[Symphonic Metal] Dark Sarah – Behind the Black Veil (85%)

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Heidi Parviainen (ex-Amberian Dawn) just released her first solo album “Behind the Black Veil” earlier this week. I always liked Heidi’s vocal performance but Amberian Dawn failed to impress me as other Finnish Symphonic Metal band.

I purchased the digital copy of the album on iTunes and gave it my “commuting test”. My thoughts? It is an awesome piece of symphonic metal, almost designed as a soundtrack of a theatrical performance. To give you an idea about what does it mean, you have to get back to Rhapsody of Fire’s “Frozen Tears of Angels” and “From Chaos to Eternity” that have this “Tolkienesque” epic storytelling with the powerful riffs of Power Metal.

For this review I will base it from Dark Sarah’s story and discuss about the tracks accompanying them in italics. The story plot is very important to fully enjoy the acoustic experience.

Dark Sarah´s- debut album “Behind the Black Veil” tells the story of Sarah, a nice young woman, who faces one of the biggest crises in her life when her husband leaves her at the altar and leaves with another woman straight from church. Sarah thinks she’s going to die and after spending some time at home alone, watching the rain outside, she collapses on the floor. After a while there is only silence, only darkness, until she rises, trembling. Scattered mascara has formed the character of Horus around her eye. 

With glassy eyes, she writes a letter: 

“I used to look at the world with blue eyes, I used to love with an open heart but I was naive, the world needed to show that to me. I got angry for my weakness and angry with the world. In the darkest swirls of my mind I got stronger and meaner and started to change. I worked with my fear and I became DARK SARAH. I’m not bitter; I’m just bittersweet. ” and she signs the letter.

Because of the trauma she has faced, another side of her personality wakes up inside her mind. She changes into Dark Sarah, the complete opposite of everything she represented before. She declares a war against her former husband and swears revenge. Furthermore she looms in between her two personalities.

So starts the album with “Save Me” that give the tone for a whole album, directly inspired from a Tim Burton movie and with a Danny Elfmanesque soundtrack.

Here starts the Episode I of her trilogy:
“Save me” is the intro song and tells the story of how a confused Sarah, still wearing her wedding dress, wanders in the woods and at the end meets her husband tied up in a dark forest – in reality or in a dream?

Here we have Heidi’s pristine voice accompanied by a classical arrangement slowly ramping up into something more heavier. Then starts the bass and the metal arrangement. It’s a love at first sight!

The second track is the “Poison Apple” that is carrying a loud atmosphere, foreseeing the darkness awaiting us. “Poison Apple” is a premonition of the future, dream-like illusion, where she plans her revenge. 

Here we can start to get into the schizophrenia of Sarah (classical element) and Dark Sarah (underlined by the heavy bass). It is a good track but less impressive for my ears than other tracks. Then comes “Hide and Seek”

“Hide and Seek” is Sarah’s saddest song, in which she says that she cannot be found, because she is no longer here – Dark Sarah has taken her. In the end, still in grief, she meets her fate

It is a wonderful track, with a minimal musical arrangement with the piano and bells “a la Elfman”. I can imagine here Sarah lost in the dark forest, dazed and confused by all the events. Then came the darkness mapped by the synthetic tones, like black clouds darkening the forest. Heidi vocal performance is just great in this track and makes you wish that Tim Burton use her talent in one of his movie.

Following this darkening of the event, comes “Memories Fall” with Manuela Kraller (ex-Haggard; ex-Xandria). This is one milestone track of the album.

Dark Sarah has taken her. In the end, still in grief, she meets her fate (Manuela Kraller ex Xandria), who tells her that only after entering into the darkness, she can be born again, and for the first time Dark Sarah appears as real in the “Memories Fall”-duet

Dark Sarah has a videoclip to illustrate this passage:

I love it and found it in the same time disturbing. Both Heidi and Manuela sing in the same vocal range and it becomes very difficult to identify them by their voice. Add it on the video in both Heidi and Manuela looking almost identical. This is an impressive trick as it blurs the separation between the real Sarah and Dark Sarah, reaching the purpose of Heidi. A very nice track and really looking forward that Manuela hit the recording studio once again.

Episode II: As Sarah entered the dark side, so it also the musical tone, we are now entering a more metal tone in the album.

Sarah offers herself to the darkness. At the beginning, Sarah meets the Queen of snakes, the dark tree – the Queen of No Good ” (Inga Scharf – Van Canto), in a duet called “Evil Roots”.

