Friday, August 17, 2012

Sound Storm - Immortalia (2012)

One look at the album artwork for Sound Storm's latest album, "Immortalia," and you may find yourself pulled into a different time and place. Created by Felipe Machado Franco, who has contributed images for the likes of Blind Guardian and Rhapsody, the otherworldly design is, indeed, an indication of the music therein. But unlike some of their Italian counterparts, this five piece doesn't focus solely on power metal riffs and structures, choosing to aim for something much deeper, much richer. On this new album, their first in three years, they bring baroque music to the ears of metalheads the world over.

From the opening intro track, the album's title track, there is to be no confusion about what lies ahead. Soaring choirs sit atop a bed of rich symphonics which, when paired with a shattering percussion effort, could bring your walls down. The rich theatrics that blast through in "Back To Life" are the perfect example of what can set bands apart from one another. Vocalist Philippe D'Orange has a unique sound to his voice, one that is both versatile and powerful. But the true highlight at this early stage is the one that instrumental comes together, tangling the lightning snares with a strong keyboard presence. Guitarist Valerio Sbriglione plays not only dazzling leads, but gives a sense of balance with distorted chords. That balancing act is key going forward, especially in tracks like "The Curse Of The Moon," where light and darkness are at war with one another. With the speed of the song, there is no room for error, let alone a misplaced note or stroke. Through all the tempo changes, and there are many, you find flawless transitions. The only downside to be had is in small pieces of the vocal, almost as if D'Orange gives so much of himself that he strains his voice. But amazing keyboard and piano word fills in that gap time and again, with Davide Cristofoli leaving you dizzy.

With spotlight tracks like "Blood Of Maiden," you have a beautiful cross section of what Sound Storm does so well. Getting an assist from soprano Ilaria Lucille De Santis, the operatic nature of the music truly shines through. The keyboard takes the lead role in the bridge and chorus sections, while ripping guitars rattle through the verse. The constant is the drums, as Federico Brignolo lays down everything from traditional power metal beats to blazing rolls and fills. Even the delicate string and keys outro strikes the perfect chord. The flow from one track to the next aids in building the mood, as is evident moving into "Faraway." There is a darker take at play here, with a more harsh vocal peeking through here and there. This isn't to say they give up on the beauty of symphonics, but they add a devilish mood. The building wave of keys and guitar solos is joined by a slapping bass line, one that elevates the sound greatly. For the more guitar driven side, "Promises" delivers a punch. Sbriglione squeals and blasts his way through screaming riffs at every turn. But more than that, the band finds a tremendous groove here, with D'Orange realizing his full potential. As he hits every note, he is joined by a massive wall of voices delivering emotional charged lyrics.

Clocking in at over six minutes, "Call Me Devil" is not short on sound or substance. The choirs return, but this is the act of the opera you have waited for. Soaring vocals pair with the rolling thunder of drums, but they are led by a seemingly simple guitar lead, one that flows so smoothly. Even the solemn piano piece that cuts in is so well crafted, that you hardly realize you aren't in the theater. It's the total immersion that makes this so powerful, pulling you into the story and the visual. Out of nowhere, a middle Eastern opening unveils "Seven Veils," a sound that is produced through multiple keyboard changes. By far the more diverse offering on the album, the band does well to expand their horizons without compromising what they have built thus far. D'Orange's voice gathers so much momentum throughout the album, hitting an emotional high here, trading verses with De Santis. An obligatory guitar/keyboard standoff ensues, with both giving their best dueling efforts. A far more docile intro starts "Watching You Fading," with acoustic guitars dominating the mix. This is a ballad, without a doubt, but it doesn't have to be boring. With a daring bass line, courtesy of Massimiliano Flak, you don't lose any momentum. And despite a five minute run time, there is no lag, no filler to be had here, thankfully.

If one softer track was simply too much for you, "Wrath Of The Storm" more than makes up for it. This is the heavier side of the band, and of symphonic power metal in general. This is a game of speed and force, moving at the speed of light, and coming down on you with the weight of a bus. The band holds nothing back, coming at you with every element they have at their disposal. The drums, in particular, are completely unrestrained, blasting through every open gap with a kick drum roll. D'Orange soars to new heights, his voice breaking through time and again. Coming to a conclusion, the album falls squarely on the nine minute shoulders of "The Portrait." As if the previous ten tracks weren't enough, this metal opera finishes with a bang. The keyboards that factored so heavily throughout the alb um are back with a vengeance, not only driving the music but creating an air of symphonic bliss. With a massive push out of the rhythm section, the tracks bends and weaves forward, tying itself in knots with all of the guitar work at hand. But just as you find yourself completely submerged, it all fades away in a light rain of strings.

We are fickle creatures. There are times where, admittedly, we base what music we want to hear by the silliest of criteria, be it album artwork of the name of the band. Maybe it is because we are shallow; or maybe there is truth in our ignorance. The name Sound Storm may seem cheesy at first, but when the music echoes the name, you can't go wrong. You truly have a hurricane of strings, keys, and guitars, swirling in every direction around you. Eleven tracks come and go, leaving only destruction in their wake. Hidden in the red tinted artwork, and the name "Immortalia," is an album that is worth far more than our eyes could ever understand. You have to hear it, get lost in it, to understand.


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