Heliosaga – Towers In The Distance
Heliosaga – Towers In The Distance (2014)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
Living in Minnesota isn’t quite the “frozen tundra” horror story that many might have you believe. Well, maybe it is, but in addition to all of the wooly mammoths, we have a pretty solid metal scene. The culture is a bit different, since band members have to perform in stocking caps and snowpants, but we manage somehow. It’s ironic, perhaps, that the brightly burning new project dubbed Heliosaga hails from such an ice-encrusted wasteland, but a few spins of debut album Towers In The Distance and you won’t care where this group is from.
Readers should be well-acquainted by now with my very persnickety nature concerning lady vocalists, and especially those who adhere to more traditional, classically-trained styles. While it still doesn’t “click” the best with me as a lead vocal style in most metal, it would be silly of me not to admit that Chelsea Knaack is one of the best I’ve heard in recent years when it comes to her mode of delivery. What’s even more important is that Heliosaga properly rocks behind her – in stark contrast to a lot of the plodding female-fronted sympho/operatic metal that has coursed through my ears and left nary an impression. This includes, but is certainly by no means limited to, fellow Minnesotan “symphonic power” metal band Echoterra.
What makes the difference? Energy and ambiance, pure and simple. Damien Villareal, the guitarist and keyboard player, provides fiery guitar work, tasteful solos, and smooth, engaging keyboard support in such a way that Towers In The Distance stands as a decidedly *metal* monument: possessed of enough sophistication and heaviness to appeal to more than just the fickle femme-metal masses. Simultaneously, Knaack provides the finesse and grace to a power metal album that will capture the attention of those same listeners, and so Heliosaga is left straddling the line between the niches of female-fronted symphonic metal and more potent European power metal. Said line between these two worlds is sometimes fudged, but in my experience most fans segregate themselves rather easily into mainly being a fan of one or the other. My point in saying all of this is to express that I believe Heliosaga to be one of few bands (also including the likes of MindMaze, Ancient Bards, and Vandroya) that can properly appeal to both with fairly equal skill.
For evidence of this, one need look no further than opener “A Tower So Tall”: a fast moving, lead-laden song with hard-hitting rhythm that feels comfortable to my Euro-power-geared brain, yet with a fresh and capable enough vocal approach to lend it some novelty. Likewise, the darting “Lost”, the heavier and more dynamic “To Heal All Wounds”, and the bright and exciting “Luminary” all serve to underline the band’s strengths in mighty fashion.
The primary drawback I find in listening to Heliosaga’s debut is, as I implied earlier, my preference for more traditional metal vocals, as I find Knaack’s singing to be a little one-dimensional, even when surrounded by lush layers of her voice. The pacing and variety in tempo and guitar work serves to keep this album reasonably novel, however, and I definitely recommend it without hesitation to any listeners looking for more experiences similar to those sounds and styles that I summarized above. Towers In The Distance is a definite late summer surprise for the female fronted power metal scene, and one bound to generate a whole lot of interest in the group’s future work.
3.5 // 5