Symphonic Metal meets Broadway in the new collaboration between vocalists Charlotte Wessels (Delain), Georg Neuhauser (Serenity) and composer/producer Oliver Philipps (Everon). The project, titled Phantasma, is a grand bombastic orchestral metal/rock opera. The result is a concept album, The Deviant Hearts released on Napalm Records.
Wessels not only lent her vocal and songwriting talents but also wrote a companion novella, her first, to compliment the album. I wanted to delve into the story that accompanies the album but unfortunately I was unable to gain a copy of the novella prior to this review. However, in a recent interview, Charlotte explained the concept of the story:
There is something scary about just telling any story. What do you want to tell? It was a point in time where there was something pressing on my heart when something affects you and at one point I thought about this and all the other things, and I figured what if one would have a condition that would make these emotions and these events affect you on not only on an emotional and mental level but actually on a physical level? So it’s a big metaphor about this hypersensitivity. I wanted to use this idea and make it bigger than it is and make it very visible. Just continue with the experiment of what would that be with the way that you live your life and of course the children are raised very protectively. And the older they get the more they learn that their life is not so much about experiences to be had and challenges to win but ambitions to be curved and expectations to be limited and this starts to frustrate them to a greater and greater extent. The book leads you there in a sort of fantasy way but the real question is how much do you let something like that limit you? Do you stay in your comfort zone knowing you are safe or do you take the risks knowing it could expose yourself to something that could hurt you mentally and physically? I tried to play with that idea and to a certain extent I feel like I wrote the story and to the other extent at one point it was just there and kept playing in my head and I just had to write it down.
To even add to the already impressive collaboration, the album also features guest appearances from Tom S. Englund of Evergrey, Dennis Schunke of Van Canto, Chloe Lowery of Trans-Siberian Orchestra/ Chameleon, Jason Gianni of Daredevil Squadron/ Neal Morse Band/ Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Randy George Neal Morse Band/Ajalon, and former Serenity guitarist Tom Buchberger.
The album begins with the tender piano ballad Incomplete that is sung by both Wessels and Neuhauser. The song itself would not seem out of place on a Delain album, mainly because Wessels vocals are so synonymous with Delain. When Neuhauser’s vocals come in and harmonize with Wessels the results are breathtaking as they were when Wessels provided guest vocals on the Serenity song Serenade of Flames from the 2011 album Death and Legacy.
The title track has a symphonic metal feel with guest vocals from Evergrey’s Tom S. Englund lending his powerful and emotive vocals joining Charlotte and Georg on this epic and bombastic track with acoustic guitars, great riffs, and a middle-eastern keyboard arrangement.
Runaway Grey is another ballad with Charlotte taking over the lead vocal. It’s another stellar ballad done in broadway style that Wessel’s expressive vocal delivery comes across so well.
The true highlight of the album for me is a song that neither Neuhauser nor Wessels sing on, the soaring epic ballad Try, a powerful and heartwarming duet featuring Dennis Schunke and Chloe Lowery. Such a tender, heart-breaking song it just sent chills up my spine, just pure magic.
Enter Dreamscape has a beautiful acoustic intro and launches into another symphonic metal gem that has strong similarities to Serenity with Neuhauser’s strong and charismatic vocals once again combining with Wessels and Englund for a powerful and spellbinding performance.
Miserable Me is another heavy symphonic track with lots of entertaining theatricality in the music and Neuhauser and Wessel’s vocals.
The Lotus and The Willow is another tender ballad where Wessel’s love for Nick Cave comes shining through. I also hear slight vocal resemblances to Tori Amos in Wessel’s choices of vocal melodies, just a gorgeous song with a brilliant guitar solo mid-song.
Crimson Course combines both symphonic elements and modern keyboard technology for a pulsating and spirited song with melody and emotional vocals.
There is some stellar guitar leads to start off Carry Me Home, an understated and mid-tempo song with some incredible vocal interplay and harmony vocals and a soaring chorus led by Wessels.
Neuhauser gets to shine on the anthemic uplifting ballad Sound of Fear, showing why he is one of the best and underrated singers in the symphonic metal genre.
Novaturient is a song that has a slow build with Neuhausers haunting vocal and then it transforms into a harder rocking song with energy and symphonic energy. The chorus is powerful and catchy as well.
The albums closing song, Let It Die is a grand finale with a majestic intro and Wessel’s alternative influences peer through with a unique combination of symphonic orchestration and modern sounds and harmony vocals provided by Neuhauser. The chorus is soaring and intense with Wessel’s impressive emotional vocal lighting the way. It is a perfect way to close an album full of layers, soaring highs, emotional and expressive melancholy moments as well. A must for fans of Delain, Serenity, Nightwish, and theatrical, symphonic music.