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Symphonic metal, sometimes known as operatic metal when referring to artists fronted by an (usually female) operatic singer, is a sub-genre of heavy metal music. Symphonic metal is heavily influenced by classical music, with bands creating symphonies to back a more traditional metal setup of vocals, guitars, bass and drums. The sound is most typically created with a synthesiser; however actual orchestration is often used as well, and choirs are also a commodity within the genre. Unlike other metal music styles, the keyboards generally have more of a leading role in an artist’s sound than the guitars.

Symphonic metal finds its roots in the Swedish band Therion, who originally played death metal. The 1996 album Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! Death Metal Symphony in Deep C by Finnish band Waltari is also considered to have been an important influence on the genre. Therion had dabbled in experimental ideas and classical influences, but with the release of their fifth album Theli in 1996 the band was producing what is now considered to be symphonic metal. Such releases provided the template for bands such as Nightwish and Within Temptation, who both released their first albums in 1997, although each had elements of other genres in their sounds, those being power and folk metal on Nightwish’s Angel’s Fall First and gothic metal on Within Temptation’s Enter, which is actually best considered a gothic metal release, although the band would later become more symphonic based with the release of their second album, Mother Earth in 2000. Although the birth of symphonic metal as a genre is associated with the late 90s, metal artists had made use of symphonic elements long before that - for instance, Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion (1985) and Into the Pandemonium (1987) both contain tracks that feature symphonic elements, and in 1969, proto-metallers Deep Purple released Concerto for Group and Orchestra which features The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The term symphonic metal is sometimes used to describe any band that uses symphonic elements, particularly if those symphonic elements are greater than what is normal for the genre in question. There are a few notable and common hybrid symphonic metal styles; symphonic black metal, symphonic power metal and symphonic gothic metal, although there are some less common hybrids such as symphonic death metal, and with the emergence of artists like Across the Sun and Winds of Plague, symphonic metalcore. Each of these styles retains the elements of said style without the symphonic prefix however, which means that when considering symphonic metal as a standalone genre there are not as many artists that can be considered as such as there may initially appear. Even many of the most known artists of the style containing many elements of other metal styles, such as power metal in Nightwish and progressive metal in Epica. Therefore symphonic metal bands are best defined as such if they have a dominant classical influence to them. This is especially important where symphonic gothic metal acts are concerned, as there can be much overlap between the two styles.

While many symphonic metal bands feature a female lead singer, it is not a staple of the genre, although such bands tend to have been more commercial successful both within and without of the metal circles due to having more mainstream accessibility to their music. Many female vocalists in the genre sing in an operatic classical style, which works to effect with the classical inspired symphonic backing. It is this particular brand of symphonic metal that has been alternately labelled as operatic metal. Some artists such as Epica, After Forever, and the early work of Within Temptation combines the female vocals with death growls, in a style that is commonly referred to as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ vocals. This approach has also been utilised in some female fronted gothic metal artists.

Although symphonic metal is widely seen as one of the more commercial metal genres, there exists an extreme variant of the style. Taking more cues from extreme metal sub-genres than normal but retaining the dominant classical influence, the term is best used to describe bands that are influenced by black and death metal, but keeping their main focus on the classical influences. Such artists are less common however, and the term extreme symphonic metal has been used interchangeably with symphonic black metal.

- Written by adg211288 with the input of the Metal Music Archives Admin Team

Sub-genre collaborators (shared with Gothic Metal):
  • DippoMagoo

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NIGHTWISH Angels Fall First

Album · 1997 · Symphonic Metal
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‘Angels Fall First’ is the 1997 debut album by Finnish symphonic metal group Nightwish, who would go on to become one of those most popular and prolific bands of the genre.

Compared to later releases, however, ‘Angels Fall First’ sounds very raw, and at times, slightly disjointed and directionless, lacking the epic bombast that the band would incorporate on future albums. However, there’s still a clear vision here of what the band want to accomplish, and there’s no doubting the writing talents of keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, and the potential they display.

While ‘Angels Fall First’ is full of tasty guitar riffs and some fantastic interplay with keyboards, as well as a good balance of both male and female vocals, I find that most songs seem to deviate from the hook that first got my attention. Songs like ‘Elvenpath’, ‘Tutankhamen’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ have some incredibly strong and memorable melodies, but after a few minutes I find myself not really paying attention. It’s almost as if the ideas are there, just not quite the ability to flesh them out into full songs.

Still, this is a young band in their early days, playing a style of music which is equally in its early years, and so it’s forgivable that this album just isn’t overly memorable. No doubt Nightwish will improve vastly over time, but ‘Angels Fall First’ is best left for the die-hard fans of the band.

