Something special happens when the right pieces come together. Formed in 2007 by guitarist Yan Leviathan and keyboardist Jonah Weingarten, Minnesota's Echoterra were a progressive symphonic metal puzzle missing a center piece. When Melissa Ferlaak (Visions Of Atlantis) replaced original vocalist Suvi Virtanen in late 2009, things changed, leading the band on the path to greater success than ever before. With the coming release of their second full length effort, first with Melissa at the lead, there are bright skies ahead in "Land Of The Midnight Sun."
The darting of keyboards leads off, welcoming in a screeching guitar and the powerful thud of kick drums of "After The Rain." The vocals, bordering between gothic and operatic, enter. There is no denying the power possessed by Melissa, bringing to mind Nightwish's former songstress, Tarja Turunen. The orchestrations are deep and rich, culminating in an impressive solo. The majestic keyboards remain the outright star in "The Best Is Yet To Come." They remain versatile, whether it be providing the lead melody, or simply atmospheric tones in the background. The headbanging guitar chords are the perfect fit. Together, it provides a clean slate for the vocals. And though the lyrics may fall short, the delivery is clean, crisp, and emotionally charged. The outro section has all the flare and energy of Dragonforce, but with the intelligence and skill Stratovarius.
Melissa's operatic talents shine through in the early verses of "Midnight Sun." The tempo has seen a jump, with guitars and drums racing one another. The breakdown shows the heavy side, guitars chugging away while the haunting vocal tones climb over the top. A keyboard solo of epic proportions steals the stage, running up and down the scales, precise and powerful. The sound of delicate keys somehow carries weight over distorted guitars and the crashing of cymbals, a theme for "The Ghost Within My Heart." The use of ethereal synths is perfect, creating a mood that would otherwise be lost. Another lightning fast solo leads this one to a ghostly finish.
The first chords of "All The Lies" may catch you off guard, giving off a dark, heavier energy than the previous tracks. But as Melissa's voice takes hold, you will find yourself soothed by her warmth. The keyboard work in this track is top notch, providing every necessary piece of the puzzle, all the while remaining fresh. The drumming is steadfast, though lacking a real change of pace. The robotic precision of the opening drums on "Unleash The Flood" is welcomed, opening the door for the winding operatic vocals to build. The slight grit of the guitars is much needed, allowing the keys, chords and voice to play off of one another. The piano melodies are astonishing, and will leave you in awe.
The most well rounded track, "A Different Story," offers a little piece of the spotlight to each member of the band. The guitars come through, a little stronger than before. The orchestrated pieces are perfect, locking together with the enchanting vocals. A strong bass presence helps to accentuate the drumming, something you may have been searching for earlier. The gray beauty of "Welcome My Friend Of Misery" and the spacey keyboards of "Memories Of Another Time" are the perfect one-two punch; so different, yet fitting together so well.
The vocals are ambitious on "From The Gutter To The Throne." The shackles are off, and Melissa takes a more aggressive approach. Her voice echos the melody, with wonderful tone and accuracy. It shows its greatest strength when paired with the clean piano, voice and ivory coming together in a glorious harmony. The rapid kicks and snares are flying about, shrouded in cymbal crashes and keyboard rhythms. The album ends with a bang, the symphonic thrashing of "Genes Of Isis." This is operatic symphonic metal at it's finest, with every element playing their role to perfectly. The keys remain the backbone, with layer upon layer of sounds. Vocals are glass shattering, with range and restraint. The drums are unleashed, providing that low rumble we yearn for. The light guitar distortion is just enough. And the piano outro is a classic, fluttery and airy.
The world of symphonic metal is a crowded one, with so many artists trying their hand at the genre. But Echoterra has something that so many others do not. They have a keyboard virtuoso in Jonah Weingarten. He is the vessel through which the music must flow. And with the proper pieces in place around him on "Land Of The Midnight Sun", Echoterra has a course set for success. With a light coat of polish, and a few edges smoothed, the pride of Minnesota could become the symphonic kings of the nation.