There are some elements to The Alpha Memory that do stand as fairly unusual for the female fronted Power Metal genre as a whole, and the most obvious of them is the use of keyboard effects that give it an interesting astral/Space Opera touch. "Under the Surface" actually leads you to believe this is more of an Industrial or Techno effort, but it doesn't take long before the aforementioned approach is mixed into some strong chugging and nasal clean singing that sounds podded up a bit too loud for its own good. The more time you spend with the album though, the more it becomes forgiveable within the often heavy and beautiful performances that mix the worlds of traditional pianos with Science Fiction environments (intentional or not) and clean Children of Bodom style notes.
But while this astral element is utilized throughout the album, there's still more to discover. "Starlight in the Shades" starts with another greyish introduction that kind of helps set things up, but is only there for the mild-breakdown style paced music that kicks things off, as well as concludes the performance. For the most part, it's more of a ballad inside a toned down traditional Power Metal composition with the occasional burst of speed in the chorus. It's a very steady progression from start to finish you won't notice at first, but when you do take it all in, it's the pacing and how well the band utilized it that becomes memorable.
"The Ghost Under My Skin" can be a much more aggressive cut. The furious drumming and hostile riffs that erupt from time to time carry a much natural chill compared to some of the other tracks, as well as feels burdening when utilized. Sadly, the vocals don't seem to try and fit in with this slight shift, better suiting the chorus and leading into the guitar solo than the rest of the song. And then there's the cold and depressing title track. The beautiful piano piece again introduces a chill to the air, but what follows eventually shifts to what comes off like a Jazz influenced segment that fits in with some of the environments woven by the music, not to mention the stronger vocal performance that blends in operatic with generally higher pitches that act as a breath of fresh air.
There's also a slew of bridging interludes to the concept behind The Alpha Memory. In lieu of traditional narrations one might expect from bands like Rhapsody of Fire and even Blind Guardian, these are little scenes that play up a fairly gothic Phantom of the Opera environment within modern Nightwish standards. "A Broken Melody" illustrates a woman finding a music box on a rainy day, singing along with a hint of noir atmosphere after leaving the room. "On Butterfly Wings" nicely plays into the conclusion of "Starlight in the Shades" quite well, all the while being an expansion of the very first track of the album. "In the End?", however, is a bit confusing without the lyric sheet [which I was not provided], placing that woman from earlier in the room once more and seemingly re-discovering the music box.
But what really stands out, and is an absolute shame that it isn't used anywhere near enough in this album, is Elisa's operatic vocals. These are heard briefly during "The Chemical Theater", literally coming out of nowhere and instantly grabbing your attention for the brief few moments they exist. While her normal voice is good for what it is, the somewhat nasal approach doesn't offer too much to make this band really stand out from the countless others in the field. Despite the subtle yet entirely effective presence they carry in the forefront, the backing layers bring in higher notes that feel grander, adding a stronger impact when touching the heart strings of the listener with surprising ease. Of course, the song itself is also the best the track has to offer. There's a good deal of tight technicality that feels completely natural for the group in execution, as well as ends up draped in a great deal of enthusiasm that brings it up to epic levels on par with Savatage and Jon Oliva's Pain.
The thing about The Alpha Memory overall is that a lot of what makes it unique, not just for the female fronted Symphonic Power Metal style, but the Symphonic Power Metal genre as a whole, is that those unique and emotional elements are incredibly short-lived. There's some powerful songs throughout the recording, such as "The Chemical Theater" and "The Ghost Under My Skin", but for the most part the only aspect that really breaks this up from being another traditional entry into the fray is the Space Opera-style keyboards. When you first head into The Alpha Memory, chances are you'll appreciate the solid musicianship, but just shrug it off as another good band at best. But the deeper in you get, the more enraged you'll become at the potential that is only teased and rarely expanded on the way it should have been. Reasons Behind clearly do their best at making a conceptual album with heart, and you can tell they loved every second of recording it. While definitely worth experiencing, it will leave you hopeful that their next outing will see more of what this one did so well: Enthusiastically playing off each other through technicality, as well as a push to include more operatic singing.
Review originally composed for Apoch's Metal Review.
Genre: Metal / Disco/Electric/Funk
Label: Maple Metal Records
Site: Related Link
Similar: Blind Guardian, Children of Bodom, Nightwish, Rhapsody of Fire
- A Broken Melody - 1:52
- Under the Surface - 5:32
- The Chemical Theater - 4:07
- With Your Light - 6:49
- Starlight in the Shades - 4:58
- On Butterfly Wings - 1:36
- The Ghost Under My Skin - 3:48
- 1000 Fading Lives - 5:19
- The Alpha Memory - 5:26
- In the End? - 1:33