In this day and age, it is becoming less uncommon to see large projects including a vast cast of players to be involved to bring a new idea to life. The brand new debut album, Land of Light, is no exception to this movement. Aldaria is a new power metal group that is the brainchild of Norwegian musician Frode Hove (Memorized Dreams), much in the vein of Avantasia, Ayreon, the Vivaldi Metal Project, or even the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and boasts the many talents of well-known vocalists and musicians throughout the metal world including members of Memorized Dreams, Rhapsody of Fire, Masterplan, Falconer, Riot V, Vivaldi Metal Project, Dragonland, Symphony X, Helloween, Signum Regis, Darkest Sins, Divided Multitude, Within Silence, Gabriels, and more. This metal opera project that is a concept album that spins a supernatural tale, telling the story of an ancient scroll that is discovered, which talks about Aldaria, a purgatory-like dimension between heaven and hell where angels are reborn and sinners can be redeemed (or alternatively, banished to Hell). However, there is a darkness in Aldaria, where the Key to the Gates of Heaven has been hidden since time began, and the realm of Aldaria is kept calm and orderly by the Guardians of the Light called Lightbringers, though no one knows who they are or where they hide, and are led by the Archangel Michael to their destiny when their receive their calling as such. They are now called upon for the first time to travel the portal to the Land of Light to battle the darkness that has entered Aldaria. This album takes us on this journey of eleven tracks to find out the ending of this story.
The first track to start this musical off is entitled Excitare ad Lucem (meaning “Wake Up to the Light” in Latin), and it is considered an instrumental opener to the album, even though there are vocals at the end of the minute-long track. It starts off ominously with chimes and bells, and is joined by synth melodies as more vocals and instrumentals layer in, giving it a Gothic beginning.
Another Life is the second full track on the album and is a worthy vocal opener to the album, containing not only an energetic pace for most of the song, but also some relaxed, soft sections as well. Even though there are some repeating motifs throughout the song, there are some clear sections of verse/subverse/bridges, choruses, and channels that take the listener on a ride. Starting with a chugging introduction, the first verse enters in a different style and more upbeat key than the beginning of the song would lead you to believe the rest of the song would also follow. There is a kind of a subverse and bridge that connect with this verse that reprise again connected with the second verse (same music and lyrics), and then enters into the first chorus, which keeps an increasingly fast pace, not necessarily in tempo, but in musical intensity. This is even exaggerated further into the continuing interlude with up to 32nd note bass drum beats into a new channel (taking cues from the introductory motif) before the second round of verse, subverse, and bridge in a more upbeat and slower pace and intensity as before. The second chorus enters again with the vocal catchiness and increase in musical layerings, still at a good clip keeping pace with 16th note triplet kick drum patterns, for instance, under the rhythmic guitars and synth chords carrying it forward. Then, the song changes gears again, and the band diminishes and gives way to a more orchestral section to a new segment of the song as it builds into a new double bridge into the last round of the chorus for a glorious ending as the first two lines of the orchestral section reprise as the softly strong ending. This song introduces the listener to the saga of the plight of Aldaria as the angels continue to fall and they look for the solution with the chosen in the LightBringers.
Lead Vocals: Rick Altzi, Kristoffer Göbel & Todd Michael Hall
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Synths), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Roland Grapow (Guitars) Uli Kusch (Drums), Rayner Harøy (Bass) Peter Danielsen (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar), David Åkesson (Backing Vocals)
The third track, Guardians Of The Light, really seems to capture the “metal opera” essence for me on the album. This song starts off with a galloping pace and rhythm through the first verses and bridge, but picks up on the anthemic chorus. After this is a guitar solo interlude, leading into what I would consider a second chorus that really is a focus throughout the whole song that has an almost sinister sneer in it that really defines the song. After a brief new bridge, a soundbyte can be heard of Vincent Price, speaking the words of Prospero from The Masque of the Red Death, saying “The way is not easy, I know, but I will take you by the hand and lead you through the cruel light into the velvet darkness.” Bookended by another bridge, the second and main chorus returns, communicating the straights that Aldaria is in and are crying out for the LightBringers to arise and come to their aid. The first chorus returns for the end, with a more triumphant ending, focusing on the look to the future salvation hoped for in the realm.
