Serenity: Codex Atlanticus (Napalm Records)
When I hear one of my favourite bands is releasing a new album I do get very excited and Serenity is one such band I've followed the band for a long time and seen them a few times on tour and I'm always impressed by both their recorded output and their stagecraft. Codex Atlanticus is their fifth album and sees the band revert back to their earlier days as a four piece shedding female vocalist Clémentine Delauney who joined the band on their last album War Of Ages, this is because frontman Georg Neuhauser approaches every album with the overall concept in mind and having a full time female vocalist did not fit in with their future plans. Personally I think this is to their benefit as the dual vocals saw them being lumped in with the huge amount of symphonic female fronted metal bands around and this is something Serenity have never been their style of music is the same kind of masculine, romantic symphonic metal that Kamelot have been producing since the mid 90's. Codex Atlanticus also sees a change of six stringer with longtime axe-man Thomas Buchberger departing with Delauney, meaning that he has been replaced by Cris Tian who is a killer guitarist in his own right and makes this album more guitar driven than before.
The album itself is still of the high quality Serenity are known for, they have once again based it on a concept, this time it's the twelve volume Codex Atlanticus work by Leonardo Da Vinci with the album focusing on that work and Da Vinci's life, musically the band still have the dramatic baroque progressive, symphonic power metal sound that has seen them right for most of their career albeit on the last few albums the dramatic elements have been ramped up and on Codex Atlanticus they go one better with many of the songs sounding like they could have come from the pen of Jim Steinman, this influence is most prevailing on Perfect Woman which surely is an off cut from Dead Ringer or Bat Out Of Hell and sees Georg duetting with Amanda Sommerville on the albums most radio friendly track, another , Caugtht In A Myth has a chorus that begs to be sung out loud. There are a couple of additional singers on the record with the singular named Tasha giving some female vocals in backing and the most surprising performance coming from bassist Fabio D'Amore who supplies co-lead vocals on the excellent Spirit In The Flesh and sounds exactly like Edguy's Tobias Sammet! Serenity have crafted another album of impressive symphonic metal and one that sees them return to their original set up of just having Georg's superb passionate vocals leading the band forward. 8/10
Ecliptica: Ecliptified (Mars Music Promotion)
More music from Austria but this time a band that started their career as a power metal band with the almost obligatory dual male/female vocals. I have their breakthrough album Impetus from that time and it's since been played a lot however in the interim the band have evolved with two of the contributing members to the debut leaving and being replaced again by yet another female singer and guitarist (seems to be a theme with Austrian bands) this has meant that Ecliptica stepped away from the power metal on their last album Journey Saturnine (which is a bold move considering they are named after on of the finest power metal albums ever made) and have now adopted the idea of being a self proclaimed Metal N Roll band. What this actually means is that they have a sound if you mixed GNR with Maiden or Aerosmith with Priest, so crunchy speed driven guitar riffs and furious drum patterns mixing with the whiskey soaked, scarf waving vocals of Thomas Tieber and the sultry, smoky croon of Sandra Urbanek, so yes still dual vocals but far away from the traditional male-female bands around, in fact the nearest thing I would say they sound like are Tony Clarkin and Bob Catley Magnum side project Hard Rain.
The songs have enough of a metallic fire and hard rock groove to please both camps with the twin axes of founder member Marcus Winkler and his guitar foil Van Alen both playing like Slash if he was in Saxon, the rhythm section of Roman Daucher's drums and Petra Schumayer lay down a steady but furious bottom end meaning that the songs have that punch to the guts all good rock n roll has. From brash blues of Welcome To The Show, through the electro-filled Round N Round (not a Ratt cover), to One For Rock N Roll which is prime 80's rock and bursts into Need Your Love which is a ballad of Winger proportions. Ecliptified is a triumphant slab of heavy rock and with 14 songs the band don't seem to have any lack of ambition or of course songs, Ecliptica have melded metal and rock very well evolving from the band I once new for the better. 8/10
Nordic Union: Nordic Union (Frontiers) [Review By Paul]
If you are a fan of melodic rock, then the name Ronny Atkins should be familiar to you. The front man of Danish outfit Pretty Maids, Atkins combines with Eclipse’s Eric Martensson to debut a new project, Nordic Union which is pretty fine stuff. Completing the line-up is Magnus Ulfstedt who provides the fine drumming whilst Martensson delivers all of the other instruments. Although the tracks sit firmly in the AOR department, complete with harmonies and ridiculous melodies which are the lifeblood of every song, there is also a subtle metal steel which underpins the majority. Opener The War Has Begun contains sufficient guitar work to prick up those ears.
Hypocrisy and Wide Awake sit firmly in the FM/Thunder camp; huge keyboards combine with a melodic guitar sound to create some fine arena pomp. Of course, no AOR release is complete without the ballad and Every Heartbeat ticks all the boxes. Pleading lyrics, wailing guitar and solid rhythm. When Death Is Calling is just an excellent melodic rock track with brilliant harmonies supporting Atkins rich vocals. Nordic Union would go down a storm at Hard Rock AOR; 21 Guns follows the well-worn blueprint, huge hooks, synths galore and clean honey drenched singing compliment the mean guitar work of Martensson. The remaining tracks continue in similar vein, with saccharine drenched emotion, oozing melody and quality. If you like a bit of the lighter side of the hard rock scene, laced with a rocker underbelly, then give Nordic Union a try. It’s a fine album. 8/10