Label: Napalm Records

Author: Kira L. Schlechter

AD INFINITUM album01. Reinvented
02. Unstoppable
03. Inferno
04. Your Enemy
05. Afterlife (feat. Nils Molin)
06. Breathe
07. Animals
08. Into The Night
09. Son Of Wallachia
10. My Justice, Your Pain
11. Haunted
12. Lullaby

Symphonic/power metal tackles a wide variety of subject matter — Sabaton does war, Leaves’ Eyes does Vikings, etc. But the Swiss symphonic metal band AD INFINITUM has found a niche within a niche all its own — concept albums about historical figures. 

Chapter II: Legacy is the follow-up to last year’s Chapter I: Monarchy”, the second album in as many years for singer Melissa Bonny, guitarist Adrian Thessenvitz, bassist Korbinian Benedict, and drummer Niklas Muller. Where the first album was about Louis XIV, the lyrics and storyline of this one are inspired by Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Dracula, a controversial figure throughout history. The label bio notes the duality of his persona: was he ‘a hero protecting his land against the Ottoman Empire’ or ‘a violent and heartless monster’ or ‘the father of all vampires?’ Indeed his cruelty is well documented, but it’s also acknowledged to perhaps be exaggerated and perhaps it may have been somewhat necessary to secure order in a fractious country. Many historians see him as a reformer and a fair ruler and he is a national hero in Romania.  

A tripping, delicate groove, but with heft and weightiness underneath, starts Reinventedand it becomes the hallmark of the chorus too. Melissa has a sweet, rich voice and pleasant tone, but her vocal style stays pretty static throughout the album, with not a whole lot of variation — there are definitely points where you wish her voice would match the action a bit more. This is an interesting way to get that theme of duality under way right off the bat (pun not intended) in the first verse — is Vlad a “Long fallen angelbegging for the pardon divine” or is he “dream(ing) of the voice of the demons / Endlessly calling your name”… Do you see their smile shining through the flames” (that is, of hell)? The second is kind of giving him the benefit of the doubt, with “Heroes among the stars / Tears of our angels fall from the skies” (or perhaps this is remembering his people who suffered under Ottoman rule) and looking toward a more understanding future (“Redemption through blood and cries / Love will prevail at the end of times”). In both pre-choruses, done in a harsh vocal, he almost is talking to himself: “May the scars heal as time passes by / May your sins and your wars be forgiven” and later “And you pray for your peace to return (that is, the peace of death, perhaps) / But the anger is inside and burns”. The chorus seems to be alternately observing him (“I play the game, heads are falling / I’m on the edge of sanity”) and then warning him (“Don’t you forget, the world is changing / All you know will be reinvented”), perhaps that refers also to his story being reinvented as well.

Unstoppable is set to a dramatic, lovely melody with guitar and strings ; Melissa’s voice spirals to the heavens in the pre-chorus as the harsh vocal again acts as Vlad’s voice. He is “The broken one”, defeated repeatedly, but determined to protect his homeland. The references to “I came back to life” in the chorus might mean all the times he was deposed but fought back for his throne (“I fought through the tormentsMy dominion awaits”, that is, for me to save it). The line “The flames of hell will have to wait” acknowledges his foul deeds and that he will be judged for them, but that he has work to do first. This track humanizes him in many ways, it seems (“My sorrows, killed and buried, now I harmonise with the stars / I glow in my darkness, not afraid to shine anymore”), makes him seem vulnerable (“I sentence my fears to die”).

Inferno”, interestingly enough, is a midtempo ballad, an intriguing treatment of an idea that, on the other hand from Unstoppable”, is pure condemnation. You’re a mean one, Mr. Vlad (“I hear the echoes of the screaming minds you tortured and left behind / Do you see the scars you’re drawing in their skin?”) and eventually you’ll get yours (“Keep on hurting / Eventually the fire will turn around / Your ambitions and your dirty lies will all burn to the ground”) and be forever tormented (“Can you sleep at night surrounded by the ghosts / Of those you sent underground?”). The chorus is a scathing taunt — “How do you keep your head high?How can you stand the presence of the devil’s eyes? / Always dreaming of greatness but you’re just a simple man” — and you’re doomed (“Forsaken by the angels”).

