Final Answer - Visual maze 3.5/5
2. The ultimate challenge
3. At a loss
4. Vigilant eye
5. Latent revival
6. Voyager in red
7. Gray matter
8. Gate to insanity
9. An unplugged dream
10. Chase your dreams (Version 1)
11. Chase your dreams (Version 2)
I'm not altogether sure whether Final Answer are a real band or not. The bio currently on their Myspace page suggests that this Greek act was organized, constituted and implemented by the label boss of Steel Gallery Records. What's more, 4 songs on this CD are sung by guest vocalists (including a quite famous singer, but we'll get to that) and 4 songs feature guest guitar solos. So the whole thing smacks of a contrived studio project, rather than a real live, flesh'n'blood, bona fide band. Does that matter? Not really, as long as Final Answer are good. And they are.
The organizing principle propelling the songwriting is 80s U.S. power metal a la Omen, Jag Panzer, Savatage, Crimson Glory, Warlord and the like. It's as if a Greek band were formed for the express purpose of capturing the sound worshiped at the Keep It True Festival in Germany year after year. The guitars bite with soul-stirring melodies and killer riffs, maintaining heaviness without brutality and melody without poppiness. The songs ooze pure old-school metal power, with impassioned vocals, triumphant choruses, a throwback feeling, and no accursed keyboards. Final Answer's chief writer, guitarist Theo Liratzakis, has studied the masters well, and it shows in the fine musical ideas found throughout this CD. You want highlights? Try "Vigilant eye", a mid-paced number that bounces along with a nifty theme melody, a lurching main riff, and a chorus guitar line that spews shards of melody over everything. Or check out "Grey matter", which switches between mid-paced Warlord-styled verses with an amazing Spectre-era Fates Warning uptempo chorus and superb guest vocals from Mike Soliz (of Militia and other bands) that successfully channel John Arch-type melodies in a couple of spots. Still not convinced? Give track 10 a spin. If it sounds familiar, it should. It's a brilliant cover of Titan Force's classic "Chase your dreams", featuring no less a luminary than Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin (Jag Panzer/Titan Force) on lead vocals. The "Chase your dreams" cover is worth the price of admission all by itself, as The Tyrant lays waste to all in his path and new life is breathed into this oft-overlooked U.S. chestnut.
Not surprisingly, however, Final Answer don't quite match up to the bands to which they pay homage. It's awfully difficult for the emulators to equal their idols. More fundamentally, there's a reason why there are so many guest vocal performances on 'Visual maze'. I'm not saying Giannis Papadimitriou is a bad singer. He isn't. But his heavy-accented English, limited range, and his tendency to strain past the comfortable limits of his voice really hold the band back sometimes. It's no wonder, then, that the 2 best songs on this CD are sung by guest vocalists (Soliz and Conklin). And it perplexes me to no end why Final Answer would see fit to include 2 versions of "Chase your dreams" on this CD, one with Conklin and the other with Papadimitriou behind the mike. Why in the name of all that is good and decent would any vocalist want to subject himself to a toe-to-toe direct comparison with arguably the greatest singer in the history of U.S. heavy metal? Tyrant smokes Papadimitrou, as he does most heavy metal singers in the Milky Way galaxy, so the latter version of "Chase your dreams" should be skipped every time.
Fans of old-school U.S. power metal can buy 'Visual maze' with confidence. Whatever the motivations and machinations that brought Final Answer into existence, I'm glad they're here. With some more songwriting sessions under his belt (and perhaps a better vocalist to carry them out), Liratzakas could lead Final Answer through fields of valor in a blaze of glory. And that's my final answer.
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