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Artlantica - "Across The Seven Seas" (CD)

Artlantica - "Across The Seven Seas" CD cover image

"Across The Seven Seas" track listing:

1. 2012 (4.00)
2. Devout (4:36)
3. Across The Seven Seas (4:53)
4. You`re Still Away (5:19)
5. Ode To My Angel (3:54)
6. Fight For The Light (4:21)
7. Demon In My Mind (4:37)
8. Return Of The Pharaoh, Pt. III (5:43)
9. Heresy (4:49)
10. Nightmare Life (5:25)

Reviewed by on May 2, 2013

"The end result is an album that is huge, magical, and just as brilliant as any released in the genre, with performances that excel on every front."

Back between 1980-1985, the first waves of U.S. labels dedicated solely to metal – Shrapnel Records and Leviathan Records (to name a few) – began showcasing the “neo-classical” side of the genre; a blend of Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, shredding guitar virtuosos (a la Yngwie Malmsteen and Chris Impelliteri) and adding a U.S. power metal crunch. In addition to a plethora of instrumental guitar solo projects, the labels also featured many full bands of the style, which starred some of metal’s most distinctive and wickedly amazing vocalists in history. The first wave featured the likes of Steeler (featuring Ron Keel), Racer X (featuring Jeff Martin), Chastain (featuring Leather Leone), CJSS (featuring Russell Jinkens) and Apocrypha (featuring Steve Plocica). Of course, it wasn’t confined just to these labels and the U.S. – after all it was the origins of some of the best Europower bands like Stratovarius, Yngwie himself, and even the likes of King Diamond with Andy LaRocque. Now in the 90’s when grunge had a foothold (munching on the very fabric of metal) a new wave of neo-classical bands like Cauldron Born, Valiance, and Artension took hold. Here, with the release of Artlantica’s debut “Across the Seven Seas,” the echoes of Artension are heard throughout. It helps that three members of Artension join forces again: composer/guitarist Roger Staffelbach, vocalist John West, and bassist Steve DiGiorgio (who is here as a guest only). The end result is an album that is huge, magical, and just as brilliant as any released in the genre, with performances that excel on every front.

Joining Staffelbach and West is the mystical keyboardist Mistheria, who worked with Staffelbach in Angel of Eden, and prolific drummer John Macaluso (HolyHell/Mastercastle/Ex-Ark – and WAY too many more to mention), who worked with Mistheria on his solo efforts. Guest stars in addition to DiGiorgio are Helloween drummer Dani Loble and T.S.O. guitarist Chris Caffery. With this star studded cast you would think egos would clash…but, unlike other supposed “supergroups,” this band sports no ego but brings heaps of talent to the pot, most of which flew under the radar of many metal fans. When you count the amount of projects that each member has contributed to in any way over the course of their various careers, you can span the history of metal and hard rock for generations. Converging on “Across the Seven Seas” has led to a true masterpiece of neo-classical art that leaves the listener with little room for complaint, save for a genre complex.

In the digital age, not many critics give any credence to “song placement” on an album. Though my collection is 80% digital (and 95% converted), I do miss some of the “tactile” aspects of staring at the cover and pouring over liner notes. There was a time when I would pass a quiz on which side of a tape or vinyl a song would appear (with the album, year and label following suit). In 2013, the releases are digital and the “liner notes” are all but gone – replaced with either bloated marketing or underwritten bios. Song placement is still important to me: a well-balanced album can be the difference between memorable or not. Placed in those terms, the track “2012” is by far my favorite opening track on any album I have heard in 2013, and if it doesn’t excite the listener as to the tone of the rest of this album, then you might as well just stop right there. The hard drivers are surrounded by the mid-paced with a ballad break in the middle and the instrumental towards the back end…in other words - perfect. Trust me, with perfect balance you can appreciate all the music presented.

In terms of excitement, musicianship, level of interest, and memorability “Across the Seven Seas” is a must buy. Stafflebach’s play is raised to baffling heights and John West has never sounded better (even in his Royal Hunt days). After the victory of “2012,” the album doesn’t let up with the “Devout,” the title track and “You’re Still Away,” which blast until the commercial ballad break of “Ode to My Angel.” In the album’s second half it starts with the killer “Fight for the Light” and “Demon in My Mind” until the instrumental “Return of the Pharaoh, Pt. III” (parts I & II having appeared on the Angel of Eden album “The End of Never” in 2007). Now I am not one that is drawn to instrumental pieces, but when one comes along that can make Yngwie appear as a first year Swedish guitar student, you have to take notice. There is no need for West here, as Staffelbach’s solos provide all the vocalization you need shrouded by hauntingly dungeon-like shreds. “Heresy” follows with striking precision and the album ends in a “Nightmare Life” – with all of the beauty revealed.

“Across the Seven Seas” is a soaring journey of neo-classical perfection that plants the flag for Artlantica, seemingly coming out of nowhere to stake a claim in the crowded “top releases” already to hit the metal world in 2013. The album will amaze both fans of guitar driven shredding, progressive, or rock opera opuses. Given the level of play on this album I’ll do an about face of my usual plea and tell you to set those compasses for “high expectations” and as you sail those seven seas….prepare for adventure!

Highs: Masterful guitar driven neo-classical power.

Lows: Fans of the extreme might find this dull and overdone.

Bottom line: Artlantica sails the neo-classical seas to a stunning debut release.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)