Heliosaga - Towers in the Distance - (6.5/10)
Published on August 26, 2014
I’ve been so caught up in the deluge of brilliant doom releases this year that I almost lost sight of the fact that 2014 has been an equally good year for power metal, particularly in terms of the female-fronted/symphonic end of the spectrum, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the latest releases by the likes of Epica, Xandria and Within Temptation. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Heliosaga is America’s answer to the abovementioned bands, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve come across an American band taking such a determined stab at a style that’s arguably still practiced most successfully by bands from across the pond.
There is a fledgling Stateside ‘scene,’ however, with the likes of A Sound of Thunder and MindMaze carving out a nice little niche for themselves. Minnesota’s Heliosaga largely eschews the slightly more hard rock based sound of the former and the more prog-tinged approach of the latter, opting instead for a more full-fledged European style symphonic sound that, while not as vast in scope and sound as Nightwish or Epica, still nevertheless ticks a lot of the right genre boxes. Chief among these would be Chelsea Knaack’s lush Soprano vocals that sits somewhere between Tarja Turunen and Lori Lewis (Aesma Daeva, ex-Therion), her rather angelic sounding high octave delivery providing solid counterpoint to the guitars that operate within a more stripped down power/speed metal style. This is most evident on opening track “A Tower So Tall” as well as “Lost,” that both manage to strike a good balance between traditional power and symphonic metal (while at the same time not overdoing it in terms of saccharine choruses). Decent as these tracks are, I’m inclined to say the band is actually most effective when they afford Knaack the lion’s share of the spotlight, with the near 10-minute semi-ballad “All Souls” an excellent example of her range and ability to lend the music a truly emotional punch.
While individual highlights abound the album isn’t terribly well paced, with proceedings hitting a snag halfway through with the nondescript “Hideaway” and the somewhat contrived attempt at mining darker, heavier depths on “To Heal All Wounds”. At this point things remain shaky until the aforementioned “All Souls” rolls along and ends the album on a spectacular note. Maybe it’s because the tempo doesn’t vary often enough or perhaps it’s down to the fact that the guitar work never manages to conjure up the same magic as the vocals, but the middle part of the album all blurs together. It’s a shame because these guys (and gal) seem to have a real knack for this style, and for an underground debut release the production job isn’t shabby at all. They have all the right ideas – they just need to arrange and tweak them a little bit better next time around. Still, Towers in the Distance is a decent first time effort that will surely appeal to fans of this particular style.