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Dragonchaser (At Vance), What I Think

The year was 2001 and metal had exploded across Europe, ushering in a new generation of power, progressive, and symphonic metal acts. Though the competition was quite stiff, self-made metal sage Olaf Lenk is still a cut above most with his vintage brand of power metal. Combining forces with vocalist Oliver Hartmann, the resulting project known as At Vance is a finely tuned machine that pumps out exceptional Neo-Classical style metal with a fair amount of Malmsteen inspired melodies and shredding. The theme of this album differs from the last releases and focuses more on the mystical side of power metal, particularly the Tolkien/Brooks inspired brand of high fantasy. Dragonchaser is essentially a collection of 10 rather intricate musical stories, two of them wordless, the other 8 with lyrics written on the backs of tarot cards on the inside CD jacket. The album cover depicting an elderly half-man/half-dragon holding a card of a lone warrior facing a fierce dragon is a good visual illustration of how the music comes across. Like any Power Metal album, we have some great up-tempo music at the beginning and towards the end of the album. The title track features some rather amazing guitar soloing, paying a rather striking tribute to original Neo-Classical shredder Yngwie Malmsteen. “Ages of Glory” has probably the most powerful chorus on here and a stellar vocal performance by Oliver Hartmann. “Two Kings” is a moderately fast anthem with another memorable chorus and some superb drum work. “Too Late” is another high speed thrill ride with a main riff that sounds a good deal similar to early Nocturnal Rites music. “Crucified” is more of an upper mid-tempo track, but still moves along quite quickly, and contains plenty of Neo-Classical clichés in the riffs and melodies. One complaint that has been levied towards this album is the large number of slower tracks in the middle of the album. “Heaven Can Wait”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “My Bleeding Heart” all pretty much qualify as ballads, but they are all quite different from each other. The first is very Neo-Classical and has a synthesized voice melody that is very similar to Malmsteen’s “Devil in Disguise” off the Eclipse album. The second is more of a rock ballad with a chorus that sounds a bit like Queen. The third is the longest, and probably the most subdued of the 3. One would normally assume to take off points for having so many slow tracks close together, but I believe there is a purpose to this. The entire album pretty much flows in a similar manner as a classical concerto, consisting of 3 varying sections. The first movement would be a fast movement which would encompass the first 3 tracks, either denoted as Allegro or Vivace depending on how fast. The middle section would be either moderately slow (Andante) or very slow (Adagio), and I would argue for the latter more than the former. Then for the third movement we get back to a more up tempo feel. The result is actually a very smooth flow from song to song; the only drawback is that if you don’t have a background in classical music, this approach to listening to it may not take. We also have 2 rather brilliant instrumental works on here, one an original work, the other a re-arrangement of a timeless classic. “Ases Death” is a rather cryptic title, my guess is that it is either an acronym for something known only to Olaf, or it is an odd spelling of “Aces” and somehow represents the death card in the tarot deck. Judging from the slow and solemn nature of this work, resulting in what almost sounds like an Elegy, I’d bet it’s probably the latter meaning. “Beethoven’s 5th Sinfonie” is probably the highlight of this album, as I believe it to be the best arrangement of this masterwork for the heavy metal ensemble. Every instrument, including the percussion, is well placed to give it the Sturm Und Drang (the later half of the classical period where music became much more emotionally driven) feel that the original orchestral version possessed. This is essential listening for fans of Power Metal and Neo-Classical Shred Metal. It comes highly recommended to fans of Yngwie, particularly ones who wished that his projects had a more consistent vocal sound from album to album. Fans of symphonic metal may want to check this out too; it may not have a symphony orchestra behind it, but it’s almost powerful enough to make you think that there’s one in there hiding behind the guitars.
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