Round Table Review
Disc 1: Days Of Rising Doom [68:15]: Aina Overture (2:01), Revelations (5:29), Silver Maiden (5:00), Flight Of Torek (5:24), Naschtok Is Born (4:40), The Beast Within (3:16), The Siege Of Aina (6:50), Talon's Last Hope (6:11), Rape Of Oria (3:04), Son Of Sorvahr (2:59), Serendipity (4:04), Lalae Amêr (4:13), Rebellion (4:01), Oriana's Wrath (6:12), Restoration (4:55)
Disc 2: The Story Of Aina [55:16]: The Story Of Aina (instrumental) (15:08), The Beast Within (single version) (3:44), Ve Toúra Sol (Rape Of Oria - Ainae version) (3:05), Flight Of Torek (single version) (3:34), Silver Maiden (alternate version) (4:59), Talon's Last Hope (demo) (5:46), The Siege Of Aina (single version) (3:54), The Story Of Aina (15:09)
Disc 3: Beyond The Borders - DVD: The Beast Within (3:41), The Making Of Aina (14:57), The Story of Aina (15:08) Slide Show, Artwork, Lyrics
The Aina started with German producer Sascha Paeth (Rhapsody, Epica, Kamelot), who was asked by the Dutch record label Transmission if he was interested in creating a rock opera that would hark back to the days of Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair.
Rock operas - popular in the early Seventies, but proclaimed dead by the time the eighties had arrived. Pink Floyd's The Wall was effectively the last one (if it even was a real rock opera). Or was it?
In the mid-nineties the genre was revived single-handedly by a project called Ayreon - released not entirely coincidentally on the same Transmission label as this album - and others soon followed. Although these rock operas never became as fashionable as they were in the early days, there is definitely a market for these albums.
Paeth jumped to the occasion and enlisted the help of his friends multi-instrumentalist Robert Hunecke-Rizzo and keyboardplayer Miro (whom both had worked with bands like Rhapsody, Kamelot, Virgo, Epica and others).
For the lyrics they enlisted American singer/songwriter Amanda Somerville, who also works in Paeth's studio as a background vocalist and singing coach for bands that record there. Somerville decided to take the rock opera concept a step higher and created a huge, epic, Tolkienesque fantasy story, complete with a unique new language, myths and history for her creation: the beautiful and peaceful land of Aina.
The story tells of two brothers Torek and Talon, sons of the king of Aina, who are both in love with the same woman, Oria Allyahan. On the day Torek is to follow up his father to the throne, he finds out that the woman he was pining for actually has a relationship with his brother. He flees to a forsaken land where he meets the blood-thirsty race of Krakhôn, who mistake him for their god Sorvahr. He creates a new land with these creatures and names it Naschtok and he trains the Krakhôn to become an army to destroy Aina ...
When he attacks Aina, he all but kills his brother Talon and kidnaps his wife Oria, who is taken to Naschtok and raped by Torek night after night. Talon survives the attack and decides to hide his and Oria's daughter, Oriana, in the far-away hills, for safekeeping in case of a second attack from Sorvahr may come.
Oria bears a child from Sorvahr as well, Syrius, and though he is completely brainwashed by his father's hatred for all that is good and beautiful, Oria is convinced that there is something good in this child.
Years later Syrius travels through the lands surrounding Naschtok and comes across a grown-up Oriana. Not aware of each other's identity they fall in love with each other. Then Sorvahr decides it is time for another, final war on Aina, and calls for his son to fight beside him. Talon calls for his daughter to fight along his side, and so it is that the two lovers meet on the battlefield. Syrius hesitates and calls for a truce between the two lands. Sorvahr/Torek, now really powerful and God-like, kills his own son and emerges from the clouds. As Oriana now realises the man she loved was her own kin, she falls down on the ground with her love in her arms. In true fantasy fashion her love and purity then destroys Sorvahr and his evil, and they live happily ever after.
That is the story in a nut-shell. It is a classic, cliché, fantasy tale, though told in a true Hollywood style. However, just like the clichéd characters that you find on the Ayreon albums, the story fits the music perfectly!
So what about the music then?
