Somewhere in my timeline of metal fandom, the term “symphonic metal” ceased to act as a flame for my moth-like tendencies. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when this occurred, but the source is not. Over time, artists began to implement symphonic elements as less of an enhancer and more of a blatant crutch. Bands utilizing full orchestrations have proven so successful under the Nuclear Blast banner that the ensuing deluge of Nightwish and Dimmu Borgir knock-offs still taints the AMG promo sump to this day. And that’s part of what makes Qantice so dadgum charming: they play highly ambitious symphonic power metal on their own terms. The Anastoria, the third full-length set in their ongoing conceptual universe, is an eclectic, joyous, and outright fun outing, and a considerable breath of fresh air in a creatively barren subgenre.
Qantice founder Tony Beaufils initially dubbed his bombastic, story-driven compositions as “movie metal.” While such a phrase prompts groans aplenty, The Anastoria actually makes some sense of the term for the first time in the band’s career. This is a roller coaster of a power metal record whose utter unpredictably has me imagining a twisty blockbuster film scored by Angra, with no two tracks being strictly alike. The sheer variety displayed results in the broadest range of sounds I’ve heard from the genre in ages. The DragonForce speed runs in “Rivers Can’t Fly,” as well as the Diablo Swing Orchestra-esque jazziness of “Krooner” and Devin Townsendian eccentricities of “Mad Clowns,” had me gleefully shedding all expectations during my first spin. Even at an hour long, The Anastoria is ceaselessly and effortlessly entertaining. I won’t spoil any more surprises here, but suffice it to say that much of this record regularly catches me grinning like a doofus.
Much of what makes Qantice‘s aesthetic so likeable is the interplay between Tony Beaufils’ guitar wizardry and the dense, playful orchestrations. Beaufils clearly knows a great riff when he hears one—the thrashing adrenaline rush in the first riff of first proper track “Once upon a Sun” establishes this immediately—and his fretwork expertly complements the bouncy, exuberant nature of the artificial horns. A couple of tracks aren’t outright successes, instrumentally speaking, as “Petrified Manor” and “Cosmic Sway” trade in sheer creativity for slow-burning atmosphere. Even so, Qantice‘s distinct melodic personality is so persistent that these speedbumps are barely perceptible. The Anastoria’s tonality is such that casual dabblers of power metal may be turned off by the relentless waves of cheesy cheeriness (especially the cavity-inducing fairytale jaunt that is “Little Knight’s Oath”), but digging deeper reveals deceptively smart key changes and chord progressions.
Aside from The Anastoria‘s aforementioned pair of compositional low points, there is little cause for complaint, though a handful of pesky issues barely manage to bar it from a higher score. Certain choruses, such as the one heard in “Fractal Universe,” lack a fulfilling hook to complement otherwise top-notch songwriting. Additionally, some tracks (such as the aforementioned “Little Knight’s Oath”) end with a lackluster fanfare when they really deserve an explosive conclusion. The occurrences are thankfully sporadic, however, leaving ample room to admire Qantice’s immensely talented line-up uninterrupted. Violinist Alexandra Laya lends the proceedings a sense of grounded flair to complement the artificial symphonics, while drummer Aurélien Joucla’s dynamic kitwork provides a refreshingly aggressive power metal performance replete with blastbeats. New vocalist David Åkesson’s unique timbre and earnest delivery make him a welcome addition to the band’s line-up as well, even if his range occasionally feels limited.
The punchy yet spacious production job does justice to the stellar performances, with the balanced mix even allowing bassist Christine Lanusse to shine through as a crucial component. With arrangements as intricate and colorful as these, anything less would have been a massive disservice. Though Qantice‘s handful of missteps prevent it from being phenomenal, The Anastoria is still likely to be the most fun I’ll have with the power metal genre this year, and represents the sort of exuberant, inventive excess the style needs much more of. It’s bound to be too overblown for some, but those who can take its bombastic charms in stride will undoubtedly adore it.