ARION Life is Not Beautiful

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Metal
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One of the most promising bands to come out of Finland in recent years is symphonic power metal band Arion. I discovered them in 2014 with their debut, Last of Us, and was immediately impressed by their strong vocal melodies, varied songwriting and their ability to blend softer tracks nicely with speedy power metal tracks. They’ve gone through some changes since then, with original vocalist Viljami Holopainen leaving and being replaced by Lassi Vääränen, who they quickly put to work with a new single, At the Break of Dawn. After that, the band was mostly silent for a couple years, while quietly working on a full album, and now, over four years after their debut, they’ve returned with their second full-length release, Life is Not Beautiful. I was excited to see where the band would go musically, as well as to see whether the new vocalist would fit in well, and while I have some mixed feelings on the latter, overall Life is Not Beautiful is another excellent release, which definitely moves the band’s sound forward, while still feeling familiar enough to keep existing fans happy.

Fans of the band’s debut will likely notice a slight change in the music direction between albums, as while the guitar tone and symphonic elements still feel familiar, the actual songwriting has changed a bit, moving towards a slightly more modernized sound, with crunchier guitar work in places, as well as an increased focus on harder hitting, speedy power metal, over some of the more relaxed material Last of Us had. There’s still some softer passages, for sure, including two ballads, but overall there’s a definite push towards heavier material on this release, and there is a time where the guitars overtake everything else, with the symphonic elements still being strong, but not quite as dominant as on the debut. Musically, everything sounds as great as before, with guitarist Livo Kaipainen, in particular, turning in a strong performance, with some excellent crunching riffs and strong solos, while the keyboards add some extra flavor, and the symphonic elements make everything feel more epic, especially on tracks like “No One Stands in My Way” and “The Last Sacrifice”. Songwriting is strong throughout, though none of the ballads grab me nearly as much as “You’re My Melody” from Last of Us, which may be at least partially because of the vocals.

Speaking of which, the aspect I was most concerned about going into this release, was, in fact, the vocals. Original vocalist Viljami Holopainen had a very smooth voice and he really excelled during the softer sections, while still doing a great job on the heavier parts. New vocalist Lassi Vääränen, on the other hand, has a much deeper and much rougher voice, which alone makes for a big change in direction. That’s just the beginning, though, as Lassi has a very wild, over the top delivery throughout the album, rarely toning it down, instead coming close to screaming at the top of his lungs most of the time, with a very energetic vocal performance that works great on heavier tracks, but not so much on the more melodic tracks. Worse, he fails to put in any kind of touch at all, taking some choruses that could have potentially been amazing, and instead of turning them into nearly incoherent scream fests. He does a pretty solid job throughout the album, and it must be noted he sounds very good on the three bonus re-recorded tracks from the debut, so part of the problem may be with the vocal melodies themselves, but either way, his vocals really bother me from time to time, and I feel he’s the one thing keeping me from potentially enjoying this release even more than Last of Us.

One area I wasn’t too worried about was the songwriting, as that’s an area the band had proven themselves to be great in on their debut, as well as the terrific single At the Break of Dawn, and so it’s no surprise to find that every song on this album is excellent musically. Following a nice orchestral intro track, opener “No One Stands in My Way” kicks in, and is a very epic, mid-paced track, where the symphonic elements dominate. It would have fit in pretty well on Last of Us, though it does have some of those extra crunchy guitars in bursts, as well some very energetic vocals from Lassi during the verses. The chorus is also epic, and Lassi’s vocals fit in pretty well on it, so it’s a strong start to the album, overall. Next is the single, “At the Break of Dawn”, and of course it’s still as amazing as ever. It’s a speedy, hard-hitting track with some great guitar work, epic keyboards, especially during the chorus, and while Lassi himself sounds pretty solid, the highlight of the track is Amaranthe vocalist Elize Ryd, who really shines the during the chorus, as expected.

The first song where the vocals really start to irritate me is “The Final Sacrifice”. It starts off slow, with some nice atmospheric keyboards, as well as some quiet vocals from Lassi, which already feel slightly off-putting. Once the track gets going, it picks up the pace and turns into a speedy power metal track, with some nice melodic leads, but the big moment is the chorus, which is very melodic musically, with some epic orchestral work, and it leaves room for some big vocal melodies, except Lassi falls back to his screaming, and the result is not exactly the most pleasant. It’s still a nice track overall, but it feels like the vocals hold it back a bit. Next is “Through Your Falling Tears”, a soft piano ballad, which is very beautiful musically, and while Lassi doesn’t excel in the way his predecessor likely would have on this track, he does a solid enough job on the chorus, not overdoing it too much with his screaming, so it ends up being a solid, if not quite amazing ballad.

