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Even though it emerged quite unexpectedly out of the depths of central Finland (the rock & roll capital of the world in the early 2000s?), Excalion's Primal Exhale was a pretty accomplished first album; flawed only inasmuch as the young band's arrangements were so damn ambitious and complex for a bunch of rookies. So it is that their second CD, 2007's H2O-obsessed Waterlines, shows notable growth in terms of polishing those rough edges to a bright, sparkling gloss in a bid to emulate their compatriot heroes (Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, etc.). Defining new songs like "The Wingman," "Life on Fire" and "Arriving as the Dark" are sculpted little gems of majestic, melodic Euro-metal, and, with the exception of the more indulgent (but still damn fine) closing epic "Soaking Ground," the debut's regular bouts of showboating instrumental excess are now largely curbed for the benefit of each song's optimal delivery. As the band's chief songwriter and orchestrator, keyboardist Jarmo Myllyvirta spearheads this transition, only replicating the keyboard pyrotechnics so prevalent on the previous album on a few new songs (notably "Streams of Madness"); while his new six-string foil, Vesa Nupponen, quickly proves himself a team player, never begging for the spotlight despite being clearly gifted, based on his many solo runs. First album buyers will also note that semi-power ballads are on the rise ("Losing Time," "I Failed You," "Delta Sunrise") while out-and-out power metal juggernauts like "Ivory Tower" and "Between the Lines" are on the decline, which ultimately brings to light that the only thing that Waterlines lacks is a little more reckless passion -- rock & roll's innate dynamic explosiveness and unpredictability which Excalion's tightly regimented discipline unfortunately keeps a bit too much in check. But, having now proved their songwriting maturity, it's perfectly logical that the band may come up with the best of both worlds for their third album.

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