[Music/Gothic Metal] Seven Spires – Solveig (80%)

Fresh from the press, a band that came out of nowhere in my disc library: Seven Spires, a FFM band from Boston, Massachusetts. Their first album “Solveig” was released this Friday and of course it ends up being reviewed by me. I have been listening several times, interrupted by the livestream of “Wacken Open Air 2017” (thats very nice from the organizers to have a livestream of the main line-up).
This is a 15-track album, lasting 75 minutes. iTunes classified it as death metal/black metal and fairly I disagree with it. Because this album does not fit in one category. It is definitely metal but explores different facets with some gothic, some symphonic, some even sounding like some black symphonic a la “Dimmu Borgir”. So yes, it is a very schizophrenic album but it also a kind of a good showcase for Adrienne Cowan, allowing her to hear her vocal range from clean to growls.
We get into “The Siren” an introduction that really sounds like a Danny Elfman track, you know something like straight from a gothic ambience of a “Nightmare Before Christmas”. It seamlessly brings to “Encounter” blending this Elfman tunes with heavy riffs. Good stuff, really gives you a good grip on the ride. Some fresh air, it has a been a while we did not hear a good gothic metal band and Seven Spires is kind of baiting with that appeal. Then we move to “The Siren (Reprise)” that rather sounds like a revisited opening sequence for “Encounter”. I found it odd to have right in the third track, I would have put as a bonus track. The fourth “Cabaret of Dreams”, sounds a bit more rock giving this kind of abruptness in the ride. Certainly not my favorite. “Choices” sets the train back on its track, brining on some symphonic elements with a heavier tone. A very engaging song that should have been in my opinion right after “Encounter”. “Closure” continues into this very enjoying emotional riding experience, with a slower tone supported by orchestral arrangements and maybe an annoying presence of the bass guitar. Thats one thing I noted, the presence of the bass was too much accentuated in this album. I know the bass player has bad rep but the bass is part of the background unless you are Iron Maiden or Lemmy Kilmister. “100 days” is this nice melodic ballad giving a nice interlude in the album, right in the middle of the album. “Stay” brings us a power melodic tone that is very engaging, a good one. “The Paradox” brings us for the first time Adrienne on the growls into this track that brings on the excitement of a symphonic black metal straight out of a good “Dimmu Borgir” album. You know this kind of track that put your auditive and limbic cortices into fritz, with this rush of dopamine that wants to mosh into your living room by this brutal riffs blended with awesome melodics. Oh yeah! Thats my favorite! This is kind of a title that tells you this band with the right direction that breaks some charts. “Serenity” is falling into more conventional genres, even sounding like metal core. “Depths” brings us back to calmer tracks, a nice one, something similar to the chords of Alissa or Vicky style encountered in “The Agonist”. “Distant Lights” brings on the melodic power metal. Nice but nothing that impressed me. “Burn”, brings on back this “Dimmu Borgir” feels with a good spoon of power metal, sending again into a rollercoaster ride from Hell.  “Ashes” brings on this what I call “anime metal”. Dont ask me why, but this is the kind of metal that would match very well with a opening sequence of an anime. Nice! “Reflections” brings back the orchestral sounding like a ending sequence.
The overall album is good, pretty good. But it kind of misses the overall excitement that some other albums have sparked in the previous months. Maybe it is this mix of different styles and some questionable tracks. Sometimes, lesser is better.
However, this album is a great showcase of Adrienne’s vocal range and ability to sing both in clean and growls. The band also have shown its comfort in playing in different styles with ease. But lets be honest, Seven Spires enters a market highly competitive, especially if they think to take the Symphonic metal direction. Right now, melodic death and power metal are very good niches for entering FFMs. Really, their black symphonic metal composition of “The Paradox” and “Burn” really felt taking a rollercoaster from Hell, giving the thrills and chills of an adrenaline rush only to kick in the endorphins at the end of the ride, sending you in this musical euphoria.

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[Metal/Gothic Metal] The Gathering – Always (25th Anniversary Release)