In contrast, Your Enemy is set to a throbbing low-end bounce with plenty of vibey bass and well-modulated double kicks ; the idea carries into the post-bridge solo as well. The perspective here could be several things: some third-party observer of Vlad (“You built your empire out of darkness / And where you see power, I see loneliness”), or an internal dialogue between good Vlad and bad Vlad, if you will (“I’m dancing in the twilight with all your demons” and the whole chorus: “…I will give my life to fight the monster in you / I always knew / I wanna be your enemy / I don’t care to die if it’s my legacy to set us free”). The sections of harsh vocal, like in the chorus and bridge, seem to definitely be from Vlad’s post-prison perspective (“Fear me / I am free / Free from all the torment that you thought you could unleash on me”).

Buzzy guitar and spooky keyboards in a 6/8 lilt are the perfect soundtrack to Afterlife (with golden-throated Nils Molin of Amaranthe and Dynazty) — his sinewy, potent tenor melds wonderfully with Melissa’s soaring higher register. Here is Vlad facing divine judgment from an observer’s point of view, one who notes: “As all men, you will die / Will we celebrate your triumphs or despise your crimes?” — and his fear is palpable (“One last try to save / Your name for your final day / A redemption divine” and later, before the last chorus: “Oh doomed and petrified / The face of fear and doubts / You see the angels fade away / So one last try / You look at the sky and you pray”). It’s the second single, because it’s truly a fantastic track — it’s the album’s theme in a nutshell and the chorus is glorious, especially as it drops into a chilling multi-layered minor note on the word ‘tonight’. The last line “See the flames coming your way and ablaze the sky tonight” (the flames of heaven or hell, which is it?) is left to echo in your brain as it just ends in silence.

Breathe”, the second piano ballad, pizzicato with touches of harpsichord-esque keyboards, is a good follow-up in a way to Afterlifethematically — it’s Vlad suffocating under the weight of his deeds (“I wanna get awayFrom my yesterday”, that “The night is starting to fall upon me”) and that salvation isn’t happening (“…The power of the stream won’t set me free”). Strings give the subdued bridge tension before it builds up and modulates into the last chorus.

A rolling, pulsing groove sets Animals apart, the drums pushing it along, especially at the end, where they get heavier, almost like a heartbeat. Is this someone who wants to be like Vlad, to get close to him (“I’m not afraid of the monster in you / I heard the stories and I hope they are true”)? Or again, is it his bad side being egged on by his ‘better’ side, or that his ‘better’ side can’t stop him (“I will unleash the rage, the fury / My primitive and my wildest instincts”)? But if this is such a profound inner struggle, with the potential for violence at its core (especially with the harsh vocal in the bridge that rages: “WILD! All my senses awaken, I was buried alive / SCREAM! All the hidden desires, I am reborn tonight”), why is the chorus so, well, jaunty? Melissa’s delicate vocal, too, is at odds with the desperate, uncontrolled lyric (“Hunting for another supper. For another prey / Losing our soul / The love for danger is running through my veins”). It’s catchy and insistent, but its upbeat feel — and the dainty, breathy fadeout — takes a bit of the teeth (again, pun not intended) out of the theme.AD INFINITUM albumInto The Night continues the idea of that internal struggle. Vlad speaks in the harsh vocal (“Eternal battle: what is wrong or right? Am I a sinner for shutting the voice of my conscience down” and the even more vivid lines “You walk those lands with a golden crown / Bathing in tears, you escape from the guilt with a treacherous smile”) ; Melissa is first observer (“How does it feel to fall into your darkness?”) then speaks for him in the chorus (“I will find my way, my fears are gone”). The harsh vocal again serves as Vlad in the bridge, where he’s giving rein to his dark desires (“Surrender to darkness”) and it gets very nicely harsh and detuned and heavy and blast beat-y before the sprightly chorus returns.

