VISIONS OF ATLANTIS – PIRATES
Label: Napalm Records
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
01. Pirates Will Return
02. Melancholy Angel
03. Master The Hurricane
06. Legion Of The Seas
07. Wild Elysium
08. Darkness Inside
09. In My World
11. Heal The Scars
12. I Will Be Gone
At first glance, the latest album by the Austrian band VISIONS OF ATLANTIS seems like one thing. It’s called “Pirates”. The cover art is all cutlasses and stormy skies and billowy blouses. But it’s very much another thing when you get into it. It’s altogether a deeper and more thoughtful album than these visual trappings would lead you to believe – this is no Alestorm. It’s way more internal and self-examining. And that’s a treat.
Singer Clémentine Delauney (possessor of the best side part in the business) is too elegant and reserved to be a bawdy pirate wench, but she gives it a convincing go. Live, at a recent show in Reading, PA, opening for Dragonforce, she was a poised eye amid the masculine tempest – singer Michele Guaitoli, guitarist Christian Douscha, bassist Herbert Glos and drummer Thomas Caser – raging around her. She is the band’s fifth singer and this is her third album with them. It might be a bit long at 12 songs, but each has plenty of highlights within.“Pirates Will Return” serves well as introduction to the journey, both of the story and the album. It doesn’t meander, with distinct parts that reflect the action. A quick tempo and big riffing is the adventure, the ship racing the waves ; the piano/keyboard parts are second thoughts – are we doing the right thing, is this too dangerous? Clémentine is strong and assured, delivering a comment on self-reliance couched in metaphor (“Fate is my own to create… I had to set the sails by myself”) ; her operatic range is the other side of her, the vulnerability and uncertainty. Michele is all braggadocio and swagger, lyrically and vocally – “I’m a good friend to the rain / Alone against the pain”, he brags, “Proud to break the bloody chains”. The chorus is setting the stage (“Come to the land / Where pirates will return”), where we’ll have “Famous names to earn”, where we’ll be truly free. Before the final one, the singers invite us along: “You should leave it all behind / Come and join the free men’s ride”.
“Melancholy Angel”, with its harpsichord-esque keyboards, assertive chords and great melody, is a nice bit for Clémentine to sing, perceptive and self-aware (“An evil intention lies under my skin / And leads me astray / In empty romance I am losing myself”), and she sings it with an appropriately frustrated passion. She’s trying to break the cycle (“Hopeless, I’m drowning / Helpless, I’m trying”), but it’s all here-we-go-again in the chorus, where the lover of the title is now a “Magnetic monster”… “Taking me from grace to sorrows”, where the good times have passed (“Buried are all doves and swallows”). When Michele sings, we realize it’s mutual, or at least he realizes his part in it (“I see in the mirror the void I’ve become / The joys and the horrors keep turning me numb” and “The more that I grieve and the less that I care / The less that I give and the more that I bear”). He delivers those lines despairingly, with sensitivity. The solo section changes keys and gets darker and when they trade off of the “Hopeless” and “Helpless” lines, you feel the struggle between them. The way in which VOA determines who sings what line in a situation like this is purposeful and well thought-out.
For all the symphonic metal-ness of “Master The Hurricane” (the choir as Greek chorus, the orchestration, the big, bold chorus), it’s a nuanced musing on managing despair and losing and regaining confidence, all the while using another series of apt metaphors. Clémentine sings “Forgotten, forsaken” but wants to “Awaken, enlighten”, while the choir urges her to “Go find the way to your creek” (that is, the source of your happiness). She gains her power in the second verse, almost growling, “Braving the fires of hate and embers of scorn… Razing the towns where my pain’s engraved in the walls”, a great series of lines, as the choir assures “Resentment fences will fall”. Michele serves as observer in the prechoruses (“Watching the world come undone / Salvation begins as you pray”) and the chorus poses the existential question “How can I master the hurricane” (the one within), how do I get back to “My cove”, my peaceful place? The bridge is another effective back and forth, where he asks “What is the trigger for all your tears?” and “How can you damage what you hold dear?” ; and she answers, simply, “The answer is fear”. The healing begins with more metaphor: “Walking the meadows of bliss / That hide in my heart / Ashes have covered the fields / And painted all dark”, her voice intimate, fragile with burgeoning hope (“I know I’ll return / One day, to this world I knew”). The final chorus shows she has “Learned to master the hurricane” that “I am the force at the core that never shakes”.
