Released: 2007, AFM Records
German power/melodic/neo-classical metal soldiers At Vance have returned with...here's a shock...another entirely new lineup save for group founder Olaf Lenk and a new album entitled VII. I'll give you three guesses what number release this is for the group and the first two don't count. Yes, creativity isn't exactly the name of the game in terms of album naming this time around, and in truth that same comment somewhat applies to the contents of the disc as well, though there is definitely more variety here than was present on its 2005 predecessor, CHAINED. At Vance have found their musical niche over the course of the nine years since their first album and despite numerous lineup changes, they've stuck to their guns and continued to deliver solid release after solid release with plenty of good music but nothing truly innovative or highly memorable. VII is no exception, a forty-five minute foray that rocks hard while you're listening to it but leaves no lasting impression when it's over.
Lenk is essentially the German version of Yngwie Malmsteen, a comparison which applies both to his stunning fretboard skills and his penchant for frequently changing band members. New singer Rick Altzi of Swedish prog-metallers Treasure Land has taken over on the microphone for Mats Levens (who also once sang for...go figure...Yngwie Malmsteen's band), and on VII delivers a fine performance with a warm, rich melodic tone and a style not too dissimilar to that of Oliver Hartmann (Levens' predecessor in the group) or Jeff Scott Soto. The At Vance formula goes into full effect almost immediately with opening cut "Breaking The Night" delivering early Rising Force-style neoclassical metal with all of the key elements, namely driving double-bass drums, speed-picked rhythms, big melodic choruses, and a blazing shred solo section. Nothing you haven't heard something similar to plenty of times before, but still a good solid track thanks largely to Altzi's excellent vocal delivery. "Shiver" goes for more of a hook-laden 80's hard rock feel and features a really nice harmonized chorus. Most of the other tracks fall somewhere in between those two, blending neoclassical technicality with hard rock sensibilities in a very listenable blend. Standouts are tracks like the hard rock riff-tastic "Cold As Ice" and the catchy, midtempo "Friendly Fire," but my favorite is definitely the explosively-fast and aggressive "Truth," easily the most energetic and vicious track on the album. The more balladish cuts are decent but not as good as the rockers - "Lost In Your Love" is an acoustic rendition of a song from their 1999 debut, but it doesn't really improve on the original at all, and in fact is probably Altzi's least convincing vocal performance on the entire album. The other 'ballad,' "Answer Me," is much better and features some great bluesy guitar work from Lenk and superb vocal lines which actually come close to David Coverdale-ish, but is unfortunately somewhat ruined by the heavily-processed sound of the snare drum interrupting every measure - it's very difficult to let yourself get into the moody flow of the song when every couple seconds you hear that loud, mechanical-sounding BASH. Turn that drum down in the mix a bit or play with more restraint and you'd have a much better song. One thing I noted that is a bit different from previous At Vance albums is the lack of a metallized version of a classical music piece anywhere on the disc. Some may consider this a good thing, but I actually found myself missing it - I always thought Lenk's renditions were pretty cool.
The bottom line is if you like At Vance's previous albums, you'll like this one too. If you don't, you won't. Simple as that. It's well-played and well-written, has plenty of catchy moments, and is an enjoyable listen for fans of neo-classically influenced power metal with exceptionally good vocals and guitar leads, but all in all, it offers nothing new to the field.