Newly relocated to Minnesota from their home state of Texas, American Female-Fronted Power Metal band Heliosaga just released their debut album ‘Towers in the Distance’. After just listening to two tracks off the album, it goes without saying that this band has what it takes.
Formed in the summer of 2010 by drummer Jordan Ames and guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Damien Villarreal after meeting at a San Antonio Starbucks and discussing “some really terrible demos,” Heliosaga was a full band by the fall and began writing music. Plagued with an “eternal revolving door,” the band played only three shows in their four years as a band. The 2012 arrival of former Desdemon lead singer and Minnesota native, Chelsea Knaack, is credited as giving the band stability. Unfortunately, after the release of their Youtube single ‘Light of Ardor’ both the bassist and second guitarist left the band. A decision was then made in the spring of 2013 for the band to continue on as a trio and produce a full length album.
Summer 2014 saw the release of Heliosaga’s debut album ‘Towers in the Distance’. With support of AFM Records’ Dustin Hardman, an old contact of Knaack’s from her time in Desdemon, the band was able to reach out to the rock and heavy metal media community. Though only a few articles appeared around the world, word is spreading quickly of Heliosaga’s prowess in the power metal style.
Opening with heavy drums, technical guitars, and high fantasy keyboards in the background the album opener ‘A Tower So Tall’ punches hard, especially when Chelsea Knaack enters the arena with her powerful operatic singing voice. Musically the band resembles European power and symphonic metal acts such as Helloween, Blind Guardian, Within Temptation, and Tarja. And it’s no wonder, for each member cites Tarja Turunen’s former band, Nightwish, as having a heavy influence on their lives as musicians.
“Once upon a time I was a little girl and saw the ‘Wish I Had an Angel’ video and when I heard Tarja I made a life choice that I wanted to sing like that. The ironic thing is that metal was my gateway to opera. Well, opera is a rather cutthroat world, so I felt I’ll do symphonic metal which I originally fell in love with,” says Knaack on her resemblance to Tarja and her eventual entrance to the world of heavy metal. “I started drumming and getting into metal with Metallica. Of course after Metallica, Megadeth, and bands like that, I got into Nightwish and Dream Theater,” added Ames before Villarreal interjected with a chuckle. “Helloween is the reason I’m doing this band.”
To the trained ear, all of the band’s influences including others such as Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius and Dream Theater shine brightly in Heliosaga’s music. Regardless to some noticeable similarities that come with the power metal style, the band stands well on its own. Knaack’s voice is as soothing as it is powerful and fits perfectly among the skillfully crafted music of her bandmates giving the band an epic fantasy feel throughout the album. The question that begs to be answered, however, is what style of music does the band fit into?
“I put on our Facebook page European metal played by Americans,” says Villarreal. “Some European metal mixed with symphonic elements, Gothic elements, and all the speedy, power metal elements. I think you can definitely tell it’s played by Americans. It has an American quality to it.”
The American quality Villarreal is referencing is the self-taught, DIY attitude of the band, for while Knaack has been training her voice for over a decade neither of her bandmates are formally trained. As a result, the band gives off a strong, do-it-yourself quality that greatly embodies the American Spirit, especially in their ambitions.
During one of many one-on-one interviews Villarreal declared his dreams to hold an All-Midwest, multi-day heavy metal festival similar to the famed Wacken Open Air Festival held every year in Germany. Other projects the band have been involved in include a music video for their single ‘Light of Ardor’ that was eventually scrapped after a major mishap in post-production. The band has since recorded a video for the album’s debut single ‘To Heal All Wounds’ due out in September and are planning an additional video for the album’s second single ‘Hideaway’. Furthermore, upon securing a stable touring lineup, the band is hoping to hit the Minnesota metal scene full force and eventually come to the Milwaukee area to share the stage with our hometown heavy metal bands such as Conniption, Thrasher, and Black Saints. Though the band says that some people laugh at the idea of a woman fronting a metal band.
“Not a lot of people I talk to outside of the metal world know much about women in metal. They’re like, oh so you scream? And I’m like, no, I sing more operatically. So I do get the confusion and some other people in metal the scene say, oh so you do tinfoil music because I’m a girl,” says Knaack regarding those in the scene who are unwelcoming to a female-fronted metal band. “I’ve always considered myself a Bro-ha. Through high school I had mostly guy friends. I think I unfortunately picked up the guy mentality in the way I talk. So it’s not as hard for me as for some girls. It’s pretty cool.”
“You’re always going to get these kind of people who have their opinions. You brush that stuff off and do what you like. There are always going to be armchair critics. You just have to develop a thick skin,” added Villarreal. “I don’t think everyone is going to like Heliosaga and that doesn’t bother me. We’re making this music for people that will like it.”
Showing a strong determination, Heliosaga is pushing forward with their careers and ambitions. With a new album fresh on the shelves and a music video just around the corner, the band is wasting no time as it attempts to make waves in the Midwest metal scene. With high hopes, they’ll make their way to Milwaukee or even cross the sea into Europe to honor an offer to play a European metal festival next year. Wherever the coming years take them, one thing is for certain. Heliosaga is determined to make a name for themselves in their homeland and abroad.