In true fashion the metal opera starts with an overture, and from the start it becomes clear that we are dealing with music with balls here. A roaring guitar and synthesisers build to a powerful crescendo before all breaks loose in a high speed rock-fest that could have been lifted straight from a Dream Theater track (A Change Of Seasons style) only with more straightforward drumming. It becomes clear that no costs have been spared in creating this opera, as a full orchestra has been employed to play on the album. The orchestra here is really an addition to the music (rather than a Metallica S&M style counter-melody affair)
With the first real song Revelations it becomes immediately clear that this band is harking back to the days of Jesus Christ Superstar, rather than the more recent bombastic affairs like Ayreon or Leonardo. They employed a boys' choir to sing in between narrator Michael Kiske's (ex-Helloween) verses, and there is a musical-style of singing. This is also the first time we hear the completely incomprehensible, though beautiful, Ainae language (for which translations are provided in the booklet).
It seems you can't create a rock opera without enlisting Damian Wilson these days, however everyone's-Favourite-Guest-Vocalist-For-Hire™ has a role that is far too small for his calibre. His presence as King Taetius lasts less than a minute but it is a memorable one, combining his theatrical experiences from Les Miserables with that of his metal past with Threshold.
Silver Maiden tells the tale of Oria Allyahan and is a beautiful, serene song, with a full classical orchestra providing the music - nothing metal here! With a harp, violin and flute soloing a distinct oriental flavour is created. In one word: stunning. Special mention must go to singer Michael Kiske, who is singing so different from what he used to do with his former band.
With a bang we come to the metal portion of the opera - after all, this was supposed to be a metal opera, right? The following three songs are connected both musically and lyrically, creating a sort of 12 minute mini-opera within this opera.
The high octane Flight Of Torek, sung by Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia) tells the story Torek and how he flees to the land of Naschtok. Musically this is in the melodic Iron Maiden vein, with the orchestra providing the necessary punches. There is a great double guitarsolo in the middle, while towards the end it all becomes Jesus Christ Superstar again, with a choir replying to the verses sung by the narrator and Talon (Glenn Hughes) proclaiming his love for Oria to his brother.
Naschtok Is Born plays a bit more straightforward rock, but once again with another great guitarsolo, courtesy of Robert Hunecke-Rizzo. Vocals are from the perspective of Torek, who is portrayed by Thomas Rettke (Heavens Gate)
The last part of this little trilogy is The Beast Within, where Torek's alter ego Sorvahr is actually overtaking his former self. Musically this is once again Iron Maiden territory, with catchy choruses that strongly echo the work of Queen. This song is also chosen as a single release from the album.
The Siege Of Aina has a great build-up with two choirs portraying the two lands before the war. On the one hand are the evil Krakhôn, whose battle call sounds not unlike a Maori Haka, while on the other hand there is the angelic boys' choir singing in Ainae language. It is great how these two different musical styles fit so well together, as they build up to another powerful rock song, with indeed a genuine metal feel, and normally not the kind of music I would endure had it not been for the great orchestral arrangements and the musical-style choruses. It also features a very recognisable keyboard solo by Derek Sherinian.
Talon's Hope is a beautiful ballad with a David Gilmour-esque guitar intro. It is sung by Glenn Hughes, with the choruses being provided by Andre Matos (Angra). Another great track and my favourite on the album.
The Rape Of Oria is not as nasty as the name suggest, in fact, it is a beautiful song, sung by Candice Night (Blackmore's Night), accompanied only by piano and a string section.
The only song I can't really get into is Son Of Sorvahr. Once again sung by Thomas Rettke, this is just a bit too catchy, and too straightforward rock for me. One highpoint is that one of the best bassplayers in the world, TM Stevens (Steve Vai, Joe Cocker) is playing bass on this song.
Then once again Michael Kiske comes along to speed up the story, and in Serendipity he tells the tale of Oriana growing up in the mountains and meeting Syrius. Musically this is another resting point in between all the heavy guitars and drums. It is a catchy, folky and waltzing tune, with an excellent acoustic guitarsolo.
The tone shifts another 180 degrees with Lalae Amêr, which has distinct Arabian influences. It is mainly instrumental, with Cinzia Rizzo (Kamelot) providing some la-la-la vocals and Amanda Somerville speaking a few lines in Ainae lyrics. In all a very strange, yet beautiful piece of music.