One song where Lassi does excel is the hard-hitting “Unforgivable”, a very speedy track, which feels similar to “At the Break of Dawn”, except the guitars hit just a bit harder, and Lassi is the only vocalist here. His screams actually work very well during the chorus here and help make it super intense and epic. It’s a very fun, extremely catchy track, and easily my favorite on the album. Sadly, the same can’t be said for “Punish You”, which is probably the worst song on the album, just because of the vocals. Musically, it has a very modern sound to it, with the guitar work, in particular, feels like it would fit great on a modern melodic death metal track, and during the verses Lassi’s deep, rough vocals work quite well, but as is a common theme on the album, once the chorus hits, things go downhill in a hurry. He switches to a higher register, which is in one word: disastrous. The less said about it the better, really. The song itself is still very good, thanks to the verses and some excellent instrumental work, especially during the solo section, but the vocals bring it down quite a bit. Another track I have mixed feelings on is the title track. It’s another song with some very modern sounding, crunchy guitars, almost going into metalcore territory, and it’s excellent musically, with an especially melodic and beautiful solo towards the end. As usual, the verses are strong, but Lassi’s nasally screams get on my nerves once again during the chorus, almost as much so as on “Punish You”. Closing out the album is one more ballad “Last One Falls”. This is the one track on the album where Lassi tones it down completely and sings softly, with pretty good results. He isn’t the most emotive vocalist, but his deep voice fits the sorrowful tone of the song nicely, and he gives a solid performance. As mentioned earlier, the album features three bonus re-recorded tracks from Last of Us, including the softer title track, where Lassi sounds good, but a bit off, as well as the speedier tracks “Seven” and “I Am the Storm”, where he actually sounds great, particularly on the latter, where I’d even say he takes the song to new heights. Musically, the tracks sound pretty much identical to the original versions, so it all comes down to which vocalist you prefer.

Overall, Life is Not Beautiful is a bit of a frustrating release, as it’s a brilliant album musically, continuing with the epic symphonic metal of the band’s debut, while pushing towards more of a power metal direction, with quite a few speedier songs as well as some harder hitting, more modern sounding guitar work, but new vocalist Lassi Vääränen isn’t the best fit at times, and brings my enjoyment down on a couple tracks in particular. At the same time, he does bring a new intensity and energy that can help the band in the future, and I think if they write material that’s well suited to his voice, they could reach the next level. It hasn’t happened yet, but Life is Not Beautiful is still an excellent album overall, which I can easily recommend to fans of their debut, as well as anyone looking for some great symphonic power metal, with great songwriting, great instrumental work, and some good vocals, especially during verses and heavier sections.

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Live album · 1999 · Symphonic Metal
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S&M must be one of the most divisive albums in Metallica's huge discography. Some listeners seem to believe that Metallica has no business playing their most popular songs with a symphony orchestra. I obviously disagree. They're far from the first metal band to try this, but their innovative songwriting makes them more justified in this approach than most. James Hetfield has stated in Ultimate Guitar magazine, and other places, that the idea of combining Metallica with orchestral music started with Cliff Burton. How much, and how open-minded, of a Metallica fan are you? How tolerant are you of the musical experimenting that the band has done since the release of RIDE THE LIGHTNING? I think it makes a difference in the final rating of S&M. If your answer to these questions is "a lot", like me, you should definitely enjoy this album. I disagree with some of the MMA & PA collaborators whose reviews I respect and follow closely. I like James' singing. With all of his acknowledged flaws, I think his voice suits the band's music.

Metallica's setlist here wisely starts with RIDE THE LIGHTNING, when the songwriting began to improve and James began to learn how to sing. When it comes to individual highlights, I love the percussion in the second half of "The Memory Remains". It reminds me of John Adams' HARMONIELEHRE. "Devil's Dance" sounds like its name; it could be the dance before the ritual sacrifice in the soundtrack of an old horror movie. I do agree with the reviewers who write that S&M is too long at over two hours. But I'm a biased Aspie; I think that most albums over 45 minutes are too long! It helps to get the DVD version of this instead of the CD. Unusually, Metallica are a band that still seems to love playing live and getting the audience feedback, and it's apparent on the DVD. I now realize that I'm posting this review in the live album instead of the video section. I enjoyed both formats, but the DVD is really the one to get!

KAMELOT The Shadow Theory

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Metal
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As someone who listens to a large amount of music every year, I’ve piled up a ton of favorite bands, some of which I’d say I can always rely on to produce an excellent album, while others fall into more of a long shot category, where sometimes they’ll disappoint me, but other times they’ll pull through and blow me away. One of the main bands I place into that category is American band Kamelot, one of the most well known and prolific power metal bands in all of North America. They’ve released three of my all-time favorite albums over the years in Epica, The Black Halo, and Silverthorn, but they’ve also released some disappointments like Ghost Opera and the total snooze fest, Poetry for the Poisoned. They’re one of those bands where every time I start to either lean towards loving them for all their great works or being a bit hard on them for their disappointments, they always manage to turn things around on me fairly quickly. So it’s no real surprise that after their last release Haven ended up letting me down a bit after the masterful comeback album Silverhorn, to the point where I started doubting the band again, their upcoming 12th full-length release The Shadow Theory has yet again managed to pull me back in. It’s not quite on the level of some of their all-time best works, but it’s a more consistent, more cohesive, yet somehow more varied and interesting album than Haven, which in some ways pushes their sound forward a bit, while also celebrating everything they’ve been in the past.