Lead Vocals: Yannis Papadopoulos & David Åkesson
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Synths), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Andreas Nergård (Drums), Rayner Harøy (Bass) Filip Andel (Bass) Mistheria (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar), Christian Palin (Synths)
Sands Of Time is the fourth track on this album, and is one of my favorites. This song features a male/female vocal duet throughout and is a touching song. Beginning with a piano-only introduction, the first verse comes in only with the addition of the male vocal alone. The female vocal enters during the more energetic chorus, where the band enters as well, and she continues alone into the second verse and bridge. The duet resumes into the second chorus, affirming the beautiful mixture of their voices, and is followed by an extended melodic guitar solo. The bridge and chorus reprise again after the instrumental break and is repeated a second time at the end of the song, though with a key change shift for a slight change before ending the ballad with a short outro led primarily by the piano.
Lead Vocals: Vasilis Georgiou & Mina Giannopoulou
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar, Synths), Andreas Nergård (Drums), Rayner Harøy (Bass) Mistheria (Synths & Piano), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar)
The fifth track is Lost In The Darkness Below, which starts out with a simple yet elegant introduction with piano and cello only, but soon after the band enters in full force, negating any impression that this song was going to be a ballad. The first verse begins with the female vocals and then switches to male vocals in second part of the verse, then joining together during the chorus. After this a short guitar solo ensues with a brief bridge sung afterwards. A spoken narration is heard thereafter, noting the significance of their role: “You are the chosen one, to bring the key to Aldaria, and from within, save us all.” A second verse followed by the main bridge and chorus resumes and is followed by another instrumental interlude with a fiery guitar solo. The chorus reprises as the end to the song, bringing the dichotomy of the darkness and light into the main theme of the song once again, and how the light overcomes the darkness.
Lead Vocals: PelleK, Marit Minniva Børresen & Todd Michael Hall
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar, Synths), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Uli Kusch (Drums), Ciacomo Manfredi (Bass) Peter Danielsen (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar) Filip Kolus (Lead Guitar), David Åkesson (Backing Vocals) Roland Grapow (Backing Vocals)
Test Of Time is the sixth track on the album, and is a fast-paced track that highlights the story of the fallen angels, and their last remnant in heaven in a kind of last stand of endurance. This song has some great parts to it, with a catchy chorus, and an unusual three instrumental interludes featuring outstanding and melodic guitar solos interspersed throughout the song. After the second instrumental break, in particular, the vocals stand out nearly a capella with just light chords and cymbals underneath, after which the band returns full-force and a second, more measured chorus arrives, after which it is repeated, but this second time it is juxtaposed with countermelodies and lyrics that create a very effective moment in the song. The main, titular chorus resumes after the third instrumental break, repeated twice at the upbeat pace but ends quite abruptly, defined with a final chord.
Lead Vocals: Tommy ReinXeed Johansson & Rob Lundgren
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Synths), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Andreas Nergård (Drums), Ronnie König (Bass) Gabriels (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar), David Åkesson (Backing Vocals)
The seventh track, entitled Trail of Tears, begins simply with piano and strings, building with the entrance of a flute and light percussion before the vocals begin. This form continues through the first verse and chorus, but then the instrumentation builds with the entrance of the remaining musicians into the second verse and continuing into the chorus. It shifts into a new section of melodies with a brief instrumental break before returning to the chorus, eventually playing out to vocals and piano only (with a few synth string chords underneath) with the lone piano closing the song. Stylistically, this song reminds me so much of an 70s ballad sung in the form of an anthemic hymn a la Barry Manilow or similar artist, which isn’t a judgment on the song as much as it is an observation, bringing something different to the album.
Lead Vocals: Mathias Blad
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Orchestra arr), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Andreas Nergård (Drums), Rayner Harøy (Bass) Mistheria (Synths & Piano), Stian Rødsjø (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar)
Where Reality Ends is the eighth track, and musically couldn’t be farther from its predecessor, being one of the heaviest songs on the album. It starts off with rapid double bass and lead guitars shredding out of the gate with a stratospheric vocal scream just to start it off. This song is a true power metal song throughout, and contains a mixture of both clean and dirty vocals, though the melodic singing does take precedence and the growled vocals are more for emphasis in the lyrics. This song keeps a quick pace, though it slows to a kind of double time during one of the bridges into the instrumental break with guitar solo. There is also a section where there are some layered countermelodies going on, with some lyrics sung under others that provides another musical break from the status power metal quo. This song marks the time in the journey acknowledging the imbalance in Aldaria and the Lightbringers who seek to be free to go about their calling.