We're getting back in genuine rock opera mode for Rebellion and Oriana's Wrath, which more than echoes the massive finales of Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair - only heavier. Just like Derek Sherinian a few songs earlier, it is very easy to pick out the synth solo by Erik Norlander in Rebellion, which unfortunately is far too short to make a lasting impression.
Oriana's Warth is great stuff, really, with two seperate choirs battling out the war. Only Sass Jordan's protrayal of Oriana seems a bit miscast, as she is supposed to be a fair lady, yet she sings even rawer than any of the male singers on the album and the somewhat explicit lyrics as she kills Sorvahr do not help either.
The final track is a bit in the style of endings of rock operas by Ayreon or Jeff Wayne, as you can hear snippets of previous songs pass by in this rather atmospheric track. Michael Kiske recounts how the Ainae people build up their lives again and a special mention must go to Epica's Simone Simons, whose talents are criminally under-used on this album, as she only gets to sing some soprano vocals in the background - a pity.
The limited edition of Aina - Days Of Rising Doom comes in a beautiful package. Inside Out may have been giving a new meaning to the word 'limited edition' in the last few years with their digibooks, Transmission raises the bar a bit higher. This album comes in a hard-cover book, which holds the CD, a bonus CD, a bonus DVD and a 128 page booklet, which contains the story of Aina, artwork, lyrics, photos of all the musicians involved and a story about the creation of the album. Especially the artwork which is truly stunning, with sketches and aquarelle paintings in the style of Alan Lee's work for Tolkien's books.
The bonus disc contains some very interesting extras. First there is the 15-minute symphony The Story Of Aina, which is presented both in an instrumental and a narrated version. It is a beautiful piece of music, entirely orchestral and it can best be compared to a movie soundtrack, made up from themes and melodies from the rock opera. The narrated version has Sebastian Thomson reading the story of Aina as it is presented in the booklet.
Then there are a couple of single-edits of songs from the opera, of which The Beast Within is the most different from the album version - it is actually 30 second longer and has the Krakhôn/Aina choir from The Siege Of Aina as intro.
Particularly interesting are the two alternative versions of Rape Of Oria and Silver Maiden, the former is sung entirely in the Ainae language and the latter is sung by Amanda Somerville, instead of Michael Kiske. Somerville has a voice that really fits the orchestral tone of the music.
The DVD also boasts some interesting features. First there is the promotional video of The Beast Within. Now, it was already clear that no costs have been spared to create this album. The packaging, the huge list of guest vocalists and musicians, the creation of this DVD... but a computer generated video is perhaps a bit too much here. In all fairness it looks rather dodgy and is not at all as menacing as the music would suggest. Once again, The Beast Within sounds like a cross between Iron Maiden and Queen, and therefore it looks rather silly to have a clumsy walking figure travelling through strange lands and buildings. Fortunately this is compensated for with a great DTS 5.1 surround mix of the track.
Far more interesting to watch is the 15 minute documentary about the creation of the album, where the main creators (Sascha Paeth, Amanda Somerville, Robert Hunecke-Rizzo and Miro) are talking at great length about the album, and you see quite a few familiar faces popping by in their studio as well.
The third feature is the option to watch the story of Aina as a moving storyboard with scrolling text, while either the instrumental or narrated version plays.
Had this been a normal DVD, by a major label, that would have been it. However, Transmission decided to fill the DVD to its max capacity all material that was available - some a bit superflous, some very welcome.
It is possible to watch all artwork, sketches and photos as several slideshows. However, since all these pictures are also in the booklet, it isn't all that interesting. However, for me the real treat comes in the 'lyrics' section, where you have the option of playing all songs from the CD, plus the bonus CD, while the lyrics roll over your screen. And what is even better - all this music is presented in a 5.1 surround mix! The sound is very well balanced over the five speakers, with the power of the drums and the bass mixed to the front, and the higher tones with reverb in the rear speakers - a great feature. Many bands are currently re-releasing albums in DVD audio or Super Audio CD (Porcupine Tree, Yes, Pink Floyd etc), here the 5.1 mix is just an added bonus!
It is a pity that you cannot play all songs in one go (you have to select them one by one), in my opinion that is a missed opportunity.
