Thursday, July 9, 2015

Album Review: Chaos Magic - Chaos Magic

Somehow, out of the car crash that was the end of the 'classic' lineup of Stratovarius, Timo Tolkki has managed to rehabilitate himself. Things didn't start out well, with the disastrous run of Revolution Renaissance albums, but recent years have seen Tolkki hitting a new stride. He's made two metal operas that have been well received, and he was the creative force behind last year's fantastic Allen/Lande album, which gave me reason to think that he had learned from his mistakes, and was ready to become a songwriter for hire that could still pump out a large volume of good material.

Chaos Magic sees him paired with Chilean singer Caterina Nix, for what is ostensibly her solo debut. After a dramatic opening with a choir chanting in the background, "I'm Alive" turns the proceedings over to the star, and we get our first taste of her voice. She can certainly sing, with a voice that recalls Anneke Van Giersbergen, a strong voice that doesn't always carry many of the classical overtones that most of the women in metal are required to have. What this means is that she can match the power of the music, rather than serve as the beautiful counterpoint to the brusque instrumentals.

"I'm Alive" is a short, to the point opener that does two things that Tolkki's recent output are known for; being immediately catchy, and possibly taking too much influence from from songs we've already heard. That feeling cropped up a couple of times on the Allen/Lande album, and again here, but it can be forgiven when the songs are as slick and memorable as this one is.

"Dangerous Game" is a tougher sell, with a hook that's a bit more subtle, one that sounds like it was written for someone else. Nix's vocals appear to strain to hit the notes, which are not settled into the strongest range of her voice. Tolkki should have heard this and adjusted the song to fit her, doing everything he can to highlight Nix's strengths. The next track, "One Drop Of Blood" fits Nix better, and the result is a song that sounds more confident, more assured, and more powerful.

Nix's classical training is most evident in "Seraphim", a slow-moving, highly Gothic number that puts her more in line with what what the stereotype of this kind of record would lead you to. Maybe because of that, it's less interesting than the heavier, more rocking numbers that came before it. It's a trend I notice throughout the record; namely that the heavier numbers are the most interesting, with the softer, more classical moments lacking the same energy. While Nix can certainly sing either style, I think it would benefit both her and the record to have focused more on being a heavier approach to the style. The softer moments invite too many comparisons to the other female singers playing Gothic-like metal, and they don't highlight the strengths of Tolkki's writing.

I'm not going to make any grand pronouncements about Nix or Tolkki from this album, but I was expecting a bit more from two people who obviously have a wealth of talent. Nix does everything she can with her vocals, but the songs are consistently strong enough to make this a top-flight record. There's half of a great record here, and if they can hone their focus for a second outing, there's the opportunity to make Chaos Magic into a great little melodic metal band. "Chaos Magic" is a good debut, with a couple of great songs, but it's biggest problem is that it allows me to hear the potential it didn't quite live up to.

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