(Sensory Records 2008)Xystus - Equilibrio

There are two words that stand out like an anorexic at a pie-eating contest on the cover of "Equilibrio." Rock opera. Rock. Opera. Oh boy. Dutch power metal act Xystus, along with their countrymen in the USConcert Orchestra, put on a full-blown, fantasy epic stage production, of which "Equilibrio" was recorded from. I'm sure this seemed like a good idea at the time.

The album begins with the production's overture, a willowy string arrangement reminiscent of the Silence of the Lambs theme that quickly morphs into what will become the template for the rest of the album: a triumphant whirlwind of horns, strings, wind instruments, drums, and guitars. But then Act I proper begins, the vocals kick in, and things start to slide downhill.

As far as voice quality is concerned, the singers all acquit themselves well. Simone Simons, playing Lady Sophia, puts in a particularly striking performance, and the rest of the cast's soaring vocal work complement each other nicely. That's not the problem. The problem is the hilariously goofy lyrics the cast is saddled with singing. They're so stilted and overblown past the point of typical fantasy claptrap that they actually become a distraction.

The music that accompanies the cheesy storyline, a word I use incredibly loosely, is suitably ambitious but terribly unimaginative. Props to the orchestra for playing the hell out of music that could have been written for any third-rate swords and sandals movie. And for a rock opera, the rock isn't incorporated very well into the orchestration; it's mostly background noise, only occasionally peeking through for a guitar riff or solo. For similar but infinitely better orchestral experiences, albeit without the "rock" pretense, try The Lord of the Rings, The Fountain, or the underappreciated Conan the Barbarian soundtracks instead. Xystus chose to take on a very large and demanding project, and put forth a valiant effort. But sometimes you slay the dragon, and sometimes the dragon slays you.


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