Another treat is that in this 'lyrics' section you can also find the original opening of the metal opera: Aethän (Beginnings). This track is mentioned in the CD booklet and even the lyrics are there, but it is omitted from the final album. Lyrically it isn't overly exciting, as it is more of Sebastian Thomson narrating the start of the story, but musically this is quite interesting, and it ties in nicely with the Aina Overture.
In conclusion I must say that I am very impressed with this album. Great musicianship, lots of variation, a perfect mix between heavy, mellow, melodic and power songs. A truly stunning package with a great bonus CD and DVD, all for a very reasonable price. What more can you wish for?
The story in the booklet ends with the words "to be continued" and the website mentions live shows to be announced soon. I can't wait!
If you like albums like Nostradamus, Leonardo, Avantasia or the Ayreon projects, then you can buy this CD without listening to it. It really is a voyage of discovery for the listener, with lots of idyllic sphere, Irish ascendancies, bombastic musical arrangements and rather allusive music images. It is metal, - just listen to the heavy guitar riffs- , it is symphonic and progressive, - just marvel about the musical bravado -, and it is an opera; simply because of the rather classical choirs and the romantic story. The creators (Sascha Paeth, Robert Hunecke-Rizzo, Amanda Somerville and Miro) of this album even invented a new “Aina” language. This of course reminds me instantly of J.R.R. Tolkien, who also “came up” with new languages in his fantastic novels “The Lord Of The Rings” or “The Silmarillion”.. The list of musicians is also very impressive: Glenn Hughes, Damian Wilson, Michael Kiske, Tobias Sammet, Olaf Hayer, Andre Matos, Sass Jordan, Marko Hietala, Simone Simons, Derek Sherinian, Jens Johansson, Erik Norlander and Thomas Youngblood … need I say more!
The most impressive vocal parts are those of Glenn Hughes and Michael Kiske; which makes you wonder why Helloweeen let this guy walk away…. The instrumental overture gives you an idea of the rest of the song material on this album; heavy guitar riffs are mixed with keyboard parts, strings and some rather “crispy” melodies. For the lovers of the harder tracks I could recommend Flight Of Torek (an almost sound-a-like Rhapsody song with brilliant singing by Glenn and Tobias), Rebellion and Oriana’s Wrath; a symphonic metal song with all the necessary musical ingredients. If you like power ballads then check out Silver Maiden, The Beast Within (the single with a catchy refrain), Rape Of Oria (a dramatic piano ballad) or Lalae Amer, a mystic song with lots of Celtic influences and enchanting opera voices.
My favourite tracks are: Revelations (Damian Wilson on vocals stealing the show there), The Siege Of Aina (very symphonic, opera-like choirs and an amazing Glenn) and Talon’s Last Hope (with a smashing guitar solo from Sascha at the beginning and a dramatic vocalist duel between Hughes and Matos). This album ends with a mysterious, dark song where opera singing by Simone (Epica) is mixed with heavy guitar chords and melodies.
All in all, this is a superb album, and if you listen to it a lot you will find endless enjoyment. Try to get hold of the limited version, because then you get a bonus-cd with alternate and instrumental versions of Aina songs and a DVD with lots of goodies.
And again a metal opera on which a large number of well established guest musician appear, has seen the light. You could think that making an album in such a manor might become a bit old. But as Arjen Lucassen, Erik Norlander and others have shown bringing in extra quality delivers extra quality. And that is certainly true for this Aina album. The music is credited to Robert Hunecke-Rizzo, Amanda Somerville, Miro and producer Sascha Paeth but a large number of people have played their part: Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath), Candice Night (Blackmore's Night), Tobias Sammet (Edguy), Marko Hietala (Nightwish), Michael Kiske (ex Helloween), Andre Matos (Angra), Jens Johansson (Stratovarius), Thomas Rettke (ex-Heaven's Gate), Olaf Hayer (Luca Turilli), Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold), Simone Simons (Epica), Emppu Vuorinen (Nightwish), Thomas Youngblood (Kamelot), T.M. Stevens (Steve Vai), Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater) and Erik Norlander.
