Michael Kiske is one of the most polarizing figures in heavy metal music today. Loved for Helloween, despised for “metal is dead”-type comments and bands like Supared, now well-liked again for his more recent efforts with Place Vendome and Avantasia, no matter what he does, Kiske always seems to be in the news. Conversely, Amanda Sommerville is just starting to make her name in the metal world through her contributions to Aina (where she was a standout on a mediocre album), and Avantasia. Two outstanding vocalists, they’ve been brought together for this album on Frontiers Records, and merged with the song writing talents of Mat Sinner (Sinner, Primal Fear) and Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear, Last Tribe, Bob Catley). With this type of pedigree involved, expectations are high for this super group; can they deliver?
Yes and no. First things first, people will check this album out based almost solely on the vocalists, so right from the start I’ll say that vocally, the album is spectacular. Kiske is his usual smoothly powerful self, even if he doesn’t attempt the high notes like he used to. Sommerville, despite sounding like she’s mixed further back than Kiske at times, is equally brilliant, shining throughout the album and particularly on “A Thousand Suns”. Between the two, she arguably puts in the stronger performance.
On a musical level, most fans won’t be disappointed; we know enough of Kiske at this point to not expect a return to full-on power metal glory. Despite the heavier nature Primal Fear, both Sinner and Karlsson have shown that they are occasionally brilliant hard rock song writers and they show it off on this disc. While overall the album is certainly more hard rock-ish than heavy metal, it starts off heavy enough with the speedy power metal of “Nothing Left to Say” (which gives a nod to the fans and lets Kiske take the vocal lead). Still, there are four ballads on the album, of varying quality (the aforementioned “A Thousand Suns” and the moody “Second Chance” are the best), and the heaviest song is a bonus track (“Set a Fire”), and not particularly good at that. The rest of the album is varying speed hard rock that combines the dirty feel of Sinner and the regal quality of Bob Catley’s IMMORTAL album, which was written by Karlsson.
It’s clear that bringing in Sinner and Karlsson was a stroke of genius as Sommerville (who also contributes some writing) doesn’t have much experience and Kiske’s solo efforts have been…mixed. It’s not a perfect album, but you can’t deny the quality of most of these songs regardless of your feelings on the people at the mic. Call this the rare super group that managed to live up to the hype.
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