Heavatar - Opus I - All My KingdomsPower metal is all about the instant fix. The catchy choruses, the anthems,the cinematic spectacle. In some ways it’s the essence of heavy metal – some of us get that. But in other ways its a path too well trodden and yearning for something either very good or else with a twist of something new.

The latest mastermind to ride the power metal comet in our direction is Stefan Schmidt. Van Canto guitarist and joint-vocalist, Schmidt is joined by a team of European metal luminaries including Stratovarius Jorg Michael and chorists from Blind Guardian. For anyone who doesn’t know Van Canto, they specialise in a barber’s shop quartet version of heavy metal that combines their own compositions with heavily choral versions of metal classics from Deep Purple to Manowar.

Passing swiftly over the slightly ambiguous name (perhaps the word ‘heavy’ or ‘heaven’ combined with something else – ‘guitar’ maybe, but I can’t help thinking of ‘Avatar’ which wouldn’t make any sense unless I’m missing something…). There is self-confessed inspiration here from the works of Beethoven, Bach and other classical staples. Schmidt moves away from the overly choral and more firmly into the realms of power metal. It was an obvious move for someone that clearly believes they can combine classical music and metal into one glorious whole. Let’s be honest, it’s been done before, and extremely competently by bands like Rhapsody and Yngwie Malmsteen but they tended to be set ups that are showcases for their guitarists more than the singers.

With the exception of the first track, which is a power metal and classical music blast made in heaven, this leans more towards the power chuggernaught than classical music veneration. Big baselines, speed metal guitars and drumming that, unusually for this type of music, comes to the fore. That doesn’t mean that the classical elements are not obvious elsewhere. But they seem to rely more heavily on the undoubted vocal talents of Schmidt and backing vocal arrangements. The opening track will be enough to attract the attention of any hopeless power metal fanatic. And there are other highlights such as Born To Fly and To The Metal (have I heard these titles before?).

I was keen to like this as its all done in the right spirit and it is done very well. Clinically, in fact, and I can’t emphasise enough how good Schmidt’s vocals sound. But sometimes I just feel that old power metal fatigue setting in and the yearning for the touch of that magic wand that sets those riffs and melodies apart from the pack. Some of you might hear it here, and I wanted to, but in the end just couldn’t find it. In the marketing video Schmidt himself comments that there are so many releases of this type of music out these days that its difficult to wade through them all. ‘There are about 1,000 power metals out each month but this one is special I promise,’ he says. It’s certainly better than most so perhaps do as he asks and give it a try.

(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)