“Clocks” begins with its sing-songy, rhyming (but maddeningly catchy) chorus that might be a bit cliched, but the meat of the verses makes up for that. Clémentine sings of plans “How to rule my world, how to write my story”, notes “I enjoy all I can / For happy times will turn to memories”, remembers, “I’ve been living in in the past / Turned my lonely days into lonely futures” and reminds herself “As the present time is the only one that lasts”. Michele stresses “Braving the clock takes its power away”. When it switches to his perspective, it becomes more external: “Now, we’re living all apart / As pressure on mankind has risen” and he adds “What we can’t control, what we must surrender / All that we have to decide / Is what we should do with the time that’s given us”. When the chorus adds its second part, though, it makes a greater impact: “Stay in the now / Let it go and allow / Fill the empty space with the moment’s grace”.
The dreamy, lullaby-like “Freedom” seems to act as a transition. Its music is hushed, almost like a sea chanty with its gentle, rolling tempo. Our characters are making their escape, first Michele, then Clémentine ; their singing is as restrained as the music, intense but controlled (they are getting away under dead of night, after all). They are “Felons or heroes” joined in their camaraderie (“Hopes of the men who follow their heart / Love of the men whose heart is as wild as the storm”). He urges, “Let us run away” and the slight, longing chorus that follows is Clémentine’s response, asking “Take me under the winds that blow / I know I’ll never be alone / To my freedom, I want to give all that I own”. The second section is perhaps remembering a long-ago voyage – “Breaking the laws / And leading the quest… Wind in the hair and compass in hand”, he sings ; “Battles and sickness / A whole lot we’ve seen”, she counters. It swells just a bit in the second chorus but it never loses that contemplative, almost resigned mood, that being unable to resist the lure of the sea.
The first single, “Legion Of The Seas”, then seems to be logically the next part, all dagger-in-the-teeth and buckling of swashes and hectic drama and atmosphere. It’s a conversation between the daring Pirate (Michele: “Not a day where I won’t listen to my heart… Not a day that I will have end in remorse”) and the measured, assertive Captain (Clémentine, urging the Pirate to “Show the world the fine edge of your blade”). Things are going great, as the chorus says: “We’ve conquered all the waters with our fleet” and the Pirate at last reaches shore. But a soothing seductive Siren (also Clémentine, in a nice turn of voice to suit the character) lures, “It must feel so heavy now / So close your eyes again” and the two intertwine dreamily: “Lost my innocence along the way / All I want: no game, no lies, no pain / I will show you how / To win the hearts of men”. Is our hero doomed? Maybe, as a piano interlude of the two singing together again has her tempting: “Come weary heart, take my hand”. But a barreling back into the chorus might mean he’s shaken off the spell. This is a well-plotted track that might tread familiar ground, but stays remarkably even-handed and cliche-free.
It’s here where those themes of some kind of internal examination are setting in with our character, if you can draw a rough concept around the songs at all.
Set to the hectic, urgent galloping rhythm of the guitars and the orchestration, “Wild Elysium” makes particular use of the vocal contrast between Clémentine and Michele ; she has a cool, measured intensity, while he is more dramatic, more exaggerated, with a honey-sweet high register. This character, as voiced by the two, seems to be at a turning point of sorts in the first verse (“I can feel a rising storm… Waiting for the fall”) and is hoping for some kind of salvation. In the second, they are looking back at what they’ve been through (“Facing wrongs / Standing strong” and “I put an end to the strife / Ode to the glorious day of my life”. The chorus, then, with excellent propulsive drumming by Thomas, is that plea in full cry – “I surrender… I have broken my sword… I ascend or I fall / Find a gate or a wall” (that is, a way through or a barrier) – but I’ll find paradise, whatever it is.
Piano and keyboard start and maintain the melancholy main melody of “Darkness Inside”. The singers exchange verses in this introspective, coming-to-grips track. It’s a resolving to change, as Clémentine sings “I lost my will and my belief / That I could ever live in bliss / Witness the patterns that repeat / Where’s the end to this”. Michele sings later “Rescue the child I have crucified / Saving my heart from its suicide”, that is, I want to pull myself out of this destructive pattern. The redemption comes in the chorus where hope and resolve grow (“I walk away from my mind / The deeper I’m diving / The greater I’m growing / And I will never bleed again” and “Change for the better / Change is forever”). The bridge, then, is knowing you’re on the right track (“Bury the doubts that can paralyze”). The final take on the chorus has the music perfectly matching the action of the lyrics, starting with Clémentine alone on those first lines, building in intensity in the middle, then modulating on the final lines, reflecting the hope and optimism at which our character has at last arrived.