Most of the people in this group are on the "slicker" side of metal and although I can enjoy Nightwish and some Stratovarius it is not the music I listen to a lot. I must confess I am a bit allergic to the long haired, tight trousered "metal" folks. So I had some prejudice when I started listening this album. The first few listens I found a lot of evidence supporting my prejudice. It was all speedy guitars with accompanying bass guitar and bass drums on the same rhythm scheme . I did like some of the ballads. Luckily I got to see past that negative view so I can give this album all the credit it deserves. I suspect, though, that others do not need that many spins to learn to like this album.
Aina Overture is a good start of this album, it is very progressive in nature and after a while the speedy metal guitars take over. This, however, is not a bad thing., I like this start. Revelations is the first track that Damian Wilson sings and (as always) I like his voice a lot, in my opinion he should not sing anything other then "metal" it is as if his voice was designed for this kind of music. I did not recognize Micheal Kiske known from Helloween but his voice is really a revelation. Silver Maiden is a ballad that has some new age influences, at first it might seem a bit to sweet but I learned to appreciate it after a while, it can easily be used as a soundtrack to a movie situated in Ireland. I could not make out the lyrics sung by Kiske on this track after reading the lyrics this is understandable: it is not in English but in the language made up just for this album! Flight of Torek is a speedy, energy packed track. A nice touch are the "backing violins", nice guitar solos, splendid track. Naschtok is Born is a more traditional metal song, it has the most obvious reference to Iron Maiden, it might be a slice more bombastic.
The Beast Within is more progressive in nature, it has more tempo changes, although I have already stated that all compositions are created by the same group, this track sounds influenced by almost every musician working on this album. The Siege of Aina is the track that has the most impact, story wise. A number of different characters play a role in this track, the different voices all are well accompanied by their subsequent music. Must say Candice Night has an excellent voice. Talon's Last Hope is also a real "storytelling" track, at first I did not know what to think of the story brought forward in this album but these two tracks made me understand it better. Glenn Hughes and Andre Matos voices make the story very vivid. Rape of Oria has a very sad atmosphere, it is also sad that it is such a short track, I think I really like Candice Night's voice.
Son of Sorvahr is another more up tempo track, the choir yelling out Syrius, very nice. Serendipity starts of with some sounds of a market(?) and again Micheal Kiske's voice is impressive. Next to that there even is children's choir in this track Lalae Amêr is a mostly instrumental track, Candice Night recites a number of lines in this strange language. Rebellion of course is an more up tempo track, Emppu Vuorinen has a very nice solo that Erik Norlander takes over with his keyboards, it is one of the tracks that I can't listen to sitting still. Oriana's Wrath has a very brave and heroic atmosphere, the music conveys the meaning of the lyrics, a guitar solo near the end. Restoration, the last track, it reflects the music in Revelation. Simone Simmonds is credited for this track, I find it pity her voice can only be heard in this track.
The Bonus audio disc contains some nice extra's: a kind of abbreviated instrumental version of the complete story of aina. It has recognizable parts of Disc 1 but next to that it also has very good pieces of orchestra. This track alone is reason enough to buy the limited edition! Another track worth mentioning is Ve Toura Sol [Rape Of Oria], not in English, but in the "Aina language". The single edits also are nice, wonder if we will be hearing any of them on the radio.
The video clip on the DVD is an animated version of the Aina story. Very informative is the "Making of Aina". It is a very complete movie of how this album came to be, not some short shots in the studio accompanied by the album music. Another reason to buy the limited edition. The story of Aina comes in useful if you would like to understand the story of this Rock Opera better.
Although a large number of people have cooperated on this album - some only play one track. Next to the founders of this project Micheal Kiske plays a very important and impressive role. Without disrespecting the other contributors, I find his really amazing. I know some Helloween albums but wouldn't have recognized Kiske from this album.
So this is another album from Transmission, showing that they are moving up in the world of prog metal. A very nice box with 2 extra's - a DVD and a bonus CD. And as with all Transmission records I have reviewed so far, CD-text is included on the CD. On my CD player that means the titles of the tracks are shown. Keep up the high quality standard people! Because of this album I made some last minute changes to my 2003 album top 10. Unfortunately this meant that Pig Farm On The Moon fell over the edge. But I just had to include this album, it gave me a lot of pleasure preparing for this review.
