Provenance – Still at Arm’s Length

21/11/2003 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Scarlet Records
8 Tracks
English lyrics

The Provenance look like the kind of people who would be far better off trying to save trees, lying in front of bulldozers and keeping all their possessions in shopping trolleys rather than ever playing in a metal band. Or doing whatever it is they apparently do. Still, looks can be deceptive. Still At Arm’s Length is a remarkable piece of work. This is Beauty and Beast music, but impressively mature. Technically it’s composite, structurally it’s diverse and it’s executed with flair and skill. It’s clear on listening to this album that The Provenance are the thinking man’s BnB band [even though Myriads would probably prefer that title, being the pretentious faux-intellectuals that they are].

The problem that I find with most BnB bands is that the female vocalist can’t generally sing. I mean, not properly. Think of all the BnB CDs that you own [if that’s your cup of tea], and then think of the times that the girlie goes off a little, sliding around while the extreme vocals grind and grunt away mechanically. This is where The Provenance differs – this is where they’re better, because Emma can sing. She has a beautiful full and strong voice. She clearly knows what she’s doing. No wavering, no going off, just pure, beautiful vocals. A real relief against the rest of the BnB bands that overcrowd the Gothic Metal sub-genre.

The Provenance are no strangers to making songs with unconventional structures. It’s difficult to know what to expect, so in the end you just give up trying. The result of this is that the album takes quite a few listens to get into and connect with, especially with the later songs. However, it’s undeniable that Climbing Ideals and Mimic are excellent tracks, but Tearful, Bitter, Broken really dominates the album as its best track by far, I haven’t heard such bewitching and perfect singing since I came across Sarah Bonnetti from Moon Of Steel. There’s also something starkly honest in the lyrics here, some passages really jump out at you, such as “for the first time in my life I really don’t know so help me out, I know that I’m blind so please feed me, I need it so badly” and “it’s hard with thoughts eating away at you, it’s tough to take a stand when you’re sad, messed up and tattered, feeling misunderstood”. This band obviously have something to share through their lyrics, there’s no compulsion to jam them in with the music for the sake of it as others do, they’re here as a serious cathartic release.

Because of the depth of the songs, Still At Arm’s Length will not appeal on first listening, it takes a little time, as with all albums which are well-crafted and have some intensity and depth to them. Don’t get too excited though, there’s nothing overly original here, it’s just that The Provenance do BnB a hell of a lot better than scores of other bands I could care to mention, but probably wouldn’t bother to. OK, the production could be slightly less gooey and Emma should probably have the microphone a little more than she does, but that aside, this is a seriously good release. This lot deserve to be appreciated.

Cadaveria – Shadow’s Madame

19/11/2003 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Scarlet Records
7 Tracks
English lyrics

There was bound to be a dichotomy in the reaction to Cadaveria’s solo album after her departure from Opera IX. The trouble with black metal fans is that they don’t like too much variety. As long as it’s gloomy, satanic and as evil as is plausible there won’t be too many problems. The only band that spends much time engaging in thoughtful reveries rather than full-on unsullied blackness that I can think of are Opeth, and since the Norwegian ‘underground’ is gummed up with all manner of tuneless garbage, this is no bad thing. I suppose if the metal your country produces is generally shit, you’ll get a fair amount of publicity if your music is even just above average, so good luck to them. However, what’s surprising about Cadaveria is that in spite of the fact that they are making a name for themselves as a quality black metal outfit, they aren’t from the world centre of black metal at all, but from Italy. But then the Italians are slowly acquiring a reputation for producing quality metal. That doesn’t mean that the rest of the black metallers will necessarily like this album, though. Not one bit.

And the evidence is everywhere. The female vocalist Cadaveria left her previous band, Opera IX, after disagreements about things she hasn’t properly discussed with the music press [probably more down to journalists not being pushy enough rather than her being evasive when the topic is addressed]. Barely a few weeks later, she and Flegias from Opera IX were getting underway and writing new material for the new band, named after her. It would not be unfair to assume that the new stuff was in the same vein as the old, and to perfectly honest, it’s not a world apart, though lots of those ‘true’ black metal fans would have my guts for garters for saying that. What Cadaveria does show on this album more than on the old Opera IX releases is the versatility of her vocals. She can scream, wail, growl and grunt. She just can’t sing very well, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

In addition to this, The Shadow’s Madame ends up fusing a handful of different metal styles, but in doing so shamelessly and unfailingly throws itself off the black metal bandwagon. The core of the music and the topics of the music are still rooted in black metal, but it has its Death moments and its Gothic moments, though there aren’t that many of them. Occasionally we’re treated to the odd drum blast or some half-hearted sampled choirs pasted onto the end of a song, but the heart of the music is black, and it suits the album well, because it’s what these people naturally do best.