A lovely syncopated whistle melody and delicate plucking strings get the melody of “In My World” started ; it’s then picked up by full orchestra and band. They return to it before the second verse and again before the final chorus in a fine example of songwriting continuity. Clémentine‘s precise diction and warm, rich tone lends an intimate quality to the confessional verses – the first about suffering and making mistakes (“Broken home, had me crumbling” and “Seeking trust, I’ve been lying”) and realizing “All of the things I did, they were so wrong” ; the second about finding ways to deal with it (“Broken hopes aren’t forever” and “I can build my paradise in and out”). Their use of nautical terms throughout as metaphors for emotion, like “Hiding inside when the wind’s about to turn” and “And I’ll leave my inner shore” are surprisingly effective and not heavy-handed.
What’s really cool about “Mercy” is that the band takes that nautical thing and runs with it, setting up a scenario that feels and looks completely literal. Clémentine sings “Sailing across the sea / Some men you know have been plotting / You trust their loyalty / Find out their plans while they’re sleeping” ; Michele snarls “I must punish the crime… Justice I’ll give in due time” ; and they both vow “Doom to the ones who betrayed”. The second verse is similar: “Dreading your cruelty / Standing in line they are trembling / You loathe dishonesty / Silence can feel so dissembling”, Clémentine observes, and Michele adds “But I need my revenge / The wrongs to avenge”. The chorus is all about that revenge: “The hour of judgment is coming / They pray that you follow your mercifulness / The heart of the coward is showing”. The insistent pitter-patter of the drumming adds to the pissed-off feel of the lyrics. BUT, the third verse makes you realize that everything prior has been, again, a metaphor. Michele’s hushed delivery turns this into an internal struggle – “Sailing across the sea / My heart is as deep as the ocean… I must belong to the wise”. And the last chorus shifts entirely in tone – the tempo slows, even the key changes – as we use a whole different set of sea metaphors to describe a change in attitude: “The day that I give in to mercy / I give up the violence that evil adores / The day that my burden is drowning / Over and over the waves kiss the shores” and “The day that I let go of struggle / Horizons will open as far as I see… Over and over the winds keep returning to me”. This is extremely well done.
“Heal The Scars” is a lovely but fairly standard broken-heart ballad, made poignant by the restrained arrangement (the piano, the pizzicato strings, the aching pipes in the solo section) and Clémentine’s admirable taste. She keeps it full of feeling and even a bit desperate (“Sometimes love’s all over me / Sometimes love just leaves me / Sometimes love can feel so cruel”) without going completely over the top. Each go-round of the sweeping chorus gets a touch bigger but never gets out of control. Does it advance any of the themes here? Not really. But that’s okay.
“I Will Be Gone” makes for a perfect ending in many ways. Full of whistles and pipes and a stately, treading groove, it appears to be entirely literal throughout. This is our hero, voiced by Clémentine, in a “Cold cell, ending the course of my journey” and knowing his time is nigh but “I don’t worry / Victory’s mine, I’m not sorry / For all the battles I won”. Michele sounds almost hollow as he adds: “Cherishing all I’ve become / Guilt and remorse I feel none”. The chorus is wonderful in sound and feel, both lyrically and musically, as our character knows that “When the sun will rise / They promised / I will be dead”. Verse two has him reminiscing about his freedom on the sea, his anger at being “Captured for crimes that are hollow” and vowing “I’ll make them bite the dust too”. Michele’s comment changes here to “Shame and remorse, they feel none”. The second chorus, though, has the tiniest, blink-and-you-miss-it of plot twists – at the end it’s instead: “And before the dawn / I promise / I will be gone”. So did he escape? The bridge hints at that, as the two sing tauntingly “Take me one more time and try to tame my nature… Take me one more time and taste another failure / No calm water ever / Made so good a sailor” (as if to say he thrives on chaos and danger). In the final chorus, he again reminds: “And before the dawn / I promise / I will be gone”. But we never know, and that ambiguity is the final clever touch on a most clever album.