Thursday, September 22, 2011

Opening Scenery - Mystic Alchemy (2011)

Seems like we keep coming back to Italy. What people across the United States consider to be the home of pizza, pasta and The Godfather, is fast becoming the first place to look for explosive metal of all kinds. Enter Opening Scenery, a progressive power metal five piece from Torino. With a daring mix of keyboards and flashes of guitar brilliance, and a guest appearance by power metal superstar Fabio Leone, "Mystic Alchemy" is sure to raise some eyebrows in Europe and abroad.

The air raid sirens sound and "Ante Bellum (Before War)" launches into action. The thrashing beginning is delivered with the precise delivery of classic Metallica, with guitars and cymbals coming to immediate stops. The keyboards lay down a hazy atmospheric tone beneath the grating distortion. The vocals are more coarse that you may expect, not falling into the same old power metal trap. This is not to say they lack range, but it is certainly more restrained. The progressive breakdowns and buildups carry an edge, falling into the gray area between evil and good. The power emerges on "The Third Eye," combining some higher pitched vocals, reminiscent of Tim "Ripper Owens, with a stronger keyboard presence. Mixing high speed chugging with a blazing solo creates the foundation the vocals need to deliver the message. The persistent pounding of drums comes off as robotic at times, lacking the personality and punch you may desire. But a chaotic, tangled outro is proof of life.

"Seaquake Of Souls" fools your ears into expecting a ballad. The delicate intro is immediately offset by aggressive guitar work. the keyboards are the star here, with a variety of sounds building into a stirring melody. The strong bass presence accents each note. The vocals strain to fill the void, sometimes sounding overexerted. The instrumentation is performed expertly, with each note falling into place perfectly, from guitar to keys. The eerie air of darkness returns in the opening synthesizers of "Black Roses Kiss." The keyboards take over, jumping into the drivers seat, slamming the gas pedal down and building the momentum. The vocals enter, raspy and powerful. Singer Andrea Racco finds his comfort zone on this track, demanding your attention. Keys, chords and cymbals crash together in a beautiful burst of insanity. A light, understated piano/vocal breakdown is shattered by the darting keys. A thunderous kick drum segment powers the track home in a bass laden fury.

There is almost certainly going to be a ballad present on any power metal influenced album. On "Mystic Alchemy," this takes the form of "The Light Beyond The Dream." While it may not be a ballad in the traditional sense, it brings a slower tempo to the table and incorporates a variety of orchestrated instruments. The vocals fill with raw emotion, with Racco's accent coming through in a somewhat profound way. The keyboard solo work keeps things light when necessary, without tainting the strength of the track in the wailing guitars. There is no such tempo drop in "The Seventh Gate" which is as this album comes to a pure power metal track. The vocals soar over the top of screeching guitars and thumping drums. The dazzling keyboard melodies tie things together, amidst the crashing and sizzle of cymbals. This is musical harmony, with each piece adding to the whole. There is no lead.

The trio of tracks that follows, "The Mystic Alchemy Suite," is as varied as the alum itself. Scene one, "The Final Destination," is a headbanging affair. The band have grown throughout the album, and they flex their musical muscles to greater heights as they reach the end. The precision with which each note is delivered becomes more than that of a surgeon. Scene two, "Old Memories," is a shorter acoustic number, more of an interlude than a full track. Minimal guitars, light keys and a vocal harmony. Scene three, "At Twilight," finishes the trilogy with a bang. The perfect ending to the set, with screeching guitars putting a bow on it. The last track, "Silence After Storming," is a soft instrumental dessert after the meal, allowing you to breath as the music fades away.

There is something about Opening Scenery that makes them instantly likable, without proving what they are truly capable of. They are like that friend that everyone has. He asks you for $100, and promises to give you back $500. Do you trust him and take the chance? In the case of "Mystic Alchemy," if you can overlook some of the weak early moments, you are rewarded with an album that gets better with each passing second.


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