Here we have another project band from Frontiers Records which appears to be trying to duplicate the success of the Russell Allen and Jorn Lande pairings. Like those albums, the music here is written by Magnus Karlsson, this time with the help of his Primal Fear band mate, Mat Sinner, and as usual, it walks the line between melodic power metal and radio-ready hard rock. Essentially, this is Allen/Lande with Michael Kiske and Amada Somerville standing in. How you feel about that will depend on the extent of your love for the former Helloween golden boy and the erstwhile queen of symphonic metal backing vocals (Avantasia, Aina, et al). Their eponymous debut was a pleasant enough trip through vaguely symphonic, uber melodic metal, but I’d hesitate to say it left me sitting on the edge of my steel throne of iron awaiting a follow-up, as much as I respect and admire Michael Kiske and his one-of-a-kind voice. So it was with muted expectations that I approached City of Heroes, as the point of this pairing seemed more unnecessary and tenuous on album number two.
And maybe I’m just a jaded and cranky bastard, because this is a mostly enjoyable and easily digestible dose of melodic metal executed by seasoned pros. It isn’t complicated or revolutionary, but it’s a slightly better album than the debut and shows the pair moving their sound a wee bit further into the metalverse. The title track gets things going in the right direction with a very up-tempo tune in the vein of recent Edguy material. Mr. Kiske still has a commanding voice and though I’d be just as happy to hear him carry the whole song, Ms. Somerville sounds good too and they play off each other well enough. Tracks like “Rising Up,” “Lights Out” and “Open Your Eyes” keep the metal in place with catchy, anthemic choruses, and elsewhere, “Walk on Water” tempts the fates by treading in the same aquatic territory as Lord Jorn the Riverdancer, but it works in a vaguely Nightwish-esque way and the chorus is extra memorable. Of the several mega-ballads, “After the Night is Over” works pretty well (mostly due to Kiske’s understated but cool delivery).
There are a few missteps, but none are fatal. “Ocean of Tears” isn’t a terrible ballad by any stretch, and the odd alt-rock vibe makes it more interesting, but it isn’t the kind of tune that brings me back for more. “Run With a Dream” is too generic and dull despite a respectable chorus, and closer “Right Now” isn’t much better. The fact the weaker moments are grouped together on the back-end causes City of Heroes to go out with a qualified whimper, which is a shame since the front half is solid and catchy.
The bigger issue is the low-wattage lyrics. I get that Magnus Karlsson is writing in his second language, but the lyrics are so simplistic and unoriginal it hurts at times. I’m not asking every writer to throw the social theories of Thomas Malthus at me, but “I stole my daddy’s car only to be cool, I slammed the brakes and acted like a fool” just doesn’t butter the I-ruhn Biscuit for me.
As for the stars of the show, Michael Kiske is easily the main attraction. He’s a legend and essentially invented the entire Euro-power style of singing on those early Helloween albums. He doesn’t do the air-raid highs anymore, but he still has a strong, crystal-clear voice with loads of gravitas. I’d be more than happy for this to be a Kiske solo album and it would likely be just as good or better as such. And that brings us to Amanda Somerville. Sure, she has a great voice and can handle the kinds of hard rock and metal ditties Magnus tends to write. But she has a very industry-standard voice, utterly indistinguishable from the other female-fronted, vaguely operatic symphonic acts out there. She sounds fine counter-pointing Kiske, but so would any of the others. Would this project be better with someone more interesting and unique? I can only assume so.
Song-wise, Magnus Karlsson writes this kind of music in his sleep, and most of these could be used on a Allen/Lande album. The backing music is somewhat generic, though some of the guitar-work by Magnus and Mat Sinner is inspired. Since the focus is firmly on the vocals though, it almost seems like the music is designed to be muted anyway.
I doubt anything this collaboration ever does will rise to the level of essential listening, but this is a likeable enough confection for the times you need candy-coated melodic metal with cheese topping. At the very least, it’s a way to get Michael Kiske out there and singing again, which is always a good thing. Fluff said.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 254 kbps mp3
Label: Frontiers Records
Websites: No web presence whatsoever
Release Dates: EU: 2015.17.04 | NA: 04.21.2015