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of The Gathering first album “Always”, released in June , 1992. I retrospectively discovered this album after being introduced to the band through “Mandylion”. It was their only doom metal album, with Bart Smits in the growl, but man that was my gateway to doom/gothic metal. And even 25 years later, it still have the freshness. It is a 48 minutes album, spanning over 8 tracks, nicely blending the guitars and the keyboards.
We got into it “The Mirrors Waters”, that has this distinctive keyboard tunes opening the track and bringing on the heaviness cloak of doom, rapidly introducing Bart growls. The second track, “Subzero”, brings a higher speed tone but never sacrifice the heaviness. The third track, “In Sickness And Health”, continues into the doom with an heavy influence of the keyboards. It is a nice one, but kind of a weak one too. “King for A Day”, wipes it out from your mind pretty quickly, imposing itself as my favorite track. Its starts heavy and doom to slowly transition into a progressive track with the keyboards leading the way and giving Marieke Groot (the female supporting vocal) a full opportunity to display her vocal performance.  With Barts hitting the low cleans and Marieke hitting the high notes, it gives this magic atmosphere.
The rest of the album continues in the doom tunes with “Second Sunrise” and “Stonegarden”, two enjoyable tracks. “Always” breaks the mold as an instrumental mostly played on the keyboards with backing drums, feeling you sailing boat ashore. “Gaya’s Dream”, the last track, concludes the album with the same tunes that most of the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, that was the only album from the band that was close from doom as it can be. Their second album was honestly a disaster, a hodge podge, an UFO in their discography. By “Mandylion”, their third album, and the introduction of Anneke in the band, the sound was deeply settled into Gothic and lasted for their next two albums. There is a reason why Sam Dunn (BangerTV) had The Gathering placed in the Gothic Metal family tree, and they rightfully belongs to it. They set the tone for European metal bands in that genre and surely set the way for female-fronted gothic metal bands. I personally think the Gathering did a major public service to Dutch metal bands, as few years following their release and touring, Dutch metal bands flourished as tulips bringing some of the best metal to hear (Within Temptation, After Forever, Epica…)
There are two versions of the album: the original recording (see the featured image) and a re-engineered version dubbed “Downfall – The Early Years”. Avoid the latter one as the plague. The goal of a re-engineering is to improve the original master to a higher quality. Seems that the sound engineer behind that thought otherwise, resulting in a sort of washing machine sounds that in my opinion slash the original tracks.
Otherwise, if you want to hear some influential bands in the European Gothic Metal and like to explore some metal history, you should grab a copy and listen. A pleasurable experience to listen.

[Metal/Gothic] The Gathering – Nighttime Birds (20th Anniversary Review)

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the Gathering fourth album “Nighttime Birds”. In my opinion this is the last best album from the album, right before they achieved their  transition into some more acoustic and trip-hop album. It has the vibes and the heaviness of “Mandylion” and yet also explored some new sounds. It is a 9-song album lasting 49 minutes.
If I had to go to a desert album and have to choose three albums of the band, this one will make it into the top 3 with “Always” and “Mandylion” (I guess by now you get the point that I am obsessed with the latter, no?)
We get introduced into it with “On Most Surfaces” directly a continuation of “Mandylion” with a lot of similarities with “Sand and Mercury”, in other words some musical delight. “Confusion” downplays the heaviness but still keep on the melodics we got accustomed to  in their previous album, allowing us to enjoy Anneke’s voice, having this kind of melancholic tone. Thats one of my favorite that’s acting as a tag when someone ask me “how The Gathering sounds like?”.
“The May Song” is already investing more into a more progressive sound, more trip-hop sounds clearly cueing us on how the band was envisioning themselves with their next albums. “The Earth Is My Witness” brings us the “Mandylion” feels, with Anneke’s lyrics and vocals making a prime example of the melodic style of this album: a transition from gothic metal into something more progressive. Another favorite.
“New Moon, Different Days” gives this chilling and relaxing feels, slowly swung by Anneke. Almost feels like a lullaby for a metalhead. “Third Chance” brings on the guitars and the gothic metal sounds, giving this extra kick, whereas “Kevin’s Telescope” brings us as a farewell note from “Mandylion” by its melodics and musical arrangement. “Nighttime Birds” indeed marks the blends of the past (“Mandylion”) and the upcoming future (“If Then Else”) artistic direction of the band, giving this surrealistic track, like a seal on a whole epoch.
Finally, the last title of the album “Shrink” a mostly acoustic (piano solo) with Anneke’s solo is just an amazing song to listen and enjoy. This was a time in which very few female voices were heard on the metal scene and really before the scene got populated by Tarja, Cristina and Sharon. I still remember this song, as it was part of the playlist of their gig in town, somewhere in 2003. Anneke performed it live with the lead singer of Pale Forest (the band that provided the opening act).
This album is in my opinion the epitaph of the band. This is where I felt the most comfortable with the band before moving away to other sounds. Other albums came such as “If Then Else”, “Souvenirs”, “How To Measure A Planet” but none of them had this attraction that I had with the previous ones. By then, the band sailed away into other shores.
If you are not a metalhead by heart and want to get introduced to the band, pick this one. It is a great primer and I would definitely recommend to swim upstream and explore their gothic/doom roots.

