Title:Facing Your Enemy
Genre:Neo-Classical Power Metal
The last AT VANCE album I reviewed was “VII” from 2007. See my review here. This one also marked the debut of vocalist Rick Altzi (a.o. THUNDERSTONE), who replaced Mats Levén, who replaced Oliver Hartmann. I found “VII” rather good, though not all songs were killer, so to speak. In 2009 the follow-up was released under the title “Ride The Sky”. I wanted to review that one as well, but somehow it didn’t happen. Lack of inspiration perhaps? In any case, to be honest, as listenable as that album was/is, it was far from AT VANCE’s best album. This, most likely, needs to be sought among the band’s first few albums. For me personally, at least what I have heard so far, “Only Human” (2002) is my favourite. However, albums aside, AT VANCE was a band I wanted to see live at least once. This happened at Frostrock in Kuurne, Belgium, in December 2010. And I have to say it was a very entertaining gig, so kudos to Olaf and co. for that.
Now, anno 2012, a new album is out. Prior to this one, though, a compilation called “Decade” came out, featuring songs from every important period in the band’s discography. The bonus CD came with various covers and rarities. So, a new studio album sees the light of day (the 27th April): “Face Your Enemy”. What will it be like? A step up from “Ride The Sky”, for example? The press text mentions, regarding the line-up, the name of KAMELOT drummer Casey Grillo who apparently handled the drum parts for this album. Tim Breideband would handle them on stage. The album contains 12 songs and I don’t need to explain that after all those years, mastermind Olaf Lenk has found a recipe that works and thus applies it again and again. Faster songs, ballads, neo-classical influences, … even Rick Altzi singing in a way that is typical for AT VANCE. Oliver Hartmann and Mats Levén also sang in this way.
“Facing Your Enemy” begins with “Heaven Is Calling”. Here you get the typical shredding, melodies and overall catchy compositions that are characteristic for AT VANCE. The drums are played with a constant pattern, which makes you wonder if there was a real drummer behind the kit. You could easily mistake this for a drumcomputer and by this I’m not referring to the undeniable qualities of Casey Grillo. It’s almost a waste of talent to let him play like this. But if the song requires it, so be it. The verses are atmospheric, contrary to the bridge and chorus where the shredding power comes out. Rick’s singing also is fiercer in the chorus, while he sings in a lower voice in the verses. But his voice suits this music very well. The obligatory solo is, obviously, well done. Olaf is a master at his craft. The title track is next and in my opinion less interesting. It begins with an atmospheric intro, almost perfect as meditational music as it sounds dreamy. The Rock slowly slips in, power ballad style. The verses are also quite calm, with electronic backing. Rick sings in a more solemn way, clean with a rough edge. Like before, when the bridge and chorus are due, his singing grows in power. The drums sound better here, more realistic. At some point, though, I had the impression I was listening to a FIREWIND song. Whether that’s good is a personal matter.
A second highlight is “Eyes Of A Stranger”, which puts the focus back on ROCK!, even if it’s a more Bluesy kind of song. The main aspect is of course riffing and drums. Backing keyboards complete the composition. In this linear and 80’s influenced track the vocals follow the same pattern as before: low in the verses, more powerful in the bridge and chorus. The drumpower does increase in the bridge before the solo. This, as a wave goes with ups and downs, brings us to “Fear No Evil”. This song is slower, yet very melodic. The contrast of clean verses with low, solemn vocals, and a hymnic bridge and of course the (melodic) chorus is again applied, though it’s not as strong as in the previous songs. This is actually one of those typical slow(er) songs in the AT VANCE discography. The guitar solo is well done, obviously, but that’s sadly the only interesting element here. In my humble opinion.
And so we have another highlight: “Live & Learn”. The beginning riff and backing keyboards indicate another strong song is ready for take off. The guitar input is good, no question about that and the beat is tigt enough. The aforementioned contrast between the verses and chorus is also done here. “Live & Learn” is a linear and simple song, but catchy, as is a key aspect in AT VANCE songs. The graph drops a lot then when “Don’t Dream” is there. It’s an atmospheric song, a ballad. to be honest, a boring one. It just drags on and on and on… Olaf has written much better ballads in the past. “See Me Crying” is a tad better, another 80’s influenced track. It sounds sad and after the ballad it would have been better to put a sort of DRAGONFORCE-like track here. Or, a speedier Power Metal track. The same pattern/contrast with regards to verses and chorus is also applied here. The chorus melodies are nice, though, as is the solo.
Two more highlights then, “Saviour” and “Fame And Fortune”. The first is a song with power, with shredding, with a very nice Power Metal chorus. And about time this kind of song came along! “Fame And Fortune” is a Neo-Classical Power Metal track that advances well. The 80’s influences are very apparent, but they’re nice. Most power is found in the chorus, of course. “Tokyo”, “March Of The Dwarf” and “Things I Never Needed” are thus no highlights. Not exactly bad songs, but nothing grand either, not like before. “Tokyo” is a midtempo, 80’s track where keyboards play a more important role. “March Of The Dwarf” is an instrumental track and it wouldn’t be an AT VANCE album if it didn’t contain an instrumental Neo-Classical song. It’s got a nice rhythm and dito riffing. Good to have in between. Somehow the expectation exists that the album will end with a bang, but it doesn’t. “Things I Never Needed” is an acoustic ballad, consisting of vocals and guitar only. It’s definitely better than “Don’t Dream”, but you have to be in the mood for this one.
“Facing Your Enemy” is the third album with Rick Altzi on vocals. The first was “VII” (2007), the second “Ride The Sky” (2009). I got to see AT VANCE live at Frostrock in Kuurne, Belgium, in December 2010 and it was a very good shows. I enjoyed it and it showed that the songs do sound strong live. Back to the albums. “VII” was alright, “Ride The Sky” was rather mediocre, but listenable. Normally with AT VANCE you know what you’re getting (fast songs, ballads, … but with a grand Neo-Classical influence) and it then depends how the album is composed. Rick definitely sounds more vigorous here and it fits the respective songs. “Facing Your Enemy” is a decent album, but nothing more. Perhaps because ther’s too much of the same kind of material here, the same kinds of patterns, tracks being interchangeable with previous albums. This is, in my opinion, more an album for the diehard fans of AT VANCE.
- Heaven Is Calling
- Facing Your Enemy
- Eyes Of A Stranger
- Fear No Evil
- Live & Learn
- Don’t Dream
- See Me Crying
- March Of The Dwarf
- Fame And Fortune
- Things I Never Needed
Rick Altzi – vocals
Olaf Lenk – guitar, keyboards
Chris Hill – bass
Casey Grillo – drums (studio)
Tim Breideband – drums (live)