Symfonia - In Paradisum (Avalon/Marquee)

Could this be the album to breathe life into the rotting corpse of power metal?
Release Date: 
18 Apr 2011 - 11:30pm

Two minutes into In Paradisum, nearing halfway through album opener Fields of Avalon, I’ve already involuntarily shouted 'YES'!! twice, and indulged in air drums, keyboards and of course, guitar. Power metal these days is in many ways a busted flush, with both expositors and fans knowing simultaneously what is expected and what will be delivered, so to sit down and then have to get up again immediately through sheer excitement at what is coming out of one’s speakers is at once both a surprise and a pleasure – but that’s what happens every time you play this album.

Timo Tolkki, once the power behind the Stratovarian throne, is Symfonia’s leading light but, although this new band ostensibly ploughs a similar furrow to the man’s former band (that’s Stratovarius, if you failed to pick up on that pun a couple of lines back), there is never a moment when you really lament that grand schism. Symfonia has been labelled a power metal supergroup, it’s constituent parts coming as they do from, amongst others,  Stratovarius, Angra, Cain’s Offering and Helloween, and whilst your reviewer baulks at such a description, he also has to accept that this album is, for want of a better word, super.

Musically It’s like the late nineties never happened with Tolkki and, in particular vocalist Andre Matos (late of Angra, as I’m sure you’re aware) seemingly hell bent on recreating a time when Keeper of the Seven Keys was really all that mattered; this is pure, unadulterated power metal of the old school the likes of which I thought we’d never hear again outside of the fevered imagination of Tobi Sammet, with the Finnish guitarist in particular delivering the goods in fine style. If he’s played better on an album I haven’t heard the evidence and, whilst Stratovarius seemed to be foundering under his songwriting helm at the end of the man’s stewardship of the band, there’s no evidence of any such malady here. Santiago in particular is just about as good as this genre gets, all double kick mayhem fused to fleet-fingered fretwork and a stratospheric contribution from Matos, whilst power ballad Alayna is also worthy of writing home about.  Forevermore picks the pace up again after this welcome break, once again affording you the opportunity to marvel at the brilliance on display, with Matos quite frankly outkiskeing Michael Kiske all over this track – it’s that good.

And whilst we’re genuflecting at the altar of Tolkki and Matos, I’d like to take time out to also acknowledge the titanic contributions of keyboardist Mikko Harkin and, of course, former Helloween skinbeater Uli Kursch, a man who is probably power metal’s best but rarely seems to attract the acclamation due to him. His drumming on this album is utterly spellbinding.

Anyways, back to the album. Next up is the Gary Moore meets Helloween  mayhem that is the utterly staggering Pilgrim Road, a song that, quite amazingly, manages to top everything that’s gone before. It’s at this point that you realise that this album is, quite simply, something special. The quality doesn’t let up – in fact it improves song-on song-, leaving you marvelling at the sheer brilliance Timo Tolkki has been able to marshall here.  Rhapsody in Black maintains the momentum, providing a safe haven for another lacerating Tolkki solo, and then the album heads for home. By this point most bands would be looking at slipping in a little bit of ‘filler’ to hurry things up a bit, but not Symfonia – oh no. Penultimate song I Walk in Neon could easily hold down a place as album opener such is its remorseless quality, whilst sombre closer Don’t Let Me Go let’s you down from the mayhem beautifully gently; like a diver slowly emerging from the depths in an effort to avoid the bends, this is the perfect song to end such a tumultuous album. We’ll hear the claim a few times this year – but this really is album of the year material, I think.