The thing that is the most impressive about this instrumentally is the heaviness of the guitars. I’m a sucker when it comes to really thick and chugging heavy guitars and Cadaveria more than dish out their fair share here. At times the power chords are so viscous and caustic that you can’t help but be sucked in and enveloped by the darkness of their sound. And that’s exactly what this is, heavy, dark and evil. Anything else just wouldn’t do. Spell, Black Glory and Circle Of Rebirth being particularly good, with some nice rhythm changes and Cadaveria giving her [self-proclaimed] best vocal performance to date.

But this album’s strength is also part of its problem. It focuses a little too much on the canine-loving witchy femme fatale and her vocals, rather than the music as a package. Sure, it’s good and it’s heavy, but in spite of the different styles it encompasses, it really could do with a little more variety. The Death and Gothic elements are present, but just alluded and nodded to rather than confidently integrated, which is a bit of a shame, the result being that it gets a little sludgy after a while when it really should do more for itself. The classical inspiration is here also [I thought the metal mirroring of Verdi at the beginning of Spell was a nice touch], and this lot are competent enough musicians to let that effect and direct their music in the future. If Cadaveria can develop the ideas on this album to a more successful degree in their next work, we’ll all be treated to something pretty special.

Morning – Circle of Power

14/11/2003 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Independent
6 Tracks + 1 Bonus track
English lyrics

If you chance upon Morning’s website, two things should become apparent. Firstly, this band describes their music as ‘dream metal’, which is an irritatingly meaningless and pretentious way of describing it. Oh hang on, that means “a mix from atmospheric pop, progressive rock and heavy fantasy metal”, apparently. My mistake.

Whatever you want to call it, Morning’s music is hardly metal at all, it’s more of a wannabe, hanging around the outside of the metal arena and clamouring at the gates, longing for a piece of the action but without the methods or means to get inside and play with the big boys [or girls, for that matter]. Secondly, there is also a proud boast on the front page of the site that says Circle of Power sold out! Yes! Hurrah. Well, that would happen if you only pressed 200 copies of the EP. It would be rather embarrassing if it didn’t.

The unusual thing about Morning is the strange cereal of individuals that make up for its band members. This motley crew of Dutch misfits range from the ages of 15 to 26 and look like they met at some kind of counselling group. In spite of this, they’re not bad musicians, although a little limited, but then, so are Lacuna Coil. Still, Morning’s limitations as musicians don’t matter too much since they can make a decent sound with what they’ve got. It’s just a shame that Saskia can’t sing for toffee. Her voice is clear and confident, but it has trouble finding the right notes in the right places. Apparently she is ‘on her way to competing with the big voices of her country’. Is she?? She can compete all she likes, but against talents such as Floor, Anneke, Astrid or Sharon, she doesn’t stand a chance.

There are a couple of good songs here, Seal Of Solomon has its haunting moments and Circle Of Power has some nice crunchy guitars and is a respectable atmospheric number, which would possibly deserve a rerecording [vis a vis Nightwish’s Astral Romance] when the band gets more competent. There’s also the token shallow and jangly clean-guitar number going into full-on distortion-ville to finish the album. Apart from that, the rest of the album is pretty unremarkable and shouldn’t bother any listener too much, it’s hardly the kind of material which will make an impression on anyone’s life. Nevertheless, there is talent lurking somewhere in the song-writing and musicianship, but it’ll take a bit of effort before it shows itself.

I’d like to say that Morning have the ability to be a promising band in the metal scene, but I just don’t believe it yet. Their sound is too general [maybe ‘dream metal’ actually means ‘we couldn’t think of what to play so we thought we’d copy everyone else’], the vocals are too mediocre and the songs are neither here nor there. The only way that this lot will get anywhere at the moment is if some gullible or desperate major label gets behind them and propels them into superstardom, but that would be like putting all your chips on one number in roulette. A gamble really not worth taking.

Siebenburgen – Delictum

14/11/2003 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Scarlet Records
7 Tracks
English lyrics

I really can’t remember what first possessed me to start listening to this band, what moment of madness or boredom, but I’m glad that I found them. Siebenburgen were around for a fair bit, creating stock, standard black metal, until they got on Napalm and got themselves a new female vocalist. That’s when things really started to change for the better.

The first thing that anyone should appreciate about Siebenburgen is the fact that they have a silly name. I couldn’t really take anyone too seriously if they said, “my favourite band is Siebenburgen”, if they didn’t say it ironically. Their name sounds too much like the noises made by the Swedish chef off The Muppets. And they wear that Kiss-esque make-up which makes them look like they’re wearing novelty Hallowe’en masks from a cheap party shop. However, in spite of that, they’ve come up with a good piece of work here, in fact, it’s very good.

