Hailing from Styria, Austria, the founding members of Visions of Atlantis cited their influences as fellow symphonic power metal band Nightwish and the age old myth of Atlantis. Indeed their first album ‘Eternal Endless Infinity’ was a concept album about the sunken city and with mezzo-soprano Nicole Bogner’s angelic voice providing the female half of a ‘beauty and the beast’ approach to metal, you can clearly hear the Nightwish influences. Even after Bogner’s departure from the band and the arrival of American soprano singer Melissa Ferlaak, they maintained a want to be like Nightwish, who themselves had soprano Tarja Turunen. It was the arrival of Maxi Nil (On Thorns I Lay, ex-Elysion) in 2009 that would turn the band slightly away from the Nightwish side of things and allow them to be more closely linked to Italian metallers Lacuna Coil. This could be because VoA wanted to branch out into a different sound because by now, only the drummer Thomas Caser was the only original member or could it be that due to Tarja’s leaving of Nightwish and the arrival of Anette Olzon and with her a different sound for Nightwish; perhaps AoV now wanted to emulate that sound which is closer in my mind to the less operatic styling of Lacuna Coil.
VoA have enjoyed much acclaim and success in the past that could have continued with ‘Ethera’. Lyrically beautiful, awesome guitar solos, fantastic keyboard composition and thunderous drums should have made for one hell of an album and maybe, as individual ingredients, they are each without flaw, but when mixed together by somewhat sub-par mixing, you get an album that is only ok. Now this is my only gripe with ‘Ethera’. As I said, great ingredients…poorly mixed. Mario Plank’s vocals often overpower all else in songs and Maxi Nil’s vocals have been made louder (quite obviously if you listen to some of the volume distortion her voice goes through on some tracks) to compensate. Thomas Caser’s drums are pushed into the background somewhat by this as are newcomer Christian Hermsdörfer’s guitars, that is until the solos, which at times sound forced upon the rest of the song. The only thing that sounds at home and at the correct volume are Martin Harb’s keyboards and syth work. If you take each individual sound as it is, you get quite a pleasant experience. But in some songs, when they are all in there fighting for the spotlight it’s just is not effective.
A song is supposed to be a melody and not a cacophony as is often the case with the songs on ‘Ethera’. The worst offender on the album for me is ‘Vicious Circle’. Plank’s vocals come in soft, but he has a powerful voice as this is soon made obvious as it overpowers the song right from the intro. Nil’s vocals are quiet by comparison and are often totally muted out by Plank and the keyboards. This song also includes one of those moments that you can tell Nil’s vocals have been made louder as the distortion is quite audible during her high note crescendo near the end.
The best song on the album is ‘Cave Behind the Waterfall’, the only song I feel on the album that even comes close to being correctly mixed. It starts off as a quiet ballad. The song is composed of the synth, an acoustic guitar and Nil’s voice for a short while and even when the drums come into the song, they aren’t overpowering, they are just right. It is this song that Nil gets to showcase her impressive vocal range. The song slowly builds up to include an electric guitar and even that doesn’t totally overpower the song as the pace slightly changes to that of something more urgent. Plank doesn’t make an appearance on this song and, I think, it is because of this lack of oft-overpowering or loud vocals that you fully get the chance to hear everything else that is going on.
Overall I would say that this album falls just short of being a good, nay, great album. It is just a damn shame about that mixing issue. After all, as in cooking, you can have all the right ingredients and still end up with a poor meal because you didn’t mix them correctly.