Visions Of Atlantis – Maria Magdalena
For a long time the female fronted symphonic metal genre has been dominated by such well-known bands as Nightwish, Epica, and my personal favorite, Within Temptation. One band that has been struggling for the past few years to break into that elite group but hasn’t quite made it yet, is Visions of Atlantis. The less said about their first two albums the better (they sucked), but with Trinity and the introduction of vocalist Melissa Ferlaak, they finally seemed to be on the right track, and aside from flaws in the songwriting department and something else I’ll address later in this review, it was quite good. Then disaster struck, as both Melissa and guitarist Wolfgang Koch left the band due to personal reasons, leading to changes. Making things worse, the band’s original replacement for Melissa was unable to perform live due to an illness, so their fourth album Delta took an extremely long time. Eventually, the band returned with new vocalist Maxi Nil, and while she did a good job and the album was enjoyable, it didn’t yet seem like she was a perfect fit and the album overall felt like a sideways step instead of a further leap forward.
It seems like the band felt they needed to prove themselves again, because less than a year later they’re already back with a new EP, Maria Magdalena. The overall sound doesn’t seem much different from before, as it is still very big and epic, with the same dual lead vocals (Mario Plank has been around since their second album and is still here), but I can sense some maturity here. The symphonic elements are still in full effect, but the songs mostly aren’t as cheesy anymore. In fact, the big difference between this and other works by VoA is the level of consistency within the compositions, as before I’d find about half the songs to be excellent and the rest to be lacking somewhat, but here, (maybe because it’s shorter and thus easier to focus on each specific song) every song is great.
The album opens with the title track, which also happens to be the most straight-forward and radio-friendly song of the batch. But unlike with Nightwish, who seem to think being accessible automatically means going for a more pop sound, this is simply some catchy Symphonic Metal where the orchestration takes a backseat to strong hooks and an excellent chorus, which really showcases the sweet voice of Maxi Nil. It also helps that her voice is actually powerful and not childish, but I won”t go there (crap, I did. Sorry). More impressive is the next song, “Melancholia”, easily the most unique and complex. There is a lot going on here, with a much darker than usual sound overall, another amazing chorus, some nice changes in tempo, but perhaps my favorite thing is the really chilling use of harmonies from Maxi during the verses. These are really cool, and somewhat unsettling, but in a good way. They certainly give the song somewhat of a Gothic feel, which VoA usually avoids. Other highlights include “Distant Shores” and the short but very sweet ballad “Beyond Horizon – The Poem Pt. II”
Only one song here is slightly uneven, and that is “Last Shut of Your Eyes”. This also leads to one complaint I’ve always had about the band that is stronger now that everything else is so good: Mario Plank is a really bad singer. Terrible, even. For most of the EP he is relegated to the background, mostly showing up for support during the choruses, but on this song he takes the lead and almost ruins it. Then Maxi shows up in the second half and manages to save the day. Still, I think the band is getting closer to breaking into the elite of the genre, but they have to get rid of Mario if that is to ever happen. He also causes the few cheesy moments of the release, and sadly, this is not the good type of cheesy. But as I said, Maxi does the majority of the vocals, and while I personally still prefer Melissa, she has proven herself to be an excellent singer and when given the right melodies, she can steal the spotlight easily. And while I had my doubts at first, I think she is a great fit for where the band is now.
One complaint aside, this is easily the most focused and most consistent release by VoA so far, and shows a clear progression from a fun but flawed band into a serious band ready to become one of the best in their genre. They aren’t quite there yet, but hopefully they’ll make it. If only they weren’t so damn attached to Mario…
Travis Green’s Rating: 3.75 out of 5