The interesting thing about Delictum is it’s a bit of a dangerous thing to get hold of. Those of you who have pledged blind never to venture into the world of black metal for whatever reasons will probably find yourselves liking this more and more against your better judgement. There’s a very fine line between music like this and BnB such as Sirenia, which is pretty damn heavy anyway. It’s likely that if you’re a BnB fan, Siebenburgen could tip you over the edge into the darker side, and the chances are you’ll be grateful for it.

Siebenburgen’s previous efforts were dominated by Swedish lyrics, but Napalm obviously told them where they could stick those, and we all benefit as a result. Nevertheless, there is still one Swedish song on this album, and it’s a goodie. In fact, all the tracks here are. But what is it about this that could draw in the Gothic Metal crowd? Very simply, the inclusion of a female vocalist, and a damn good one as well. Before this album the female vocals were handled by Lavisa Hallstedt, and now the task is undertaken by Turid Waldenburg. An excellent choice indeed, because she has a sensational voice. Her singing is very pure and quite classical in its influences, and this gives the music a wonderfully haunting feel. She has no problems hitting the higher notes and slides around her vocal register with seemingly graceful ease. It really is a pleasure to listen to, and teaches you that no matter how heavy and fast the instrumentation is, it becomes just a softened backdrop against the beauty of such singing.

So in light of the fact that the female vocals are so flawless, it’s a shame they’re not on the album as much as they could be, and as a consequence the best tracks have their inclusion, namely the beautiful Storms, Opacitas, Thy Sister Thee Crimson Wed and Levande Begravd. The male vocals are also pretty flawless, perfectly competent and convincing, the production is first-rate and the musicianship is enviable. If you’re into the Gothic side, go further and take the next step, or if you’re already there, shame on you for not owning this. It should be a key feature of any black metal collection.

Dark Sanctuary – L’être las – l’envers du miroir

12/11/2003 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2003
Wounded Love Records
14 Tracks
French lyrics

Putting Dark Sanctuary on and trying to get into them after just listening to a metal album would be quite a hard thing to do. They really slow everything down to almost a grinding halt. This music would be the comedown, the dirge, the ultimate party killer in any situation you care to think of. It could even depress gospel singers. It’s that level of melancholy and gloominess. Pest control firms should play it to rats instead of giving them poison because they’ll all commit suicide.

The music that Dark Sanctuary make is ambient, ethereal and atmospheric. Everything is soft, deep, and contemplative. This is obviously the kind of music these people were made for since it comes across as being so natural, so fluent and so fluid that if they tried their hands at anything else it wouldn’t be as convincing. There’s also something quite classy about this album, I don’t know if it’s the strength of the violins, the dark tones of the songs or the quality of the singing, but there’s an x-factor that lets you know there’s something special about the music.

Dark Sanctuary have been around since 1998, and this album seems to be their biggest and most confident work. It is the Mecca that their other songs were trying to get to all those years. It has its mixtures of vocal and instrumental tracks, and the good thing about the instrumentals is that they don’t drag on for ages. Face A Une Mort Rassasiée, for instance, is just over a minute long and comprising of only a few string chords, but the strength in them can’t fail to move you as a listener. It makes you wonder what other lesser bands are doing with themselves when given more at their disposal and coming out with very boring and meaningless songs.

One thing might have caught your notice so far – Dark Sanctuary are from France and they’re not afraid to show it. There is not one track on this album in English, and it’s one of those situations when you have to get your head round the fact that you’re not necessarily going to understand everything; but French is a beautiful language, and here it’s beautifully sung. In fact, the vocals are stunning, wavering between clean and operatic though not touching either, but the sound is undeniably charming. The best songs on the album, L’Arrogance and Loin Des Mortals coax you in gently and raise the richness and the intensity gradually to give you something filling and satisfying. The atmosphere is a full on, never ebbing stream of grave emotion, but so wonderfully communicated that it leaves you feeling rewarded for giving it your time and that you’re doing something worthwhile with your ears.

However, though this album has its striking moments, there might be times when you’ll just drift off halfway through a song and wake up a few tracks further on. Not everything grabs your attention and some of the songs get a little annoying in parts. As well as that, this music can be so sombre and moody that it’s hard not to feel a little depressed after a while. It’s good to take it a couple of songs at a time, otherwise you’ll overdose and get into a mope. Listening to the whole 73 minutes in one go is nothing but a passport to mental torpor and emotional flagging. Nevertheless, if you’re the kind of person that loves introspection and delving into the recesses of your own thoughts [or someone else’s, for that matter], you could do far worse than to get your hands on this.

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