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Partially financed through an online crowd-funding platform, 'Magic Forest' is Amberian Dawn's first release to feature brand new material with new vocalist Capri (following last year's 2013 'Re-Evolution’ where she recorded new vocals to select tracks from the band's back catalogue). It's also their first release since landing a deal with Napalm Records. Falling somewhat short of their monetary target, they managed to record the album regardless and, picked up by Napalm along the way, are now set to send sonic waves through the sympho-metal scene. Why? Well, in short, 'Magic Forest' is a masterclass in how to craft the perfect fusion between symphonic and metal elements, and within the context of some seriously accomplished songwriting.

First, a word about the cover art. It strikes of pure fantasy, although perhaps in a way that might distance the more mature listener. With a fairy surrounded by sparkling (and not too evil-looking) trees, it's the kind of image you'd expect to find in a small child's comic. Don't get me wrong, the artist responsible is obviously adept in his trade although the imagery seems geared towards a certain demographic. I can't help but wonder if they'd have fared better commissioning artwork based around a more Tim Burton-esque aesthetic, as alluded to in some of the new promo shots of the band. I guess the point I'm trying to make is don't judge an album (in its entirety) through the cover. Fantasy is certainly a thematic element within, although doesn't necessarily characterise every song; it's merely a graphical representation of the title track.

Of greater importance, where the cover art might be construed by many as lacking maturity, the actual music on 'Magic Forest' most certainly doesn't. The musicianship is first-rate throughout, verging on virtuosic at times, and brings to life composer/keyboardist Tuomas Seppälä's skilfully composed pieces with a sonically engaging dynamism. This is symphonic metal par excellence, and where all instruments are at one in some richly orchestrated instrumentations. Further, the production/mix of Amberian Dawn's multi-layered sound is incredible and allows each and every song to flourish within its sympho-metal impetus.

And what of Capri's voice on this new material? Well, her vocals are nothing short of stunning throughout. A classically trained singer, she only adorns tracks with a sporadicity of soprano passages; instead, opting to ride (and enhance) each song's emotions in her poppier/rockier delivery. In doing so, the results are a pretty organic performance, loaded with raw, yet controlled, emotion. And with a wide-ranging, expressive voice, she makes it all sound so effortless. She nails it melodically too, with some truly infectious vocal lines, supplementing and beautifying instrumentally inherent melodies. A male operatic voice even crops up at one point, on 'Memorial', courtesy of Markus Nieminen; a little jarring at first, but transpires to be the perfect duet on one of the album's more epic sounding tunes.

At just forty minutes in length, 'Magic Forest' isn't the world's longest album, but not a single second of that playing time is wasted. Featuring ten cuts characterised by compositional ingenuity, high level musicianship, absorbingly wondrous vocals, and a refined production, Amberian Dawn have set the bar ever so high with 'Magic Forest'. Symphonic metal doesn't get much better than this.
Napalm Records
Review by Mark Holmes
7th July 2014
1) Cherish My Memory
2) Dance of Life
3) Magic Forest
4) Agonizing Night
5) Warning
6) Son of Rainbow
7) I'm Still Here
8) Memorial
9) Endless Silence
10) Green-Eyed
"...a masterclass in how to craft the perfect fusion between symphonic and metal elements, and within the context of some seriously accomplished songwriting."