Germany’s Blacklands was founded in 2006 by drummer Thomas Kelleners. In 2007 keyboard player Manfred Reinecke and singer Moja Nardelli joined the band. Until the fall of 2009 various bassists and guitar players were incorporated into the songs, but always in vain. After several line-up changes, almost very near their final off, the band finally found, in 2010, Rüdiger Sartingen on bass and Michael Stockschläger on guitar.
The band combines piano passages, melodic progressive rock, celtic melodies, and a touch of metal to create a unique debut titled “A New Dawn”. With varied influences like Genesis, Marillion, Rush, Pink Floyd, Transatlantic, Neal Morse, Warlord, this album is sure to appeal to prog lovers and metal fans with an open mind.
The album starts with the somber piano of Cold Embrace, which is reminiscent of Evergrey. The serene and beautiful vocals of Nardelli are heartfelt and emotional. Musically there are hints of Iron Maiden and Fates Warning with very proggy keyboards by Reinecke and a blistering guitar solo by Stockschläger. Dance of the Witches has an uptempo celtic meets folk metal vibe with a heavy intro and some wonderful piano work and vocals by Nardelli are stellar along with some soaring vocal harmonies. New Dawn has a more traditional Dream Theater-esque progressive metal feel to it for the most part with a special guest appearance from Dragonclaw vocalist Giles Lavery, whose voice blends well with Nardelli during the chorus while Stockschläger delivers a fantastically melodic guitar solo. On Ocean of Tears the band relies on a darker edgier tone with the crunchy guitar and clean guitar tones enhancing the Floydian vocal harmonies. The lyrics for Remember Your Time seem to be introspective and hopeful of the future. Musically, Nardelli turns in an emotive performance against a progressive rock soundscape. Another song filled with hope and encouragement is the power ballad I Can Hear Your Heart. The piano accompaniment has a Savatage flavor to it and the soaring vocals during the chorus are among the best goosebump raising moments on the album. The song builds in intensity until it reaches an amazing crescendo. The mood changes to the uptempo hard rock of Floating Pictures, which has an AOR feel to it with some incredible vocal harmonies. Love Will Never Die is another beautiful piano driven ballad featuring another stirring soulful vocal performance by Nardelli. The main piano passage invokes memories of Jon Oliva once more combined perfectly with Nardelli’s tender voice and includes a beautiful acoustic guitar solo by Stockschläger. Without question, the albums highlight is the fifteen minute epic Powerplay which deals with the tragic events of 9-11 as well as the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the toll these events have taken on our world from a human perspective. The song features guest appearances from vocalist Lennie Rizzo from Exxxplorer and guitarist Terry Gorle of Heir Apparent. The song has many twists and turns going from 70’s prog rock, quieter melancholy moments, and emotional guitar solos, and some amazing vocal work. The albums final track, The Meaning is an acoustic guitar ballad sung by Michael Stockschläger with great emotion and feeling and a fine way to close the album. Blacklands is not for everyone. For fans that like their prog with heavy guitar and thunderous drums, you can look elsewhere, but the musically adventurous will find great enjoyment in listening to A New Dawn.
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