including Dragony’s Siegfried Samer and Dragonland’s Jonas Heidgert. The track speeds up a bit as it goes along and there are certainly some very memorable passages to be found. It’s a great song overall, making great use of its many guests and it certainly serves as a worthy finale for the album.
Overall, Land of Light is a very strong debut, with some excellent guest vocalists and musicianship, plenty of fun and memorable tracks, and it serves a nice start for Aldaria. Hopefully, Frode Hovd will continue with this project in the future and work towards separating it just a bit more from the competition, as my only real criticism here is that while everything sounds great and the songwriting is consistently solid, there really are a lot of times where it reminds me of other metal operas. Still, for fans of this style and for power metal fans in general, this is an album I can easily recommend.
originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/03/27/aldaria-land-light-review/