[Metal/Doom] Trees Of Eternity – Hour Of The Nightingale

I wish I could have reviewed this album in a better context, but I also wanted to review this album in the memory of late Aleah Stanbridge. Aleah left us that day last year, leaving us orphan with her only album “Hour of The Nightingale”.

I started to know Aleah only after learning her death from the announcement by Juha Raivio (Swallow The Sun) last year. Sadness and tears came by listening to her ethereal  and melancholic voice, perfectly matching to the gothic and doom metal artistic style harbored by the album.

“Hour Of The Nightingale” is a 10-track album totaling 63 minutes of beautiful doom metal tracks. The album starts with “My Requiem” introducing us to Aleah’s voice and to familiar tunes, as Juha from Swallow The Sun collaborated heavily on this album, among other Finnish metal artists. It is minimal but so heavily laden with emotions through the lyrics that it infuses you with the melancholy of nostalgia. The descent in the melancholy continues with “Eye Of The Night”, “Condemned To Silence”.

“A Million Tears” brings on the doom and the gloom, making it one of my favorite. Melancholic tunes, the ethereal voice of Aleah and the lyrics loaded with sadness and full of sorrow, making it hard to keep on your tears. It wrenches your mind and makes the mourning even more painful, even after a year.

“Hour of the Nightingale” and “Broken Mirror” may sound a bit more cheerful, with a touch of sludge metal (a sub-genre in the doom metal involving an infusion of Southern metal)  in it but it is still loaded with emotions.

“Black Ocean” gives this atmospheric doom tunes that providing a soothing moment, with a remarkable instrumentation and melodics. Finally, the album closes with “Sinking Ships”, leaving us ashore with a melancholic ballad and with “Gallows Bird” featuring Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost). Minimalistic but so powerful, making a perfect bond between one pillar of Gothic/Doom metal and a new generation.

It is a remarkable and flawless album, solid as a granite tombstone, with no imperfections. Considering this was her first album, it was a remarkable piece of artwork that very few artists could master at this stage. There is no filler, there is no weak tracks. All tracks are remarkable, yet each of them with the unique identity but all sharing the same converging point: the sadness, the melancholy and the mourning of loosing our dearest.

Aleah left us taken by cancer, roughly in the same time that one of my beloved uncle also got taken away by the same type of disease (very unlikely the same type of cancer, but from the metastatic cancer cells that have spread inside his body). We came far with our fight against cancers (because each cancer is somehow unique) but we are still far over on winning that war. Until then, we will loose more talented and affectionate people from it.

RIP Aleah 😦

[Metal/Gothic Metal] Within Temptation – Enter (20th Anniversary Release)

Today marks the 20th anniversary release of the first album of the Dutch Gothic/Symphonic Metal band Within Temptation.
What I can tell is after all these years, this remains my most favorite album by the band. Why?
Probably this perfect blend of doom, gothic with a pinch of symphonic metal and of course Sharon Den Adel alias “Angel Voice”.  It may also because it was the heaviest album they had in their whole discography. The album is an 8-track album totaling 46 minutes.
It starts with “Restless”, a minimal but nicely starter allowing to appreciate Sharon’s voice. A classic of all WT song. The second track, “Enter”, brings on the heavy guitars, Robert Westerholt growls and Martijn Westerholt (Delain) on the keyboards. This gives this magic formula that makes “Enter” such a good song, giving this magical and gothic feel. The third track continues in distilling this magic “Pearls of Light” with Sharon taking the lead with the sounds of the harp. Listening to this song brings this soothing relief, followed by the lead guitars smashing the heavy tones into it and giving this bipolar tunes between the heavy from the guitars and the lightness of the keyboard.
“Deep Within”, the fourth track is in the continuation of the tone of the whole album. Nice but I always felt it was the weakest of all songs, considering the whole album standing strong like a rock. “Gatekeeper”, the fifth track of the album, is my favorite of all. Heavily gothic and influenced by elements of doom metal, it is dark and gloomy with a crescendo in the instrumentation slowly adding the heaviness and boldness. I lost my voice each time I try to keep on Sharon’s frequency notes.
“Grace” is another good song (Nº6 song), especially the second half of it as Sharon takes on the main part. It is also reflecting the heavy influence of Kate Bush on Sharon singing style, using the same song dynamics than the latter used to. “Blooded” is the instrumental track of the album, a finely arranged piece that really marked the band with their signature. “Candles”, the last track, is another jewel from the album by keeping the same flow of “Gatekeeper”. It is so beautiful to listen, with its melancholic tones and Sharon soothing voice all over, only to get shaken by the heavy guitars and Robert’s growl.
If I had to go to exile with only one album from my favorite bands, this is the album I would take from Within Temptation without an hesitation. This is where I found they had their best blend and musical style before they sailed into other directions that were not following my ears.
My only wish is as we mark the 20th anniversary of that release is that the band decide to rediscover this rich and engaging style that made them at the frontier of the symphonic metal scene.

