Last year, Italian power metal band Stranger Vision were releasing a set of singles, every one of which was a cover version. This year, they've released an album of original material and it's a generous one, running just over an hour when we include the bonus track. There's a prelude, interlude and postlude too, so the fifteen tracks translate to eleven songs proper and they're generally lively and melodic and vibrant, with a confident vocal from Ivan Adami and some energetic guitar solos from Riccardo Toni.
Now, those cover versions deserve mention here because, along with the pop songs by Tears for Fears and David Bowie, there are a couple of telling ones: Moonshield, originally recorded by In Flames, and especially Bright Eyes, not by Art Garfunkel but by Blind Guardian. Stranger Vision have clearly spent a lot of time listening to the latter and this album plays very much in the Blind Guardian vein, just not quite so hoarse or quite so Viking, maybe a little less epic but a little more perky. Imagine the power metal and melodic hooks of Blind Guardian but with an elegant Italian veneer laid over it all and you will have something close to Stranger Vision.
Gates of Tomorrow, the opening track proper, certainly fits that description perfectly. Human Change isn't far off either, with a catchy chorus sung cleaner than Hansi Kürsch would do it but with the same sort of effect. Toni's guitar solo is particularly perky and it plays with neo-classical shredding. All his contributions here stand out from the rest of the music just as much as Adami's vocals. Sure, each of the musicians behind him clearly knows exactly what they're doing but they're less prone to showing off, content to set the tone and underpin a couple of lead instruments in guitar and vocal.
After my first time through, I felt like I'd listened to a guitar album. However, the more I play through it again, the more I come back to the vocal hooks. The guitarwork in Never Give Up is fantastic, but I'm focusing more on that great singalong chorus. I remember that great video of the audience taking on the chorus of Blind Guardian's Valhalla and just keeping it going for far longer than we expect. There are quite a lot of songs here where I can imagine an audience doing the same thing to Adami.
Given that, it seems a little strange that there are so many guest appearances here, most of them by vocalists. Sure, Guido Benedetti of Trick or Treat shows up on guitar on Rage, but he's accompanying his bandmate Alessandro Conti. All the guests are singing pretty close to their own genres, so this was hardly a stretch for any of them, but only Alessia Scolletti of Temperance seems to be a duet partner, perhaps because she's the only female guest. The choral backing vocals on Rage stand out, while Zak Stevens, from Savatage and Circle II Circle, has a harsher voice. However, none of them, nor Fabio D of Arthemis, are light years away from Adami.
I should mention here that everything is sung in English, however many of these vocalists are Italian, but without much accent. Adami has one that shows up in the quieter sections. I first noticed it on the song Wish, which is eleven tracks in, because it's a ballad, but it's there in the spoken word bit at the end of Memories of You and in slower parts of Over and Over. It isn't there when he's soaring free on heavier parts, as he is for much of this album. Listen to something like Rage or Never Give Up, my two highlights (with quite a few challenging them), and you wouldn't know he wasn't English. Listen to Wish and you know without a shadow of a doubt that he's Italian.
I like this a lot. I don't think it does anything particularly new, but it does what it does very well and it seems difficult not to be a little happier having listened to this album. It's not just perky, it's uplifting and that's never a bad thing in smooth power metal.