EP Review: Tommy Vitaly – ‘Forever Lost’

Tommy Vitaly (real name: Tommaso Vitaly) is not a name that is likely to be familiar with most people, but he is actually a musician who has been around since 1999, having first came to the attention of the metal scene with the band Seven Gates (although the band would not release their debut album until 2002). Since then, he has resurfaced a few times, as a solo artist (twice, technically: his project Vitaly is a gothic metal project, but his other project, Tommy Vitaly, is more power/neoclassical metal) and as the guitarist for the European lineup of the band Angels of Babylon (which some people may know for previously containing Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson). He’s not exactly on the same level of prominence as, say, Yngwie Malmsteen, but he’s not a complete unknown either.

Oddly enough, I actually had heard of Tommy Vitaly before this EP had arrived in my inbox, though probably not for the reason most might have. A few years ago, I was involved in the Queensryche fandom (mostly to try to keep track of the whole two versions of Queensryche thing, since there was a huge amount that I flat out wasn’t able to keep up with on my own) and, at one point, I got linked towards a song that Todd La Torre had done with Vitaly (specifically, ‘Hands of Time’, from his 2012 record Hanging Rock). At the time, I hadn’t heard La Torre sing anything at all, so I was naturally very sceptical about him in Queensryche.

Then I heard this song and I was won over. It still ranks as one of my favourite songs that La Torre has sung to date, if you can believe that! However, I never bothered to look further into Vitaly himself beyond that one song: I had a lot of other stuff to focus on and Vitaly’s name ended up being forgotten to me in the grand shuffle of everything else that was going on at the time. It was literally only when this arrived in my inbox that Vitaly’s name came back to my mind…and it took a while before I finally realised why I recognised the name after spending ages going “Why does that name ring a bell?”

Anyway, Forever Lost (the press release says it is an album, but the total run time is about twenty five and a half minutes and comprised of six tracks, which is actually closer to being an EP than a full album, so I’m going to refer to it as an EP for this review)  is part of Vitaly’s solo project (the power/neoclassical metal one, not the gothic metal one) and could be argued as being a gift to fans, since it is a six track EP that includes a acoustic version of a song originally from Vitaly’s Hanging Rock record, a live song and a remixed and remastered song both originally from Vitaly’s 2010 record Just Me and three new tracks (one of which, for some bizarre reason, is an instrumental recreation of ‘Jingle Bells’…erm, pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but, last time I checked, Christmas is not in Apri!). While I’m not approaching this as a fan, I can’t deny that it’s a surprisingly fun little EP that, while probably a poor purchase for anyone who isn’t already a fan of Vitaly’s work and arguably not being a consistent work as a whole (since it’s arguably more a collection of stuff from Vitaly’s solo career than what most would regard as a proper studio album), is a decent listen and a bit of fun if you like neoclassical metal.

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One of the things I will say is that this is a very weird EP to sum up fairly in terms of sound. On the one hand, it clearly falls into the neoclassical power metal genre, but three of the tracks are instrumental (which isn’t out of the ordinary for neoclassical power metal, but does make description of the band’s sound a bit difficult) and one track is a completely acoustic track (which is a bit more uncommon in metal in general, let alone in neoclassical metal), which makes it somewhat difficult to label the record as a neoclassical power metal record. Add in the live track (which feels like it would have been better served as part of a live album or as the closing track rather than placed in the middle of the EP) and the whole record comes across less as a cohesive whole and more as a collection of stuff that never made it onto a previous record. This might not be the case and I can’t say it’s a major problem with me, but it certainly doesn’t come across as a cohesive record to me.

