It can be an arduous task navigating a journey to the North West of England and across the Pennines. Tonight, Manchester City (the blue ones) are playing Copenhagen at home in the Champions League and traffic is nose to tail for what seems like an eternity. The journey can be worth it though and when it is to see a band that are rare visitors to the United Kingdom and on the back of one of the best symphonic metal albums of the year – Pirates – which was released in May 2022.
Sadly, the traffic situation means that many miss the opening act and it is Germans Xandria that walk onto the stage to the new faces that are making their way into Manchester’s Rebellion venue. Initially formed as a “project” by guitarist Marco Heubaum in 1994, the project became an actual band in 1999. Since that time, Xandria has gone through numerous line up changes, the latest being vocalist Ambre Vourvahis joining Xandria earlier in 2022. Vourvahis is both a confident and exuberant vocalist who does command the stage for sure but it is the incredible voice that makes hearts skip beats. With seven albums to cull material from, Xandria does dig into the discography but begins with new single You Will Never Be Our God – the smooth melodies and those occasional stabs of aggressive vocals are in perfect contrast. Death To The Holy from 2017’s Theater Of Dimensions rockets along with its hybrid power/symphonic vibe. Another new song Reborn is an extraordinary piece that is multi-directional which takes in light and shade and has a sultry mid-section where Vourvahis opens those vocals but is not short of some stunning guitar work. With songs such as Ravenheart and encore Valentine does get the biggest cheer, another new song Ghosts is one that does not fail to impress and on the back of the three songs aired tonight, it sounds like Xandria has a hot new album due for release next year. Without any supplementary bells and whistles, it allows Xandria to present their music which does shine in front of an adoring crowd.
There can be no argument that the symphonic metal scene is a crowded one which means that it does take something to stand out. There can be no doubt that Austria’s Visions Of Atlantis has pushed to be special but if anything, line up changes have been something of a curse. The last three albums have featured French vocalist Clémentine Delauney which – and with Italian male counterpart Michele Guaitoli featuring on the last two records – Visions Of Atlantis has created serious consistency and started a freight train running. Pirates is an eminently playable album that does the job of casting the listener into a world with vivacious imagery.. Pirates are after all metal and sure enough, the audience gets into the spirit and there tri-corns and bandannas dotted around. The musicians appear to the introduction of Master Of The Hurricane and from the off guitarist Christian Douscha windmills like his life depends on it as Clémentine Delauney wanders onto the stage, face covered by a hood as the tempo drops for the luscious vocal line. With Michele Guaitoli then arriving to take his place on the stage, the scene is set. One element of both Pirates and previous album Wanderers that is evident is the vocal interplay and how well it works which can be difficult to tell on record but live and in person it is one of the highlights of this remarkable show. Whether it be Michele Guaitoli getting down on one knee to hold Delauney’s hand or just the looks and the smiles as they gaze and play out the songs, it is a very well oiled machine and Visions Of Atlantis is having fun and clearly enjoying performing together. The songs are tightly played, the guitarist and bass player Herbert Glos regularly switch sides of the stage and there are moments where they move to the back and allowing the vocalists to be central. Drummer Thomas Caser is a master of the multi-tasker, his high stick raising or twirling is entraining to watch and he keeps constant watch over the remainder of the band and even uses a drum stick to imitate the sound of pipes on In My World.
Unsurprisingly, the set pulls a great chunk from Pirates, not only their most recent release but clearly a popular one considering the amount of the audience that seem to know the songs word for word. With the exception of New Dawn, the remainder of the set does fall into the Delauney-era of Visions Of Atlantis and there are non-Pirate highlights such as The Deep And The Dark where there is a slight technical hitch and Guaitoli jokes that it is only “the dark and the dark at the moment” but they carry off the technical problem with absolute professionalism and never skip a beat. The band introduce everyone from their stage guy to the person selling the merch and then DragonForce guitarist Sam Totman appears on stage although he is slightly reluctant to take part in what is described as “the jump jump song” – a Pirate highlight – Melancholy Angel. The audience does indeed oblige and the floor of The Rebellion has its structure strained. Guaitoli and Delauney are real masters of their craft, the vocals are faultless throughout the evening that simply captivates for the entirety of their set and with the musicians behind them, Visions Of Atlantis is onto a winner of a formula.
With the last four songs of the night taken from Pirates, the band are playing to their strengths and songs that are resonating with their audience and in playing the part – the stage clothes, the barrels with flagons of (what may or may not be) ale; the spy glass and all the talk of ‘coming aboard’ and joining the adventure, Visions Of Atlantis are playing the part which makes the whole occasion great fun.
With Visions Of Atlantis hitting European festival stages this year, they have been visual and running with the momentum of a great album. It may be small venues for the UK for now but on the back of this performance, Visions Of Atlantis deserve stages to really put on the show that they know they can and that their material and the performers can live up to.
Pirates is out now on Napalm Records