When it was confirmed that an up-and-coming, so-called supergroup had been formed by some of power metal’s finest musicians, fans across the planet fidgeted in anticipation of a debut. Finally it arrives.
With Andre Matos (ex-Angra) on vocals, Jari Kainulainen (ex-Stratovarius) on bass, Mikko Harkin (ex-Sonata Arctica) on keyboards, Uli Kusch (ex-Helloween) on drums and Timo Tolkki (ex-Stratovarius) on guitar and at the helm of production, Symfonia undoubtedly has a realm of talented individuals, but do they have the all-important team-play aspect?
There are plenty sceptical at the fact that Tolkki is not only in a project with other big personalities but he’s taken on the role as producer. Carefully steering the direction of the album, Tolkki’s influence is clear, but that doesn’t make In Paradisum a bad album. At times there has to be a captain to focus the energies of a talented bunch of sailors and Tolkki undoubtedly does that.
Come By The Hills will be your first blatant clue to the Finn’s influence with a structure that strongly resembles Stratovarius favourite Hunting High And Low. Santiago showcases Tolkki’s first piece of spectacular, neo-classical guitar work as a Symfonia man, at the end of the song.
Tolkii may have free reign in Symfonia, but essentially his passionate path-finding has led to a route that has not only showcased some of his best work since his Stratovarius days, but also brought the best out of Andre Matos. The Brazillian, who played in Angra before forming Shamaan and Viper, isn’t afraid of high notes, with his incredible falsetto voice reaching an amazing range to varnish the epic sounds of symphonic keyboard and concise riffing.
Pilgrim Road epitomises the latter, with a set of weighty riffs that are so melodic they almost shine, whilst follow-up and title track In Paradisum demonstrates that Tolkki can still come at you with the full force of a classic slow, thumping epic. The track features a symphonic choir that could give soundtrack to a film based on prophecies of chaos that eventually culminate, just as it’s revealed that a previously unknown hero has to save Rome before it burns to the ground and submits to dark forces, before the credits roll.
Sounds epic right? Don’t Let Me Go finishes what is a wholly entertaining album with some more beautiful work from Matos, this time his voice contrasted with a lush darkness of chelo and serene keys from Mikko Harkin. Tolkki may have the last say when it comes to crafting Symfonia’s sound, but his direction is an essential component.
Polished, profound and over the top, this might be too much for some. But if you accept that this is a supergroup that are prepared to dominate the field of power metal in squeaky clean fashion, play to their conclusive strengths and prefer the genre’s sensibilities to anything radically ambitious, then you’re ready to enjoy a great debut album.