Sound Storm – Immortalia
I don’t know what’s gotten into the bloody Italians this year, and I frankly don’t care to. Joining an already formidable roster of modern progressive power metal that includes Holy Knights, Vision Divine, Wind Rose, Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, Thy Majestie, and more, Sound Storm’s Immortalia landed completely out of the blue in the midst of high summer, 2012. While I am familiar with the band’s debut release Twilight Opera, I do not recall it being particularly standout, so I had few expectations for this album when I threw it on the first time.
…and got positively steamrolled. Like countrymen Holy Knights (though not quite to the same degree, perhaps), Sound Storm seems to have been biding its time most effectively, lurking in the dark recesses of the genre with bands like Steel Attack and Sons Of Seasons, and steeping its sound in darkness, malice, and more progressive symphonics than before. Despite its almost over-the-top (not Pathfinder-esque, perhaps, but extremely bold nonetheless) choral and orchestral bombast, Sound Storm fits rather flamboyantly into what I think of as the “New wave of progressive power metal”. All three elements (progressive and technical songwriting, symphonic emphasis, and solid power metal fundamentals) work fluidly in synchronous relation to provide a striking and tempestuous experience that, while not without its flaws, is a landmark album for the band. Along with Holy Knights’ Beyond Daylight And Pain and Thy Majestie’s upcoming ShiHuangDi, this release hands Scarlet Records the triple crown for summer releases in the genre.
Opener “Back To Life”, which was, I believe, released as a single last year, sees the band put their best foot forwards. While I don’t feel that Sound Storm quite reaches the heights of their magnificent opener again throughout the album, what an introduction it is! Churning guitar, foreboding keys, and power vocals build to an abruptly melodic and supremely beautiful chorus before descending into a midsection that features sensitive vocals from Philippe D’Orange, touching piano, and an extremely tasteful guitar solo. After another battering chorus, “Back To Life” cuts out suddenly, and the band unveils what else they’ve been working on for the past three years.
Well, even though the peak of the album is immediate and never again matched, there is precious little filler on Immortalia. Great fluidity is the band’s greatest strength, and while numerous iterations of stylistically similar songs soar, charge, and slither by, never once is the formula the same. An effective combination of punchy rhythmic work (superb drums, bass, and rhythm guitar work here, with never an empty space nor off-sounding riff), neo-classical piano, tremendously potent vocal lines (I’ll get to this in a moment), and scathing lead guitar work make one thing very clear: Sound Storm has transformed into a first class symphonic power metal band that knows damn well how to pump out dark, heavy, and memorable tracks as well as the best of them.
And the vocals! This album is a veritable painter’s pallete of vocal timbres. First of all, Philippe D’Orange has a set of pipes the like of which I’ve not heard since Daniel Heiman. At some points, he’s nearly a dead ringer for the former Lost Horizon frontman. I also find him rather similar to Steel Attack’s Ronnie Hemlin, a potent and highly underrated star of the genre. While he doesn’t quite have the experience of either of the above, his softer, more emotional vocals surpass either, and it makes him the perfect showman for Sound Storm’s style. In addition to D’Orange’s terrific lead work, excellent female soprano work, highly effective choirs, and harsh roaring and rasping are all hurled into the volatile, bubbling musical cauldron that is the band’s soundscape. Rare indeed is the album where such a wide spread of vocal styles and timbres are on display, and rarer still when all are performed so well.
Well, I clearly can’t say enough good things about Immortalia, so what’s wrong with it? Well, I think that while the band puts on a phenomenal show and not once is there a boring moment, I sometimes have difficulty separating song from song. Aside from the bone-shredding opener, choruses are generally only moderately effective (“Promises” may be a standout), and I think that the band could benefit from a bit more melody here and there. Otherwise, while I occasionally wish that there’d be some more catchy lead guitar work, it’s more than effective enough as it is.
I really have never experienced an album quite like Immortalia. It is so much more powerful and complex than Nightwish, more accessible and power metal-driven than Sons Of Seasons, and more diverse and memorable than what many modern power metal bands are tiredly coming up with. This has my complete approval and devotion. I say, if you pick up one truly orchestral power metal album this year, leave that new Rhapsody on the shelf, and let it be Immortalia.
Dan’s Rating: 4.25 out of 5