For a while it’s felt like Kamelot hasn’t quite known what to do with their sound, with the likes of Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned experimenting with melodic heavy metal and progressive metal respectively, neither of which quite worked for the band, while Silverthorn represented the return of their classic power metal sound in all its glory, paired with an increased focus on symphonic arrangements. At the time, I was expecting future albums to continue with that direction, but somehow Haven pushed the power metal elements into the background, while keeping the symphonic elements as the main focus, and so it ended up feeling like a slightly better version of the two aforementioned weaker albums, while still ultimately falling short of my expectations. Obviously, I had no clue what to expect from The Shadow Theory, but in the end, it has proven itself to be their most varied release in quite some time, possibly ever, combining elements from all their past releases, while also including some new elements at times.

Most notably, the keyboards seem to be a greater focus than ever before. Obviously, they were always there on past albums, but this time around they become the main focus a bit more often, along with the symphonic elements, of course. While they sound more typical on some tracks, others like “Ravenlight” and “Amnesiac” have a much more modern sound to them, almost giving the music a slight trance metal feel, which has never been there before. The guitar work is also a bit heavier and more modern sounding on some tracks, especially on “Phantom Divine” and “Kevlar Skin”. At the same time this is a Kamelot album, and so there’s still a ton of great melodies here as well, with some excellent melodic guitar leads, great guitar solos, epic symphonic arrangements, and huge vocal melodies and choruses. In fact, this album has some of their best melodies in quite some time, especially on some of the speedier, more power focused tracks, but even a slower, darker track like “Burns to Embrace” has an incredible chorus. As far as the songwriting goes, there’s a little something for everyone here, with fans of their classic power metal being given quite a few great tracks to look forward to, while fans of their slower, darker and more melodic tracks have quite a few songs to look forward to, and of course there’s a couple more progressive tracks as well as two ballads. Most importantly, though, where Haven had a couple tracks that bored me, this time around every song is consistently engaging. The musicianship is of course top notch as always and the production is absolutely perfect, as fans would expect.

The one element of Kamelot that’s consistently been excellent is the vocals, and of course, The Shadow Theory is no exception there. I’ve always loved Tommy Karevic’s vocals, and while I personally prefer his more emotional, higher ranged vocals he uses with his other band, Seventh Wonder, he’s done an excellent job of fitting in with Kamelot’s sound over these past three albums, and each time he sounds more and more comfortable. At this point, he feels like he seamlessly blends in with the band, doing an equally great job on the speedier, more upbeat sections and on the slower, darker sections. Perhaps the one thing I miss is some of the more dynamic vocal performances he gives with Seventh Wonder, as he seems to be more and more focused on channeling Roy Khan here, singing lower and darker than normal, which he, of course, does a great job of, but it does feel like some of his talents are largely being left untapped. Make no mistake about it, though, he does an excellent job on this album, and if anything my criticisms are more due to personal taste than anything else.

Of course, the biggest concern for any Kamelot album is whether or not the songwriting holds up. Thankfully, this time around the band has produced a collection of excellent tracks, which cover all aspects of their sound and it feels like they did their best job of giving everyone a little something to enjoy. Unsurprisingly, there’s both an orchestral intro and outro, both of which are quite nice, and in between those are 11 songs of varying sound, but each of them is memorable in different ways.

Fans of speedy power metal are in for a treat right away with “Phantom Divine (Shadow Empire)”, which has a brief keyboard intro before the orchestra and guitars kick in and it quickly speeds up, before slowing down for the slow but heavy verses. Once the chorus hits, though, it goes full speed ahead, with an excellent, speedy power metal chorus that fans of the band will instantly fall in love with, as Tommy delivers some epic vocals that bring Khan to mind in the best way possible, and from there the song keeps getting heavier and more intense as it goes on, with the second half of the track featuring the first of two appearances from Once Human vocalist Lauren Hart, who provides some pretty epic death growls. Overall, it’s an excellent track, which kicks things off in style. Next is “Ravenlight”, the first song released and it kind of represents a middle ground, largely being more of a darker, mid-paced track with some pretty heavy riffs and nice modern sounding keys, but it speeds up dramatically towards the end, for its most impressive section. Overall, I find the track to be solid, but it doesn’t fully grab my attention as the melodies are nice but not fantastic, and the main riff isn’t especially memorable. However, the final 45 seconds, when the song fully speeds up, are absolutely fantastic and help take it to the next level.

