Epidemia - The elven manuscript: Saga for all times 4.5/5

Reviewed: 1-11-08


1. Prologue
2. Star portal
3. Kings of mountains
4. Nameless god confession
5. Snow saga
6. Threads of destiny
7. Without heart and soul
8. Ocean of the void
9. Fire saga
10. Dragon's island
11. Saga for all times
12. Sunlight
13. To the sky
14. Requiem (bonus track)

Here at Metal CD Ratings, we pride ourselves on bringing our readers in-depth reviews of some of the best heavy metal CDs from around the world. No language is too incomprehensible, and no band is too obscure to warrant coverage in our humble inkstained rag. Frequent site visitors will know that Russian-language titles feature prominently in many of our updates. For this reason, it came as a shock to realize recently that, for all our dedicated coverage of the Russian scene, this site has never published a full review of an Epidemia CD. For those who may not know, Epidemia represent the pinnacle of the Russian melodic power metal sound, in the mold of Nocturnal Rites, Edguy and Stratovarius at their peak, along with perhaps a dash of Sonata Arctica. For my money, Epidemia are at the top of the Russian metal heap (along with traditional metal heroes Aria), with 5 full-length CDs to their name over the last 10 years or so. Like Aria in the classic metal realm, Epidemia cast a long shadow in their homeland, and one would be hard-pressed to name a single Russian newcomer in recent years that does not bear the influence of Epidemia.

A fascinating aspect of Epidemia's discography has been their willingness to venture boldly into the realm of self-proclaimed metal operas from time to time. In 2004, they released the superb 'The elven Manuscript: Opera metal', uniting an all-star roster of Russian singers under the premise of an Avantasia-styled metal opera, with all the lyrics in Russian, of course. The project was such a success that Epidemia have now returned with the 2nd installment of this metal opera, entitled 'The elven Manuscript: Saga for all times'. Once again, the star-studded guest list reads like a who's who of Russian metal singers, including vocalists from bands such as Aria, Arida Vortex, Olvy, Master, Black Obelisk, Boney Nem and others. Stylistically, we're dealing with conceptual, bombastic, bouncy, sometimes symphonic, and sometimes folky melodic power metal of the highest order. The guitar riffs and vocal melodies are exceptional, the production values are superb, and the 10 singers (each performing the role of a different character) add texture and nuance to the recording with their individual styles, which range from classic high-pitched male vocals to operatic female vocals to rough female vocals to growled male vocals. As in Avantasia, a single character (performed by Epidemia's own Max Samosvat) gets the lion's share of the lines, and he turns in a fantastic performance. Honestly, I think Samosvat gets better and better with every successive release, in terms of his control, power, tone and confidence.

The only real drawback to 'Saga for all times' is the fact that its intricate storytelling is all in Russian, leaving foreigners in the dark as to the nuances of exactly what is transpiring at different points on the CD. But I won't lie to you: I never did understand what the hell the Avantasia CDs were about. Who's Regrin anyway, and what's this business of going to the tower? Why are we getting ready for the brimstone? Does it really matter? Ultimately, the story doesn't amount to much on these conceptual metal operas, so if the songs are great, the language barrier is no deterrent at all. And the songs are great here. For rollicking power metal numbers sure to get the adrenalin pounding, "Star portal", "Dragon's island", and "Sunlight" are all top-notch catchy tunes. How about an epic? Try "Saga for all times", a twisting 12-minute roller-coaster ride that Tobias Sammet wishes he could have written.

Some have roundly condemned Epidemia's metal operas as being mere clones of Avantasia. While I understand the criticism, I cannot agree because the quality level here is so high. Let me put it this way: If 'The elven manuscript: Saga for all times' had been released with English-language lyrics as the latest chapter in the Avantasia saga, it would have received top ratings from critics and fans all around the world. Although there are a few lulls on this CD over its 57-minute playing time, when Epidemia are at their best they rival or exceed anything that Avantasia's ever done. I have not heard Herr Sammet's upcoming new Avantasia installment, 'The Scarecrow', but I'd be astonished and thrilled if it is on par with this new 'The elven manuscript' CD. Here's hoping Epidemia continue to juggle their more straightforward "regular" CDs with occasional metal operas. Epidemia work both categories of music exceptionally well, and deserve international acclaim and recognition for being top-flight purveyors of bombastic European metal from the land of Mikhail Gorbachev.




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