ALMANAC- European Powers Rise
One word I keep hearing thrown around too often these days is “supergroup”. You know- when musicians from different bands get together and hammer our a collaborative project. While not quite as prevalent in the US, they’re pretty active in Europe. And when one of these collaborations finds itself being teased to the metal universe, one of two things happens. It’s either dismissed as a one-off gimmick or, in the case of Almanac, it’s anticipated, talked about and, when the music is introduced to the masses, it’s celebrated.
I have to admit right away, when I saw that there were three (yes, you read that right) vocalists contributing to the project, I was a bit curious- especially since all three of them have very similar vocal styles- not like a band such as Amaranthe, where you have three different vocal styles converging. This project brings together Brainstorm/Symphorce voice Andy B. Franck, PC69 frontman David Readman and LMO vocalist Jeanette Marchewka to lend their powerful yet distinctive styles to the tapestry that has been woven by Rage guitarist Victor Smolski, keyboardist Enric Garcia and a powerful rhythm section of drummer Michael Kolar and bassist Armin Alic. While these might not be household names, the music that they have created will undoubtedly leave an impression.
The thunderous, machine-gun rhythms of “Tsar”, the opener and title track, let you know right off the bat that this isn’t going to be one of those overblown orchestral opuses. Nope, this is going to kick your ass, and it’s going to do it with style, power and melody. All three vocalists waste no time in showcasing what they bring to the story. The follow-up, lead-off single “Self- Blinded Eyes” could have easily been the leadoff on this album, but it doesn’t feel the slightest bit out of place. Its powerful riffing alongside the dominant vocal tandem of Franck and Readman, mixed with some blistering solo work that has become Smolski’s trademark from his days with Rage make this one of the most memorable tracks on the album (and that says a LOT) as well as being a contender for one of the best metal tracks of the year so far. Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself.
“Darkness” is a quick 77-second interlude that allows Smolski to showcase his melodic chops as the album leads into the rapid-fire pace of “Hands Are Tied”, a near 6-minute rollercoaster that takes you from a slow trot seamlessly into a white-knuckle thrillride. From there, the midway point is upon us with the bombastic “Children Of The Future”. Every element plays off of each other perfectly, leaving the listener wanting more with every passing second.
The project takes on a more epic feel with the 8-minute “No More Shadows”, the tempo slowing down for the first two minutes before kicking into the power that has become a signature throughout this entire album to this point. This is a really solid mid-tempo track that will undoubtedly find a spot on many lists when people start talking about their favorite songs on this album. When you can listen to a track and not even realize that just over eight minutes has passed, you know you’re really got something special, and these guys do exactly that.
“Nevermore” once again brings in the duality of balls-out speed and a slower-paced chorus that to so many might seem out of place, but within this framework, it works really well. “Reign Of Madness” comes in as probably the slowest of the tracks on this album, but don’t go calling it a ballad, because it’s anything but. It’s a welcome respite from the absolute fury that has preceded it, and it allows listeners to catch their breath for the finale, “Flames Of Fate”.
This is one of those albums that you listen to and when it’s done, you feel an anticipation to play it again. At almost an hour, this is a musical journey that I found myself not wanting to end. If there’s one flaw that I could find on this, it’s that I would have really loved to hear them use the full complement of their vocal abilities more.
“Tsar” gets a 9/10.