Other speedier tracks include the oddball “Amnesiac”, a fun and upbeat track which doesn’t quite reach full power metal speed, but it does move at a nice pace, especially during its chorus. It starts off with some very heavy guitar work, before giving way to some very trance-like keys, which lead the way through much of the track, especially the chorus, which is upbeat and very fun. It’s a bit of weird track, being a bit lighter and more keyboard driven than normal, but it’s actually very effective and feels fresh and new, while still having just enough of the classic Kamelot sound to fit in with the rest of the album. A more traditional power metal track is the hard hitter “Kevlar Skin”, which charges out of the gate and delivers some of the heaviest guitar work on the album, only slowing down a bit for the verses, before really speeding up during the intense and super addictive chorus. The guitar work only gets heavier as the track goes on, and the instrumental section is pretty damn intense and awesome. My favorite of all is “Vespertine (My Crimson Bride)”, the most classic symphonic power metal sounding track here, as it’s a track that constantly rolls along at a fast pace, mixing heavy riffs with epic orchestral arrangements, and it has an absolutely incredible, super melodic chorus, where Tommy delivers some of his best-soaring power metal vocals. Even the one slower section in the second half stands out due to how dark and heavy it gets, and it makes for a great contrast with the rest of the track, while the instrumental section that follows goes back to being speedy and super melodic. Definitely my favorite song here and one I’d proudly put up there with some of the band’s all-time best. After that is the last full song here and also the longest and most progressive, “The Proud and the Broken”. It’s a more complex song, which starts off with a nice piano section before quickly speeding up. It goes through many transitions throughout, largely being a progressive power metal track, but it’s a bit lighter and more melodic than one would expect from the band, and it has some very nice softer sections, as well an excellent chorus, as usual. It’s definitely the most progressive track here and is another one of my favorites.

On the slower side, the first big stand out is “Burns to Embrace”, one of the band’s darker, more atmospheric tracks, but where I found the tracks like this on Haven to be a bit forced, this one actually works much better, pairing dark and heavy verses with a huge and epic chorus, and the track builds up tension nicely as it goes along, starting off calm and soft during its first verse, before picking up during the chorus and then finally going all out during the second verse. It’s a song that gets better as it goes along, with the instrumental section being great and then at the end the band brings in a children’s choir for the last two runs through the chorus, which is something I usually don’t like on a metal album, but here their voices combine with the lyrics to give the song a chilling and powerful effect that really elevates the track from being solid to being one of absolute best on the album. Unsurprisingly, things calm down with the next track, “In Twilight Hours”, a nice ballad which has some great vocal melodies, as well as some excellent guest vocals from Beyond the Black singer Jennifer Haben, who works very well with Tommy and helps to elevate an otherwise decent but forgettable track. She especially excels during the final run through the chorus, which is the best part of the song. The other ballad on the album is “Stories Unheard”, a largely acoustic track which has some very soft and excellent vocals from Tommy, as well as another excellent chorus. I find it to be a better written and more engaging track than “In Twilight Hours” overall, though both are pretty nice. Also on the softer side is “Static”, a track which starts off with some nice piano melodies and symphonic elements before getting slightly heavier during the opening verse. It’s a fairly light and calm track, with just a slight metal edge to it, and it has some nice vocal melodies, as well as another great chorus. It feels like the kind of thing they were trying to do on Poetry for the Poisoned and parts of Haven, except here it’s much better executed and more enjoyable. Also similar to much of Haven is “Mindfall Remedy”, a more mid-paced but very heavy track, with some great riffs and modern keys. It has a very fun chorus, as well as some more growls from Lauren Hart, and again it feels like they took the sound they had on much of Haven, except here the riffs hit just a bit harder and the melodies are just a bit more engaging, so the track ends up being much better than most of that album.

Overall, The Shadow Theory is an excellent album, which has a bit of everything for all Kamelot fans to enjoy. It once again brings back some of the band’s classic speedy power metal, as well as features some of their heaviest tracks, while also featuring some very modern keyboards and some darker, slower paced tracks, as well as some more relaxed and more melodic tracks. It’s definitely one of their most varied releases to date, while also feeling fresh in spots, and after Haven let me down, this one managed to win me over once again. I wouldn’t place it up there with their all-time best, but I’d certainly take it over anything else they’ve done since 2005, aside from Silverthorn.

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Album · 2017 · Symphonic Metal
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It’s always exciting to see a band that had long been solid but nowhere close to the top tier in their respective genre, finally break through and release a masterpiece. I was never expecting to be able to say this about Austrian symphonic metal band Visions of Atlantis, a band I have long been a fan of but never been blown away by, but finally, it has happened! Their first two albums left a lot to be desired, to say the least, but with the likes of Trinity, Delta, and Ethera, the band showed themselves to be just a step off from being something special, with a mix of lackluster male vocals and inconsistent songwriting being the two issues holding them back. The band has gone through many line up changes over the years, but it seems no matter who the musicians or female vocalists were, everything mostly sounded solid, and yet their full-length albums up until now had all failed to reach their full potential. With their sixth full-length album, The Dark & the Deep set for release later this week, the band has finally upped their game and delivered not only their best release to date but an early contender for best symphonic metal album of the year.