[Metal] Mercy Isle – Undying Fire (80%)

In all its Hell of the course teaching/grants & manuscript writing/scientific meetings that blew on me from September until now, I have been caught away to review some metal albums that were released during this time.
One of them is Mercy Isle “Undying Fire”, the first full-album from the band. The band is by itself original as it is a combination of Dutch and US members, fronted by Kassandra Novell. You can almost feel it in the notes the Batavian influence. You know that there should be something good about the band, as they made the cut and performed at the latest Metal Female Voice Fest (last October). So I gave the album a commuting test and here is my review on the album.
The album is composed by 10-track and has for those that has previously purchased their first EP “Storm” a feeling of deja-vu because some of the tracks are also inside this album. Just you get warned about, so you dont get disappointed.
First, I like that the album is not trying to surf on the “Symphonic Metal” wave that I found right now over-saturated by too many bands. It swings between gothic and progressive metal, giving it a degree of artistic freedom.
It starts with “Wake Up”, an easy and simple introduction to the album that sounds an easy shot for a promotion into a mainstream audience. Its fine for me but not enough to impress. In the opposite, “Storm” was more convincing and more enjoyable to listen, giving a better composition and space to Kassandra voice. We keep on the same quality by transitioning with “Stop, Kiss Me” that is also pretty good to listen. “If I could” could be the power ballad song of the album. Here we can appreciate Kassandra talent and potential talent. It gives a nice and relaxing interlude. “Uncaged” is another track from the EP, so it may seem as deja vu but also brings a heavier tone than the first track. I feel things are getting serious here. “No One Will Save You” is also coming from the EP, so I will not discuss more about it. “I Am” has this feeling of Lacuna Coilesque from their previous work on Karmacode. “Saying Goodbye” is certainly the best track of the album, reminding me of Nightwish by its musical arrangement. “Come to Me” comes and shake up all and bring the heavy-o-meter into 2 scales up making it also enjoyable. Finally, “The Ghost” closes this chapter with the same heaviness.
If you like something similar to Lacuna Coil, but have been on saturation mode with “same old, same old” of certain bands, you should give a try to Mercy Isle. They have here a decent first album that is really accessible to share. Just a reminder, dont purchase the EP as you will have a redundancy in your playlist.

[Gothic Metal] Anathema – Eternity (20th anniversary)

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Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of Anathema “Eternity” album. If you dont know who Anathema is and into Gothic/Doom Metal, then you have to review your knowledge.
Anathema is an essential piece of the unholy trinity of the Gothic Doom Metal genre, along with My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost.
“Eternity” is what got me interested into Gothic and Doom Metal. When I was young, I was  old enough to listen to my older brother tapes and songs (as we shared room). My brother was big into New Wave, in particular “Depeche Mode”. I liked it too but I was also interested by “the Cure”. Of course, I did not get the proper introduction to it as my brother was referring it as “music for girls”. Then I reached my 10th year birthday and got into something much more tough, listening to Metallica, Iron Maiden and AC/DC. In high school, to get into Gothic Metal you had to hang out with the right friends, thing I wish I did retrospectively. Long story short, I got into Gothic/Doom later during college by listening to the Gathering and Lacuna Coil. Among tapes and CDs exchanged with classmates, I came into Anathema via “Eternity” and boom that was it. Something heavier than The Cures, much slower than Metallica but having the same vibes than The Gathering but also having darker lyrics. That was just in time in my life when I was into a depression. It helped me cope into it, giving this vector for catharsis of my depression and coping with a lost love.
The album is very pivotal in my opinion as the band transitioned from doom into gothic metal and that has evolved later into more accessible and more mainstream “indie rock”. It has still some of the heaviness of their previous albums, but also a lot of experimentation with progressive tones and keyboard that surely influenced me to move into symphonic metal.
If I have to pick one song from the album, it is certainly “Sacrifice”. It is starting very slow like any Gothic Metal song, with the romanticized lamentation and sadness, followed by the catharsis and excruciating pain to relieve such sufferance and at the end giving you the ability to move on with your life. A couple of weeks, there was a Twitter discussion about how music is associated with activation of certain area of the limbic system. One of the point was what did we have evolved some attraction to tones we qualify as sad. This album is the perfect example of why: by giving a cathartic vector to our sadness and depression, music can help us exteriorate it and help us move on with life.