Son Of Wallachia (the region of Romania from whence our hero came), boasts an uplifting melody and a rich, relaxed midtempo groove. The solo before the last chorus features a stripped, echoing guitar part and some effective vocal overdubbing. This is deposed Vlad vowing to return (“Homeland awaits I will be back” and “And I hope someday this place will feel the same / So I can call it home again…” and “What’s righteously mine, I will take back”) and his final defiant fist-shaking (“I will fear no man, no pain, no sacrifice / And no storm will drag me down until the day I die…”). The chorus in this, the second of the noteworthy songs here, is as stirring as Afterlife”, but in a quiet, resolved, resolute way (“…I’m feeling like a warrior / On a battlefield without my armor…/…The world I know is on fire”).

A light, almost pop groove percolates throughout My Justice, Your Pain; it’s an irresistible (and maybe incongruous) bop despite what the lyrics vow throughout, especially in the chorus, which makes use of Melissa’s higher register. This is kind of a pivotal song in a way, because Vlad has rather decided to make everyone pay for his imprisonment/deposition, etc. (hence the title) and those who have wronged him are in for it (“Feel my fury as I dance / In the meadows of your pains”, which is a fine bit of metaphor). Melissa is almost monotone, without emotion, as she vows his revenge in the second verse. He speaks again in the harsh vocal sections (“I’ll watch you when you will go down for your crimes / And I sure will smile when you beg for your life”). You almost wish it would be nastier in the second part of the chorus when she sings “They can come now, I’ll make them die”, but when the song ends on that line and the final word ‘die’, stripped down to just her cold, dispassionate voice, it’s definitely effective.AD INFINITUM liveThe gentle lilting sway of the piano intro of Haunted is also the basis for the riff melody. Niklas’ drumming is especially fine here, especially in the chorus and in the break after the first runthrough of it. So this is again observational (“Destiny, tragically, was chosen for you / The call of your duty that’s ringing like a / Symphony of agony, a nightmare come true”) and it’s also a conversation (“I shall wait, come back by my side”). There’s a reference to a ‘love’ and that’s the other part of the conversation (whether that’s a person or his country/his people, it’s not immediately apparent), one that couldn’t be and is still painful (“Time seems to fly away but the pain never dies”). The harsh vocal bridge could make one tiny allusion to vampirism (“Blood for blood / The answer of it all / The tragedy blinding our kind”, ‘our kind’” maybe being vampires), but it’s not blatant.

The band’s use of orchestration on the final track Lullaby — and throughout the album — is never heavy-handed ; it’s the framework on which the electric instruments rest. It’s a really nice way to close thematically because this is Vlad, “The demon who died”, “Walking through the alleys of my memories” (what a picturesque line) and owning up to what he did (“Leaving a legacy soaking in blood and tears”), rationalizing all the way (“I feel no shame nor pride / The necessary price / Some die so others survive / In the end, kill or be killed is the lesson of life”). The second verse is the whole point of the album, the duality of the character: “Echoes of my name, forever will survive / I’ll never really die / Some will acclaim it while some others will despise”. But what might be the actual true essence of his character, and his story, is the line “Bringing death with the intention of saving a life” — he may have killed brutally and ruthlessly, but it was to save the lives of his people. The detuned and heavy harsh vocal bridge shows him kind of passing the torch to his successors, saying “I carried it all along / The burden / It dragged me down / But I carried on” and adding, if I did it, so can you (“Don’t tell me / You can’t go on / On your own”).

The brevity of Legacy’s tracks, and the album as a whole, is to be praised. It’s a character study only, not passing judgment on whether Vlad was good, but misunderstood and exaggerated, or a completely horrible, vicious creature. It’s a sketch, a pencil drawing lightly filled in. There’s no sensationalism, no gory details, no overabundance of detail — its story, then, becomes universal while still being about a specific person, which is a clever way of handling it — no one person is completely good or completely evil, after all. Wonder who AD INFINITUM will tackle next?