City Of Heroes
When multi-octave Helloween frontman Michael Kiske was unceremoniously ousted from the group following the release of the poorly-received Pink Bubbles Go Ape (1991) and Chameleon (1993), I found myself wondering what would become of the Hamburg, Germany-born vocalist. Would he join an established act in search of revitalization? (He was often rumored as a pre-Blaze Bayley replacement in Iron Maiden via German television) Would he embark on a solo career? However, following a three year hiatus and the release of several not-so-Metal solo endeavors and an involvement with a variety of projects (most notably the Adrian Smith/Kai Hansen-fueled debut Instant Clarity and the brief Modern Rock excursion SupaRed), it seemed as if Kiske had entirely abandoned his oft-influential Heavy Metal roots. Fortunately, with the release of City Of Heroes, the highly-anticipated sophomore release from Kiske/Somerville, the frontman is 'delivering the goods'.
On the brilliant City Of Heroes (2015), an expertly assembled twelve song collection of Melodic Hard Rock, each track, beginning with the relentlessly pummeling “City Of Heroes” and the pulsating call-to-arms “Rising Up”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of all parties involved, myself most definitely included. Boldly intertwining Kiske's insatiable penchant for goosebump-inducing histrionics with the occasionally lilting Alto of the Flushing, Michigan-born Somerville (the long-dormant Power/Symphonic Metal titans Aina, HDK, Trillium), the group effortlessly lays a refreshingly metallic foundation without embracing the inanely cliché-ridden tactics typically employed by their few would-be brethren. Offering a meticulously-crafted variation of the lyrical and compositional styles that Kiske arguably helped found and shape, the ensuing audio excursions maintain the self-evident sense of intensity that defined his formative years.
Continuing with the maddeningly infectious, hook-laden “Breaking Neptune” and the emotionally-charged lament “Open Your Eyes”, the steadfast--to say the very least--combination of vocalists Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville, guitarist Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear), bassist Mat Sinner (Primal Fear, Sinner, Voodoo Circle) and drummer Veronika Lukesova (Alice Cooper, Joe Lynn Turner, Paul Rodgers) steamrolls ahead at what can only be described as a very well-rehearsed pace. Easily improving upon the woefully-underrated Kiske/Somerville (2010), the group wastes little--if any--time unleashing a multi-dimensional blend of soaring vocals, blistering fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms that deftly showcasing their already well-documented talents. Bridging the more than considerable distance between Kiske's prototypical history and the re-birth represented by the rise of the Unisonic era, the quasi 'Super Group' fires on all cylinders early and often.
Co-Produced by Sinner--who also co-wrote the bulk of the material with Karlsson--and the acclaimed Jacob Hansen (Beyond Twilight, Invocator, Pyramaze), other standouts, including the sweeping, acoustic-tinged ballad “After The Night Is Over” and the shimmering, equally impressive closer “Right Now”, offer a veritable avalanche of further sonic evidence in support of their still-burgeoning reputation as a bona fide creative and commercial force not to be ignored. Easily Kiske's most memorable, and, as a result, thoroughly enjoyable post-Chameleon release, even if you still somehow find yourself less-than-enthralled with his continued non-Metal explorations (Kiske has release several solo excursions, most notably Kiske in 2006 and Past In Different Ways in 2008, that feature elements of AOR and Pop), one must, at the very least, sincerely admire his ability to expand his musical horizons without ignoring what had propelled him to the strains of international recognition.
But what ultimately separates the airtight albeit adrenaline-laden behemoth that is so often City Of Heroes from it's equally well-heeled, 'major' contemporaries? A veritable wealth of hooks, harmonies and, most notably, truly stunning melodies. While it's seemingly unlikely that the majority--if not all--of the decidedly ear-pleasing wares contained herein will ultimately leave 'old school' Helloween fans thoroughly satisfied (particularly those in search of a Keeper Of The Seven Keys and Keeper Of The Seven Keys II era fix), the end result(s) of their more than considerable efforts are, without a doubt, once again quite easily worthy of the highest of critical and commercial accolades. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a refreshingly tuneful, or perhaps outright user-friendly, alternative to the painfully mindless Pop banalities of the mainstream, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane cure-all for what ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
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