With an unbridled fury that shouts from the speakers, power metal receives a punch in the mouth in the form of The Calling, the first full-length album from Operatika, a New York based band seeking to fuse straightforward metal with more symphonic overtones and neo-classical stylings.
High-level musicianship and riff-heavy songwriting are in full display on this release, highlighted by the lightning-fast fretwork of guitarist Bill Visser and thunderous drumming of Yuri Liakhovitch. The band's musical tour-de-force of warp-speed double-bass kicks and face-melting guitar solos is balanced nicely by the haunting, sustained vocals of singer Slava Popova (who lets her voice sit on top of the music, never trying to compete with it) and keyboardist Anna Dok, who favors texture and substance over any desire for extraneous soloing (letting Visser handle a majority of the pyrotechnics). The band, signed to Scarlet Records in 2006, reigns in current Symphony X member Michael LePond to play bass on the album, thus adding an established name (and more musical heft) to the proceedings.
The Calling kicks off with an intro of strings, orchestral percussion, and choir samples, all jumping out of the speakers in glorious goth-fashion. Seamlessly transitioning into "Gladiator," Visser's stunning speed and accuracy are on full display from the get-go, anchoring a track that is musically part Yngwie Malmsteen/part "Seven Doors Hotel" by Europe. As previously mentioned, Slava's singing is quite subdued, but she does add something dynamically when showing off her higher range, especially towards the climax of the song, uttering the word "gladiator" with increased intensity as bursts of choir explode behind her.
One of the album's highlights, "Tears of the Sun," begins similarly to "Gladiator" with a combination of frenetic soloing and fast staccato picking. Anna's strings and harpsichord provide nice accentuation of melody, but she isn't quite content to stay in the textural background this time, opting to double the guitar in unison lines and even taking a small solo. It's a shame she didn't provide more soloing on this record, as she could be a wonderful "upfront" counterpart to Visser, whose soloing sometimes suffers from sounding repetitive.
On "Dark Horizon," Yuri slows down his feet for the first time, providing a nice, thumping groove that allows the vocals to take center stage because there's not so much distracting the listener away from them. "Ice Queen," with lines such as "you must walk with me, there is so much to me," features one of Slava's more distinct vocal performances. "Secrets of the Past," another standout, will have listeners surely detecting a nod to "Master of Puppets" in the riffage. "The Storm," featuring ethereal vocals but less than a minute in length, simply serves as an introduction to the album's standout title track, a barrage of sweep arpeggios and double bass insanity that changes gears in its middle with a tasteful piano interlude (once again, unsung hero Anna Dok gives this band their dynamics and layers).
Unfortunately, one main issue with The Calling is that there simply aren't enough vocal melodies that stick out as memorable. You'll walk away in awe of the musicianship long before you find yourself humming any of the tunes. Fans of Nightwish and Yngwie Malmsteen will surely enjoy this record; after all, The Calling essentially sounds like a Yngwie record with a female vocalist. There's no denying Slava's talent and range, but as is the case with some of Malmsteen's records, the vocals take a backseat to the guitar wizardry, leading to a feeling of redundancy, where songs sound the same despite the technical prowess on display. Because they have unlimited potential, here's hoping Operatika naturally evolves, no matter what Malmsteen comparisons are thrown at them. With a little more push creatively, they stand as a dangerous force in symphonic power metal.
To anyone who loves neo-classical metal fused with haunting female vocals, don't hesitate in checking out this record!
3. Tears of the Sun
4. Dark Horizon
5. Ice Queen
6. Life Saving Flame
7. No. 3/23 in A Minor
8. Mask In The Mirror
9. Secrets Of The Past
10. The Storm
11. The Calling
12. Last Quest