Going into the album, the band went through their biggest lineup change yet, with only original drummer Thomas Caser remaining from their previous lineup, while both singers, the bassist, and guitarist were all changed. Yet somehow, The Dark & the Deep still very much delivers everything fans of the band would expect, while also managing to be a far more consistent and enjoyable release throughout, with by far their best songwriting to date. Stylistically, listeners can expect some very melodic symphonic metal, with a heavy emphasis on vocal melodies, allowing for two clean vocalists throughout, which has always been a Visions of Atlantis staple. There’s a ton of variety in the songwriting, with the expected mid-paced and super catchy symphonic tracks being present, as usual, but there’s also quite a good amount of speedy power metal tracks, as well as a couple ballads. While this isn’t a particularly heavy album, the guitar work is very solid, with some great melodic leads throughout, as well as some very nice solos and a few really good riffs on some of the heavier tracks, especially the more power metal oriented songs. The songs are all excellent, and everything flows perfectly, unlike on some symphonic albums I’ve reviewed in the past, which have occasionally dragged at times.

Obviously, the most important aspect of the album is the vocals, an area where I’ve always somewhat struggled with Visions of Atlantis. I was not a big fan of previous male vocalist Mario Plank, but with him out of the picture, Dragony vocalist Siegfried Samer has stepped in and he does an excellent job. While he clearly plays second fiddle on some of the tracks, he has a very strong, somewhat theatrical voice which fits in great with the music, and he does an excellent job of carrying the melodies while adding a classic power metal feel to the vocals. His counterpart and the main vocalist throughout most of the album is Clémentine Delauney, who has been very active in recent years, from her one album tenure with Serenity to being in the all-female band Exit Eden. Out of everything she’s done, though, this album does the best job of showcasing her talents, as she’s given a ton of space to work with, and she’s able to show much more of her range than ever before. She has a very soft and pleasant voice which carries melody very well, and at times she sings more normally, while at other times she does some pretty epic operatic vocals, and occasionally she even does some more powerful, rock style vocals, and she sounds excellent no matter which style she uses. With Visions of Atlantis always being a band centered around dual vocalists, it’s important that both singers do their job well, and this album is the first time where I can confidently say that has happened, which makes a huge difference.

Songwriting is the biggest area where the band has frustrated me in the past, as all of their past albums have had a mix of great songs, mediocre songs and occasionally some downright terrible songs. Thankfully, that isn’t the case on The Deep & the Dark, as everything here is excellent, and there’s enough variety here that all fans should be happy with the album. Up first is the title track, which opens with a nice symphonic intro, before quickly picking up the pace. The main riff is quite nice, though overall it’s a fairly light and upbeat track, with slight power metal elements. Keyboards and symphonic elements dominate the track, while the guitar work is solid throughout, and Siegfried is mostly relegated to backing vocals, while Clémentine leads the way and instantly impresses, with some very smooth, yet powerful vocals. The chorus is melodic and super catchy, making the song an instant favorite, while the melodic guitar solo, later on, is also quite good. Overall, it’s a very fun opening track and a great way to start the album.

After that comes the first single, “Return to Lemuria”, which is one of the most power metal oriented tracks on the album. Following a nice symphonic opening, the track quickly introduces some excellent keyboard melodies and a great main riff, before fully speeding up during the verses, where we get out first real taste of Siegfried’s vocals, as he and Clémentine split vocal duties throughout the track, and sound excellent together, with the male vocals adding a bit of theatricality, while the operatic female vocals are as smooth and beautiful as always. The guitar solo in the second half is excellent, and overall it’s one of the fastest paced, catchiest and overall most enjoyable tracks on the album, with the chorus, in particular, standing out in a positive way. Continuing with the speedier songs, next is “The Silent Mutiny”, another very fast paced track with slightly heavier guitar riffs throughout, and it has a very classic power metal feel to it, with Siegfried again adding to the power metal feel whenever he sings, while Clémentine leads the way and is excellent, as always. It has another catchy chorus, more great symphonic elements, and a great solo, and overall it’s another great track. Perhaps the heaviest track on the album is “The Grand Illusion”, which has some very thick and heavy guitar riffs, and Siegfried sings a bit deeper than usual, while Clémentine uses some of her most epic operatic vocals throughout the super speedy and addictive chorus. It’s another very fast paced track, which is once again very catchy and has some great instrumental work throughout. The last really the fast paced song is “Words of War”, which opens up with some great keyboard melodies, before speeding up and turning into another heavier track. It has perhaps the catchiest chorus on the album, as well as more fantastic vocals from both singers, and it has another excellent solo. It’s the shortest track on the album, but also my favorite, as it’s simply so addictive and so catchy, I can’t help but love it.

