Friday 6 January 2023

Chaos Magic - Emerge (2022)

Country: Chile
Style: Melodic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 17 Jun 2022
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives

Here's another Best of 2022, according to Folk N Rock, where it won as Best Melodic Metal Album of 2022, featuring "a magic mix of both symphonic and modern melodic power metal elements". I can't say that I'm as sold on this one as I was on Vanaheim, but it's an excellent album and it's still growing on me with each listen.

Chaos Magic appear to have started out as one of those numerous Frontiers projects. They signed a highly capable Chilean vocalist called Caterina Nix, who had demonstrated her classical and pop training in a local band called Aghonya, who put out an album in 2008 and supported bands such as Edguy, After Forever and Within Temptation. They built the Chaos Magic project around her and a name guitarist, Timo Tolkki, formerly of Stratovarius, both of whom got "featuring" credits above the project name on the cover. Tolkki was gone for album two, so only Nix's name was credited on the cover. This third album is credited simply to Chaos Magic. I guess they're finally an actual band.

And they're a good one, most of whom were on the previous Chaos Magic album, Furyborn in 2019, and all of whom are from Chile. The guitars are surely the most obvious, courtesy of Mario Torres and Nasson, because they're what vary the tone of the songs. Sometimes they go for a traditional European power metal approach, but sometimes they go with a more modern staccato approach, which isn't as effective but doesn't entirely seem out of place. Nix herself mostly sings in the pop style, but occasionally leaps into an operatic register, like halfway through the title track. I wanted more of that but it's neither frequent nor sustained.

Emerge is a decent enough opener and I enjoyed it, but it didn't knock my socks off. Even on a fifth time through, I'm digging individual moments throughout it—the intro, some emphatic horns, the soprano escalation midway—but never quite seeing it as a song. I found Beneath Your Skin after it a more approachable song, with just as many praisable moments but also a more consistent feel. I realise that it opens up with those modern guitars that tend to bore me, but they're tempered by an orchestral swell and Nix is playful on this one as she works through the first verse into a strong chorus.

As the album ran on and as I listened through a second time and a third, songs started to stand out for notice. The first were Garden of Winter and Hearts Gone Dark, late in the first half. The former has a chorus with a killer hook and it incorporates some fantastic sounds late on, including Spanish guitar. Elena Siirala of Leaves' Eyes and Angel Nation lends her voice to this one too, elevating it in elegant fashion early on but then Nix adds power to Siirala's delicacy and it's a tasty combination. The latter builds elegantly too, with plenty of keyboards from Franco Lama, to another exquisitely catchy chorus.

The next to elevate itself was Days of Lions and When If Not Today, both of which boast killer hooks, suggesting that it's the hooks that stand out and bring the songs with them. However, the latter is all the better for an excellent guitar solo and a temporary drop in intensity late on, so there's a lot more going on than just hooks.

And then it was In the Depth of Night, because of how it transitions from a soft, poppy beginning, as if it's going to be a ballad, into that modern guitar for an effective contrast. Maybe it's my own bias against that particular jagged style that treats the lead guitar as a mere rhythmic tool that has me think a little less of this album than the reviewers at Folk N Rock, but it's not omnipresent. The album as a whole feels like a European power metal album with the expected focus on melody and solid guitar solos, but with a symphonic edge, and I'm on board with all that. So I don't know. I like it. It's clearly an excellent album. I just don't love it.

So, this is a 7/10 for me. If you're a particular fan of that modern guitar sound, feel free to add one more point. It'll be a little more special for you.

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