SAEKO – Holy Are We Alone (Album Review)

You know how they say “Never judge a book by its cover”? Well, this is a perfect fit for Saeko’s “Holy Are We Alone”. My first impression upon looking at the incredibly cheesy cover of this album was: “This looks like a Japanese Action B-movie” But when I finished my first listen of it, I thought: “Holy shit, this is actually pretty amazing”. “Holy Are We Alone” is the 3rd full-length album (and the 1st in 15 years)  by Japanese metal queen Saeko Kitamae. And she is now joined by an ensemble of amazing musicians from bands like Rhapsody of Fire, Primal Fear and Trick or Treat, to give us a thoroughly enjoyable and very well produced Heavy/Power metal experience. This album is basically 8 full-length tracks plus 1 intro and 1 outro, and it truly goes by on a whim, especially if you enjoy it as I did. The main “gimmick” of this album, is that each one of the main tracks is attached to a country or region, thus getting some sort of musical influence from that region for that specific song. It is a fun concept that works totally fine for the most part, without forcing itself into the songs.

The album opens with “Circle of Life”, a short narrated intro with some nice cinematic music in the background. Nothing too spectacular, but its successes at creating a mood for what’s to come. The first real full song of the album is “Japan – In my Dream”. Basically this song rules. It is a classic Heavy/Power song with a very evident Japanese influence in the ways of instrumentation, folkloric melodies and Japanese language-sung verses. This is a catchy song that feels fresh and that makes one thing evident from the very beginning of the album: Saeko Kitamae is an amazing vocalist. She has an incredible range and exceptional control of her voice. “Syria – Music my Love” is next, and you can tell how the band had a lot of fun experimenting with the international folk music concept as soon as it begins. This one is a faster song with amazing riffs and a very earwormy chorus that totally nails the eastern feeling without letting it take over. “UK – Never Say Never” is next, and it starts with some folky sounding tunes and a happier verse and chorus. This song has different pacing to most Power Metal songs, and it makes it a relatively new listening experience, but it is not among my favourites in the album (I did enjoy the folky/pirate sing-along passages though). Next is “Germany – Rebellion Mission”, the longer epic track of the album. With a more neoclassical European approach courtesy of some tight AF guitar work, impressive solo sections, very nice piano backgrounds, and an excellent operatic vocal delivery from Saeko. This track has strong Therion vibes in my opinion, and while it might divide opinions due to its over-the-top nature, I enjoyed it from start to finish.

“India  – Farewell to You pt.1” is next. A more atmospheric song with soaring vocals and Vedic-like singing with some Lacuna Coil vibes to it. I love the sitar passages and the way the drums drive the song seamlessly from start to finish. My favourite track in the album “Brazil – Splinters of the Sun” comes next. This song is a masterclass on Prog-Power metal writing. Everything is perfectly done here. From the endless melody hooks to the breakneck riffing, to a chorus that will have you singing all evening. Only thing is that, other than a clear Angra influence and a 7 seconds-long tribal drum background, I couldn’t really find the Brazilian music influence here. I would have loved a cheeky Samba or Bossa Nova section, but who cares, this song absolutely kicks ass. “Hawaii – Farewell to You pt.2” is next, and this is the weakest track in the album in my opinion. The truth is I have never been big on metal ballads (with very few exceptions). I have always found them overly cheesy and unnecessarily melodramatic. This song also marks one of the very few problems I found with this album: The narrated bits. I was not a fan of them at all. Power metal is already made fun of for being so cheesy and these narrated bits definitely feel that way. “Holy Are We Alone” has a penchant for sometimes including narrated bits in the middle of songs and I feel that they take away some of the momentum in the songs and make them less serious in general. The album’s last real song is “Russia – Heroes”, a Helloween-esque Power Metal song that manages to finish the musical journey on a very high note. It is fast, precise, with amazing vocals and excellent keyboard fills. One of the strongest tracks in the album definitely. “Holy Are We Alone” closes with an outro of the same name. It feels very similar to the album intro, which I guess adds to a feeling of “wrapping up the journey”, but I felt it a bit unnecessary to be honest. Especially considering how strongly the previous song finishes.

Overall, this is a very good album. Top-notch musicianship and strong compositions make this one a must-have for any Power Metal fans out there. This is one of the most enjoyable albums I have listened to all year, and although I could do without the narrations, I was able to look past them and enjoy the songs from start to finish. Saeko Kitamae is a genuinely talented singer and she shows it every time she is able to in this album. I love her versatility and ability to navigate from one vocal style to another in no time. I’m definitely keen to check what is next for Saeko in the future.

Album highlights: Japan  – In My Dream, Syria – Music My Love, Brazil – Splinters of the sun, Russia – Heroes

For fans of Helloween, Doro, Mob Rules, Gamma Ray

SAEKO: Facebook

Release Year: 2021
Label: Pride & Joy Music
Category: Album
Country: Germany/Japan

Reviewed by Roman Ibarra