On the slower side, “Ritual Night” is a nice mid-paced symphonic track with beautiful folk melodies thrown in from time to time, as well as some nice melodic guitar leads throughout, while Clémentine dominates the vocals, singing calmly and very smoothly. The chorus is another standout, and it’s definitely another great track overall. Another track with some very slight oriental influence is “Book of Nature”, another mid-paced track which has a slight kick to its guitar riffs, and both vocalists are on full display here, delivering another excellent chorus, which is one of the best on the album. It’s the longest track on the album and has some of the best instrumental work out of all the songs, making it yet another highlight. The first of two ballads Is “The Last Home”, a very nice piano ballad, which serves as a great showcase for Clémentine, who mostly uses a lower register, though she delivers some powerful vocals during the chorus, and it’s another great track overall. In between two of the heavier songs on the album is the lighter “Dead Reckoning”, a more relaxed and mid-paced keyboard driven track, which is again dominated by excellent vocals from both singers, and it has another great chorus where the pace picks up a bit, as well as bursts of great guitar riffs, and another great solo in the second half. Lastly, we have the closing ballad “Prayer to the Lost”, another piano ballad where Clémentine takes lead and sings softly but very beautifully. The chorus is excellent and gets better as the track goes on, and the guitar solo in the second half is very beautiful. Overall, it’s a great track and a very nice way to end the album.

I was excited about The Deep & the Dark when I saw who the two singers were, but I would never have expected it to turn out as well as it did! Visions of Atlantis have finally reached their full potential, delivering by far their best album to date, with a nice mix of folk-tinged symphonic metal and power metal, and this is an album I’d recommend for any longtime fan of the band, as well as any symphonic or power metal fans who enjoy dual leading vocals, as it can’t be done much better than this!

originally written for

symphonic metal movie reviews

NIGHTWISH Showtime, Storytime

Movie · 2013 · Symphonic Metal
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You probably know the story. Anette Olzon, Tarja Turunen's replacement at the Nightwish mic was let go in the middle of the band's tour for Imaginaerum, and Floor Jansen was summoned to be her stand in at an extremely short notice, finally ending up as the permanent vocalist. At least for the time being, that is, knowing the band's tumultous history with their front women. While all this was happening they had the cameras rolling for a tour documentary they would probably have released anyway, but this turn of events naturally kicked the interest level up a notch or two.

The documentary starts at the turning point of the tour - the gig with the Kamelot singers while Anette was hospitalized and the heroic entry of Floor Jansen, and so naturally the viewer expects a dramatic back story of how they got to the low point. But no, the tour starts out great and everything goes smoothly and the touring machine is examined in great detail from many angles right down to Tuomas Holopainen's wine bottle stand under the keyboards. The tour continues to be a success and everyone is having fun, and suddenly they have insurmountable personnel strife that just can't be salvaged. Especially after reading the mercilessly honest and brutally detailed official band biography, it's very disappointing that the problems with Anette are in no way explained. They just couldn't continue being in the same band and that's that.

So the big potential is wasted, possibly due to Anette's refusal to be included in any form, and that may after all be a blessing in disguise, since the documentary was originally supposed to be a stand alone release. I'm only guessing here, but perhaps this bastardisation was the reason they chose to include the Wacken gig as well, and push the documentary to the second disc.

And holy hell are they on fire in the main feature! I get immense pleasure from the sense that this group that I started listening back in 1997 when I first heard The Carpenter on a metal compilation cassette (fuck yeah) made by a friend, and lost for some years after Once, has finally found the perfect line-up without a single hiccup. Tarja's voice was what made the band stand out in the beginning, but as a metal frontwoman she was always awkward, as was the pop-oriented Anette Olzon after her. Third time's the charm, and in Floor Jansen they have a true stunning metal goddess with lungs to handle any and every song from the band's catalogue while making them her own. And let's not underestimate the official addition of Troy Donockley, who brings important colour to their sound. I'll be excited to hear how the band utilises his rather metalless but extremely pleasant voice on the next album.

The band is captured touring my favourite Nightwish album, so the setlist leaves little to be desired, but it would've been nice to hear more than one track from their first three albums. And Scaretale from Imaginaerum, though that was such a perfect performance by Anette that I doubt Floor can top that. Nightwish as a musical unit is so much tied to the taped orchestrations these days that it leaves very little space for improvisation, which is why it's nice to hear a little additional keyboard solo in I Wish I Had An Angel, and which is also why it's easy to let the newly improved vocal department steal the show.

Put cameras on this show, and it's bound to be brilliant. The band were on top of their game on this tour after the personnel change, so it will be interesting to see how they make the new line-up work on record. For the first time since 2005 I'm eagerly awaiting the next Nightwish album.

Concert ***** Documentary **½


Movie · 1999 · Symphonic Metal
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"Let's hear it for Michael Kamen yeah!" He was the only one who had the guts to do this. This is the ultimate exercise in excess, to marry Metallica with a Symphony orchestra. The DVD is a crystal clear well edited package onthe ultimate event of the year. It is great to watch the orchestra getting into the music and then to see Metallica banging along. The crowd are as raucous as any Metallicrowd and of course it is as heavy as it always is. There are some fantastic surprises such as Call Of Cthulu sounding very Gothic and powerful with the violins and brass. The concert shows in equal measure the band and orchestra trading off seamlessly. It has been done before of course with Deep Purple and other metal acts. It is almost becoming a cliche of late with many bands taking up the idea including Kiss, Within Temptation, Dream Theater and Therion, all of which are captured on DVD. Non metal acts have done it such as Camel, Yes and ELP. The weird thing about it is these orchestral and rock marriages always work for me. I love to hear that massive orchestral sound with the crunching distortion of guitars. To hear a violin sweep across when you expect a guitar solo is bliss to my ears.