This is where I feel the album was loosing a bit of momentum with “Evil Roots”, the metal part is playing safe and sounds fairly ordinary.

The Queen lures Sarah to go deeper into the darkness. After this, Sarah´s last sane moment is in the beginning of the song “Violent Roses”.

Then we literary fall into a Tim Burton/Danny Elfman and this is what I like about the album. This idea of dark humor that you can experience watching “Beetlejuice” or “Nightmare before Christmas”. Heidi slides from this naive newlywed reminiscent of Burbank into one with a dark plan to poison her husband. Heidi gets this maniac voice typical of a Disney evil Queen, with the switch to metal tones.

She enters into her symbolic garden, where she gardens her roses. She realizes something terrible! Someone has destroyed her roses! Evil flowers are singing in the background. Sarah thinks it is her husband who has destroyed her beloved rose garden- that little snake! (but actually it had been the evil flowers’ plan). Now Dark Sarah wakes up, murderous and fierce and replaces her roses with poisonous plants, which will help her with her vengeance. She comes up with an evil plan, she will make an apple pie of poison apples to her husband!

This is Dark Sarah´s prime time! In her recital “Hunting the dreamer ” she tells how she is going to destroy all of her man’s dreams as he had destroyed Sarah’s dreams.

“Hunting the Dreamer” is another milestone in the album, it is fully metal, heavy and symphonic enough with a sustained tempo giving a dynamic. If it there was a nice metal track of the album, this would be it.

EPISODE II ends in a scene where Sarah comes to her senses again and is shocked by the traces of blood on the floor. She is terrified; what has she done?! She requires Dark Sarah to let her go free, because she can´t recognize herself in the mirror any more. This is the song called “Fortress”.

“Fortress” is heavy and another great track, it just emphasizes the distress in which Sarah found herself, taken by the idea of revenge and folly of her dark side. Heavy, loud and symphonic, maybe one of the heaviest of the whole release.

Episode III:

After realizing what horrible event she had encountered, Sarah is fully awake from the nightmare. In the song called “The Silver Tree”, things start to clear up in her mind, she remembers the tree that she used to go to with her beloved – they even carved their names and hearts on its bark.

“Silver Tree” gave me mixed feelings, as the beginning sounds coming straight from “Wreck-It Ralph” but the rest of the song is fairly loud and heavy and Heidi’s performance is very good in it.

She used to love that silver tree, the most beautiful tree in the forest, she used to play hide and seek there as a child. Then she gets it! Everything is connected to that tree- the tree is evil! She decides to put an end to all the madness and runs into the wintery forest and hides herself from Dark Sarah. Sarah finds the silver tree in the woods and stabs a dagger in the middle of the carved heart. Sarah hears a terrible scream from the tree and the heart starts to bleed on the white snow. The tree shivers and it´s silvery bark cracks and falls down like pieces of a mirror.In the song called “Sun, Moon and Stars” Sarah starts running, she runs and runs into the heart of the forest.

“Sun, Moon & Stars” brings us back to Sarah’s sanity, the song is much brighter in his lyrics and fair in the listening. Maybe this is my own bias, but felt it was fairly basic and not much in risk-taking. Again, Heidi voice matters the most here and she is doing an amazing job so far.

Then she stops – she feels numb, even the moonlight has turned his light away from her, it is her destiny to carry the burden alone. She wants to be forgotten, left alone with her confused mind. What is real and what is not? She remembers the beautiful things she used to love when she watches the night sky.The last song on the album is a duet called “Light in You”.

Suddenly Sarah sees a light, she falls down in awe of the silvery light in the sky. The moon has come (Tony Kakko- Sonata Arctica)! He tells Sarah that he has come to guide her to a new path in her life and he still sees the light in her. In the white wilderness they fall in love. However there is a shadow upon them – the moon fades away when the day comes. They can only wait for the sunrise.

This brings the end to the album. The last songs feature Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica), that brings a very nice duet between Tony and Heidi. A very nice romantic ballad that Sonata Arctica provides on regular basis. You can feel the influence in it. It feels magical like a winter fairy tale and also gives me even more the envy to visit Finland!

I overall really liked the album. I always believed in Heidi’s quality although Amberian Dawn never impressed me as other Finnish bands. With Dark Sarah, Heidi transformed into a beautiful butterfly that nicely blended some symphonic metal music with a story plot and make you wish to see her performing in a Tim Burton movie with Danny Elfman in the composition.

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