As a side note, I think the tracklist seems a bit weirdly arranged. Now, admittedly, working with a release of six tracks means that it is difficult to get a proper flow going through the record, but I honestly think this tracklist causes more problems for the material than it should do. Starting off with an acoustic introduction on a metal album is not always a bad idea (Metallica did it on Master of Puppets), but I can’t think of a single metal album where opening on a completely acoustic song has worked out well. The problem is that completely acoustic songs generally are very mellow (exceptions do apply, admittedly, but the vast majority of acoustic songs are nowhere near as intense as metal songs), which is good for adding contrast to material surrounding it and, if done well, can add some much needed variety to a record that might otherwise blend together without it, but it’s not great for opening up a metal album with unless the material directly after it is REALLY intense (as in, thrash metal or heavier) and Vitaly doesn’t go anywhere near the level of intensity to have the acoustic version of ‘Forever Lost’ work as an opening track. The live version of ‘Ready to Die’ also feels like it should have been placed elsewhere, as the live recording completely disrupts the rest of the record when it starts because you can tell right away that it’s a different recording session from the rest of the record. It might have actually been better off placed as the closing track on the EP or kept back as a bonus track, because it doesn’t really work with the rest of the record around it at all. Neither is enough to ruin the record, but they really should have been placed better on the EP because they don’t feel like they’ve been placed in the right places on the record to me. The same arguably could be said for ‘Fly High, Touch The Sky’  (I won’t make the Helloween reference, because I think every Helloween fan reading this is doing it for me!), as you can tell it is from a different recording session from the instrumental tracks on the record, but it does at least fit in with the rest of the record and it isn’t that noticeable on a casual listen, so this isn’t a major complaint from me.

Still, if there’s one thing I can say about the songwriting on the record, it’s that it’s genuinely not bad! The instrumentals are interesting and worth a listen to (even ‘Jingle Hell Bells’, the earlier cover of ‘Jingle Bells’) while giving Vitaly a good opportunity to show off his chops on the guitar while the songs are pretty good, with ‘Fly High, Touch The Sky’ in particular being a truly impressive song that I would certainly recommend checking out if you’re a power metal fan at all (and which I think actually sounds better on here than it originally did!). Honestly, I think the worst I can say about the songwriting is that it’s not the best in the genre, and there’s still more than enough quality to the material to make this a bit of a hollow complaint.

The instrumental performances on this record…I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing the hard work of everyone except for Vitaly, but I didn’t notice any of the guest instrumentalists at all on this record. This isn’t to say the band aren’t capable of good performances (the drums across the record are pretty good, with Rhino’s drumming on ‘Fly High, Touch The Sky’ being probably the best drumming I’ve heard from the guy…although I’m not a Manowar fan and don’t usually follow what he does, so this isn’t really a sign of his excellent drumming so much as a sign that I need to pay more attention to him!), but I just genuinely didn’t notice anything from the guest musicians that the main band weren’t already capable of doing themselves. Still, the performances aren’t bad, despite the obvious star being Vitaly on guitars and keyboards (‘Impromptu’ shows the keyboards side very nicely!), so no complaints there.

The vocals are where things get more interesting. It’s pretty clear to me that ex-vocalist Thomas Vikstrom is a pretty talented guy, as his voice does justice to ‘Fly High, Touch The Sky’ due to having a voice that is rather high and clean, but able to hit some VERY impressive high notes when he has to. The rest of the vocals don’t quite impress me as much as Vikstrom’s did, but it’s nice to know that ex-Royal Hunt vocalist Henrik Brockmann is still around (I’d not had a chance to see what he was up to) and Alessio Gori is definitely not a bad vocalist in his own right. I can’t say anyone does a bad job on the vocals, but I would say that Vikstrom does the best on here overall.

The production on here, beyond the different session complaints I mentioned earlier, is actually pretty great! I think my only complaint is that the EP could have done with a TINY increase in the mastering volume to give it a little bit more of a kick to it. Beyond that, however, it’s a case of excellent mixing (even the bass seems more present than I usually hear!), great quality instrument sound and a generally great sound to the record itself that enhances the music without sacrificing anything about it to do so. Everyone involved in the production for this record deserves a lot of praise, because they did a great job!

Ultimately, there’s more than a few problems with Forever Lost that make it difficult to recommend to those not already on board with Tommy Vitaly as a musician, but it’s not a bad record in its own right: the songs are enjoyable, the technical skill on display is undeniable and the production is worthy of some praise overall. I would say that this is worth picking up if you’re already a fan of Vitaly’s work, but non-fans might want to start elsewhere, since this is going to be more rewarding to already established fans than to complete newcomers.

Forever Lost will be released on the 15th of April by Rock It Up Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.

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