Lead Vocals: Yannis Papadopoulos & Eli Prinsen
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Synths), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Uli Kusch (Drums), Rayner Harøy (Bass) Paolo Campitelli (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar), David Åkesson (Backing Vocals)
The ninth track is entitled From The Ashes, and begins with a fairly measured pace in the introduction, but even with the tempo remaining the same, the rhythms double up to create a faster-sounding song that seems to be indicated at first glance. The structure of this song is not as straightforward as it might appear but it has a balance to it that works. After the first iteration of the verse, bridge, and chorus – which is quite catchy to latch onto, by the way – there is a double stanza channel or alternate verse that appears, after which enters the first instrumental interlude that includes a melodic guitar solo with its flurry of 16th notes from time to time. Following this is another cycle of the verse, bridge, and chorus in the same pattern, but following the chorus this time is a diminished section where the instruments all but drop out, save the piano and some strings, and highlight the vocals as it builds up into a second instrumental break with an equally speedy yet soulful guitar solo. There is a second chorus that follows, using the same melody lines as the main chorus, but the lyrics change and the rhythmic pace is slower at tempo. As a fitting blowout to end the song, there is a key change that blasts into the original chorus as the finale. This song again illustrates the dichotomies in this supernatural world of salvation and damnation, sacrifice and rebirth, all the while imbuing a sense of hope in the situation in the Aldarian world.
Lead Vocals: David Åkesson, Bernt Fjellestad
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Synths), Andreas Nergård (Drums), Linus Abrahamson (Lead Guitar & Bass), Peter Danielsen (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar), Eskild Kløften (Guitars) David Åkesson (Backing Vocals)
Answers In A Dream is the title of the tenth track, and opens with a synthesized trumpet announcing the song’s beginning. With the triumphant beginning, setting the tone for the song, the first verse enters with the continued upbeat flavor of the piece, and is followed by a bridge and chorus that are the backbone of the song. A creative guitar solo with some bending effects follows the chorus for a full thirty seconds before the first bridge reprises. However, as the chorus follows it as expected, it does take an unexpected key change when it does enter and is followed by a reprise of the trumpeted introductory motif with some chunky rhythm guitar underneath. A new verse enters while followed by the main bridge and a double reprise of the chorus as the finale. This song is peppy, upbeat, and communicates a message of hope throughout, as it leads into the final song of this saga.
Lead Vocals: Todd Michael Hall & David Åkesson
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Synths), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Andreas Nergård (Drums), Giacomo Manfredi (Bass) Peter Danielsen (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar)
Land Of Light is the magnum opus of the album, closing it out with an appropriately epic 12+ minute song after which the album is titled. This track pulls out all the stops vocally and instrumentally. It rides highs and lows, starting with a church-like opening with vocals and an organ as accompaniment, but the first verse and band enters soon after and away the song takes the listener off for an aural adventure. The song continues at various paces from a typical faster power metal to a slower, more ballad-like feel weaving in and out of the verses, with anthemic choral choruses littered throughout the piece to anchor the song and sprinkled with a key change on one for good measure. For a special feature, there is even an appearance of Uilleann pipes around the seven minute mark during a tender vocal moment that fits nicely as an accompaniment. Nearly a quarter of the song – three full minutes – are guitar solos spread across four instrumental interludes interspersed around the myriad verses and choruses that tell the final story and triumph of Aldaria, the Land of Light.
Lead Vocals: Fabio Lione, Jonas Heidgert, Kristoffer Göbel, Yannis Papadopoulos & Siegfried Samer
Band: Frode Hovd (Guitar & Synths), Christer Harøy (Guitar) Uli Kusch (Drums), Mike LePond (Bass) Peter Crowley (Synths), Jimmy Hedlund (Lead Guitar), David Åkesson (Backing Vocals)
Frode Hovd has clearly put in some very hard work putting an album of this caliber together. From the album concept to the songwriting, to the playing, recording, and the recruiting of such a star-studded cast of musicians, nothing was spared to make this new metal opera happen. He brought in the best in the business for everything including the musicians from all over the globe, the artwork (Stan W. Decker), the mixing (Roland Grapow), and mastering (Jacob Hansen). Land of Light is a compelling album that brings the listener on a supernatural tale that entertains a fantastical story but yet incorporates recognizable archetypes and icons familiar to many. Aldaria has proven itself to be a contender in the metal opera genre, and for those who enjoy Avantasia and the like will easily pick up this album and find it comparable. If there is a continued future for Aldaria, there is a number of paths it could take in the future, staying within the same universe with another concept album, or it could explore new territory altogether. I am hopeful for future albums, but for now, this album will satiate the listener for a good while, giving them a good taste of a new and innovative metal concept opera to burst upon the scene.
Album teaser to “Land of Light:”
Lyric Video to “Guardians of the Light:
Lyric Video to “Where Reality Ends:”
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