There are so many highlights on this DVD including Master of Puppets, more dramatic than ever, the darkness of super heavy The Thing That Should Not Be, The Memory Remains, iconic with audience participation, Nothing Else Matters, a definitive highlight and the crowd are in raptures when this is played. For Whom the Bell Tolls sounds very Gothic with the sweeping violins, and the song One is a masterpiece with the orchestral accompaniment.

The footage is professionally shot and edited as you would expect and it is nice to see the orhestra mamebrs having fun with this. None of the songs are less heavy, they are augmented to majestic heights. Watching this concert live is the best experience which is perhaps a pinnacle of the group's existence. Soon after it all turned sour as we know, captured on the astonishing Some Kind of Monster doco, but it is so great to see Metallica at the height of their powers as we do in S & M. Check out this DVD to see metal at its grandest.


Movie · 2005 · Symphonic Metal
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I find that music DVD’s can be a hit or miss thing’s with fans but this one is a definite hit. If you haven’t had the chance to see Within Temptation live then this DVD captures them at their flawless best; perfect renditions of many of their best songs, spanning all four studio releases that they had at the time, great stage sets and special guests. I’ve actually seen the band while they promoted the album that they released in 2007, The Heart of Everything and in that show they mainly only played songs from said album and The Silent Force, throwing in a couple of fan favourites from Mother Earth, so The Silent Force Tour DVD makes for a great chance to see early classics such as Candles and The Other Half (of me) performed.

Clearly the band have spared no expense to make their show one to rival that of band’s said to be the some of the greatest live performers of modern times. We see a torch light procession for Candles, huge blow up creeper things to represent the power of nature during Mother Earth and lead singer Sharon den Adel suspended above the stage in a cage for Caged. Some band’s will go out of stage and just play but not Within Temptation. This is not just music, this is a show.

But first and foremost in importance is the music. Within Temptation play without fault and Sharon den Adel never misses a single note. We even get to hear the vocals of guitarist Robert Westerholt on a couple of songs, giving fans who may have only heard The Silent Force or The Heart of Everything a chance to hear Within Temptation’s earlier ‘beauty and the beast’ style of vocal delivery. Song highlights are Deceiver of Fools, Angels, Caged, Mother Earth, Candles, The Other Half (of me), Jane Doe and It’s the Fear.

Extras wise there is three music videos for the singles that came from The Silent Force (Stand My Ground, Angels, Memories) and two shorter live appearances on the first of the two discs. The extra live shows only have songs that appear in the main show and one is the same songs as the three music videos but it’s the main concert that you should be buying this for. If you’re like me you won’t be bother by that fact after you’ve watched the main show.

On the second disc you’ll find backstage footage from various places; making of documentaries for The Silent Force album and the three music videos; some interviews; a photo gallery and a bloopers/credits section. It’s not stuff that you’d probably watch more than once but I’m giving this DVD it’s rating based on the main feature. All this extra stuff is just a bonus next to that. That in itself I feel is justification for the 100% score I’m giving this DVD. If you like this band, what are you waiting for? Go buy it.

(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)


Movie · 1999 · Symphonic Metal
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I had owned the CD version of S&M years ago, so it is good to revisit this with the visuals thrown in. Contrary to what I remembered from the CD, there really isn’t too much toestepping between what Metallica plays and what the orchestra plays. Most of the songs sound about as smooth as the originals. In fact, the only songs that I’m still not convinced worked effectively were “Until It Sleeps”, “Wherever I May Roam”, “Sad But True”, and much of “Battery” (though I love the intro). Even “Enter Sandman” worked surprisingly well.

Most of the material in this concert comes from songs from the Black Album and later. I would have liked to see a bit more variety in their song selection as there are plenty of songs from their past that almost naturally lend themselves to orchestration. Even a tune off of Kill ‘Em All would have been an interesting attempt.

Just for fun, here are some songs I would have liked to see them attempt with the orchestra: “Fade To Black”, “Orion”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, “…And Justice For All”, and “The Unforgiven”.

Although not the first rock/metal band to perform with an orchestra, Metallica often gets credit for starting a trend for rock bands to collaborate with an orchestra. However, much of the credit for the success of S&M should be given to conductor Michael Kamen. He was the one who spearheaded the project by taking an interest in Metallica’s music and proposing that they further collaborate (he did some arranging in 1991 on “Nothing Else Matters”). His arrangements on the two previously unreleased songs, “No Leaf Clover” and “- Human”, give both songs a strong identity. It would have been interesting to hear an entire album or an EP with all new material, because the collaboration certainly had potential.

As a whole, I’d say this is a good Metallica release. The performance by all involved is good and it’s shot well. However, it would be a stretch to call this essential Metal(lica).

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