Released By: Self-Released
Release Date: August 22, 2014
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Chelsea Knaack – Vocals
Damien Villarreal – Guitars/Keyboards
Jordan Ames – Drums
1. A Tower So Tall
2. Scarlet Sphere
5. To Heal All Wounds
7. Hunter’s Moon
10. All Souls
While most of the best female fronted metal bands tend to come from somewhere in Europe, over the past few years quite a few strong American bands with great female vocalists have been emerging. The latest of these is Heliosaga, a symphonic power metal band hailing from Minnesota. The band was founded by guitarist/keyboardist Damian Villarreal, who later recruited vocalist Chelsea Knaack and drummer Jordan Ames. Last year they released a fairly promising single called “The Light of Ardor”. On a technical level everything about the song was very well executed, the vocals were great and the song was catchy enough, but I still had that lingering feeling that something was missing, like that little something special to make it stand out. That feeling is mostly there for their upcoming debut Towers in the Distance as well. It’s a very nice album, but I just don’t think it does enough to stand out from the rest of the pack.
As with any female fronted symphonic power metal band, similarities to Nightwish are inevitable, but at times I find Heliosaga is so similar to the point of having very little identify of their own. Even the way they occasionally change things up with a more aggressive, semi thrashy guitar riff, or a slow semi-ballad, is something the Finnish band will do occasionally. One thing I like about Towers in the Distance is the guitar work. Unlike most symphonic metal bands, they tend to put a bit more emphasis on the guitar than on the keyboards, so most songs are driven by some very good riffs and some good rhythms guitars, but even then I think they could go a bit further with this, as a lot of the instrumentation is still a bit too simple and straight-forward for it to really stand out. The keyboards and symphonic elements are nice, but fairly standard for the genre. Likewise, the songwriting is good, but mostly predictable, with a mix of solid up tempo songs with energetic verses and fun choruses, slower tracks with some good melodies, and a ballad to showcase Chelsea’s voice.
Which brings me to another familiar element of their sound: Chelsea Knaack. Chelsea is a classically trained singer and she has a very nice tone to her voice. Compared to other operatic singers on metal albums, she tends to dial it back a bit, favouring a lighter, smoother and more controlled performance. The thing is, she’s an excellent singer, there’s no doubt about it. I just get the feeling she plays it a little too safe at times, and rarely opens up enough to give a truly powerful and enumerable performance. On the softer songs she sounds great, especially on the ballad “Hideaway”, but I wish she sang with just a bit more power on some of the heavier songs.
As far as highlights go, the opening track “A Tower So Tall” may be my favorite. It’s a fun, fast-paced power metal song with good guitar leads, an instantly memorable chorus, and a strong instrumental section. On the whole, the faster songs tend to be the most effective, with “To Heal All Wounds” standing out for having the most aggressive riffs on the album, and “Lost” having some very nice melodies, and “Hunter’s Moon” having some nice tempo changes. The slower, more symphonic songs are generally nice, but forgettable. “Edenscar” in particular falls a bit flat. “Hideaway”, though, is a nice little ballad, with an effective use of symphonic elements and some good guitar work to accompany Chelsea who gives her best vocal performance of the album. Lastly, at just under 10 minutes the closing track “All Souls” is the longest on the album, and the most progressive. There are subtle prog elements on a few other tracks, but this one is progressive the whole way through, with constant tempo changes and some strong instrumental work. As usual, the faster sections are the best parts musically, but on the whole it’s a really good song, up there with “A Tower So Tall” as my two favorites on the album.
If I’ve been a little bit harsh on Towers in the Distance, it’s only because I’ve heard so many female fronted symphonic power metal albums in the last few years, that I expect a lot whenever I encounter a new band in this genre. For fans of the genre looking for a nice new album to listen to, by all means support Heliosaga by picking this one up: It’s a solid debut, strong on all fronts. I just don’t think anyone looking for something new will find anything to be impressed by, and as a longtime fan of the genre, I like it a lot, but I can’t help but feel it’s all a bit too familiar
Written by Travis
Ratings Travis 7/10