Concept albums seem to be in vogue at the moment, especially amongst the progressive metal community. In particular, the last few years has seen the rise of the all-star prog extravaganza. Up until now the prime movers have been Arjen Anthony Lucassen with his Ayreon and Star One projects, and Trent Gardner, mastermind behind the Leonardo concept album and the Explorer’s Club outings. Now however comes a real threat to this monopoly with the release of Aina's Days Of Rising Doom.
There are four prime movers behind this ‘Metal Opera’; two of these (producer and arranger Sascha Paeth and keyboardist/ orchestral director Miro) will be known to most power metal fans, having worked with many leading lights in the genre, such as Kamelot and Rhapsody (and its fair to say fans of these bands will find much to their liking here), whilst the other two (Robert Hunecke Rizzo, who handles the majority of the guitar, bass and drum playing duties, and Amanda Somerville, responsible for the story and the lyrics) should soon become as famous if there’s any justice, given to the sheer quality of the material on this album.
The fantasy-based story is hardly a new one, and has more than a wiff of 'Lord Of The Rings' about it in its tale of a once peaceful kingdom under siege by evil forces, but it’s a tale well told, and lends itself perfectly to the bombastic, overblown nature of the musical content (this is a complement not a criticism, by the way!).
Musically, in broad terms, the majority of the disc could be termed a mixture of power, symphonic and progressive metal, with the emphasis probably on the former. Don’t expect a set of one-paced, one-dimensional tracks though – from the dramatic, string-laden opener Revelations, through the satisfyingly dark crunch of Naschtok Is Born; the full-tilt Iron Maiden-esque Flight Of Torek and the more light-hearted hard rock of Son of Sorvahr, these are examples of the genre at its very best. Moreover, the metal onslaught is tempered by some fine balladry (the syrupy but strangely affecting Silver Maiden, the dark, melancholic Rape Of Oria and the folk-tinged Serendipity), the almost Clannad-esque Lalae Amer, and the full-on, operatic bombast of The Siege Of Aina (a mini-epic in itself). Throughout, Miro and Paeth orchestrate proceedings expertly, giving the album real depth and flow, whilst additional ingredients such as the Trinity’s Boy Choir (singing in the invented language of the Ainan’s!) add the icing to the cake.
To voice the various characters in the story, the main protagonists have bought together a selection of some of the finest voices in rock. Whilst many come from the power metal world (such as Tobias Sammet (Edguy), ex-Angra man Andre Matos and Thomas Rettke of Heaven’s Gate), the net is cast wider for some more surprising choices – not least Glenn Hughes, the legendary ex-Deep Purple vocalist. Hughes puts in a typically fine performance, although anyone wishing to hear him sing power metal may be disappointed as the music seems to take on a more soulful, hard rock feel when he takes to the mic. Perhaps the best (and most surprising) performance comes from Michael Kiske, famous of course for being Helloween’s singer in their heyday – his performance on Serendipity is one of the highlights here, as is Candice Night’s fine portrayal of Oria. The only disappointment is Damian Wilson’s brief cameo – not that it’s bad, merely too short (just a few lines in Revelations)!
The only real criticism I have of the album is that I felt it ran out of steam towards the end a little – cutting the album down to within an hour may have sharpened its impact. That being said, the slow-burning last track Restoration is effective, and nicely ties together the musical loose-ends. The album also perhaps lacks a killer cut that really stands above the rest, but seeing as the level of consistency is so high this barely seems to matter.
In addition to the main album, there is a bonus CD and (the almost obligatory) accompanying DVD. The former includes the orchestrated piece The Story Of Aina (in instrumental and narrated versions – I prefer the former, as I found the narrator’s Disney-esque style really got on my nerves after a while!), plus some single and alternative versions of the album tracks – I could live without the former, but the version of Silver Maiden, with Amanda Somerville on vocals, improves on the one on the main CD, in my opinion.
The main attraction on the DVD is a documentary on the making of the album – many bands now include this feature of course, but this is a superior effort that successfully manages to convey the feeling both that all the main protagonists are passionate about this project, and that everyone had a ball making the album.
Overall then, an excellent effort that all involved can be proud of. Power and prog metal fans in particular will want to have this, but the wide range of styles covered means that it can be recommended to a wider audience – particularly if you like your music as bombastic as possible!