24/05/2004 § Leave a comment
There’s something intrinsically pleasing about owning Razorbliss. I feel like it’s almost a guilty pleasure, a saccharine, gooey truffle of metal lusciousness that I shouldn’t be enjoying as much as I am at the moment. This thing has been hanging around my CD player for so long and has had so many repeat spins, that surely soon the two will fuse together in some sick and twisted gadgetried love-fest and I’ll never be able to prise them apart. Still, that might not be so much of a bad thing. Razorbliss is a pretty faultless piece of work. It delivers pleasing, potent, deep and delightful nuggets of Gothic goodness that leave a pleasant taste in your mouth for a long time after you first got your grubby mitts on them.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t surprised on first hearing this. I didn’t expect the third Flowing Tears effort to be anything particularly remarkable. As far as I was concerned, Flowing Tears have always been the victims of some kind of weird and indiscernible repression, unusual and uncharacteristic among metallers. I always thought that metal was about a] crazy people making crazy music or b] seemingly repressed people letting out all their angst by making crazy music. And then you have Flowing Tears. They’re just so…nice. If you could invite a metal band round to your kid’s party instead of a magician or clown, you’d choose them, and they’d gladly snaffle down the jelly, ice-cream and biscuits any day rather than sneak off to pop a few pills at the nearest opportunity. But what they’ve managed to do this time is exploit what they are capable of to their fullest ability, and the result, rather than being something that leaves you feeling unsatisfied and unfazed, is nothing short of being something wonderful.
Flowing Tears seem to have sat down, worked out the best things about their sound and come up with a winning recipe. The songs here may be short, with only one clocking over the four-minute mark, but you hardly notice the shortness of the songs because they’re just so good. I’ve lost count of the amount of times when I’ve listened to other songs and thought “that shouldn’t be there” or “when’s this one going to finish?” [ahem – Myriads], but there’s none of that here. Everything seems sharp and honed to perfection. The guitars are sometimes refreshingly heavy, the synths are beautiful and fit the songs naturally [in places reminding me even of Type O Negative’s Bloody Kisses] and the guitar solos, though simple and a doddle to play, give the songs a certain pace and lift that tracks on Serpentine could never boast of. It’s for this reason that numbers such as Believe, Radium Angel, Unspoken and the title track really are quite special, and make this album stand a chance of being the jewel in the femme metal crown this year.
The other thing that surprised me about this was the fact that FT’s new vocalist, Helen, sounds so similar to Stefani that had I not been told that FT had a new vocalist this time round I really don’t think that I would have noticed. She sings just as huskily, just as smoothly and just as sultrily as Stefani could. Of course there’s probably a good deal of emulation going on there, but that’s not a complaint or criticism unless we want to play the lack of originality card, but FT have never been ones to stray from their own well-beaten path.
In spite of all this, Razorbliss has been criticised for being overrated and for being thought of as the masterpiece of 2004 when it really isn’t. Well, let me remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that this has been a pretty stagnant year for Gothic Metal and it’s at times like these that albums like these stand out like diamonds in the rough. Razorbliss is by no means the greatest thing that’s happened to Gothic Metal, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minutes of entertainment. It makes up for all the things that Serpentine was missing and FT have actually managed to carve themselves a respectably fine position within the genre. I don’t know how long they’ll keep it up for or how well they can develop their sound from here, but with this gem of a CD, such postulation almost seems pointless.
20/05/2004 § Leave a comment
Something has definitely gone right since a few years ago when, after the Gothic and vampyric supernova that was Aegis, Liv Kristine’s previous band, Theatre of Tragedy, out of some moment of madness lost their creative blueprint for making top-rung BnB music and decided to jack it all in in favour of sickeningly saccharine guitar-driven synth pop. Fortunately, since her departure from TOT and the formation of her new band, Leaves’ Eyes, the temptation to continue in this way hasn’t proved particularly alluring and Liv has gone back to making the sort of music that suits her voice best, and that is driving, satisfying BnB elevated by her distinctive tones.
Lovelorn is, on the surface, an intrinsically pleasing piece of work, however, it’s hard to look at it on anything but a surface level. There’s nothing too deep about it, it just seems like the sort of stuff that quite a few musicians would whip out as their side project. And what do you know; it is, apart from Liv, since this is her main musical baby at the moment. As good as it is to listen to, it’s hardly the kind of stuff that grabs you by the throat and pins you to your seat under duress, mercilessly demanding that you take notice of it, it’s more like a B-movie among metal, an entrée, an appetizer, a measly portion for those that can’t take anything a lot richer. The standard 4/4 beats and smooth, velvety guitar distortion bounce along at an acceptably friendly pace and grin at you like some kind of sickeningly cheery cartoon character. It’s so acceptable and user-friendly you could take it home to meet your parents. You could pay it to a Christian youth group and they’d love it just as much as the Maranatha Singers.
As a result it’s quite difficult to pick anything particularly remarkable out of this uniform dollop of metal since it has very little to say for itself. Nevertheless, in spite of this there is some good music here. Norwegian Lovesong, Ocean’s Way, Secret and Into Your Light are all very enjoyable and almost commercial Gothicy numbers that sit in your ears and hum for a few guiltily enjoyable minutes. The one thing that did strike me about this is how much I had missed Liv’s voice against the heaviness of such guitars, her sultry, sensual tones are really something to be reckoned with and it’s a pleasure to have her back. The song-writing isn’t bad either, all the music is quite pleasurable, even though a bit banal in places.
Lovelorn is hardly an album that pushes the boundaries or tries to reach out to somewhere new. Its function is to give you shiny Gothic pleasantries, little trinkets of wonderment that will interest you for a while, but it won’t be long before you put them down and go off to find something else more interesting. It’s hard to forge a full-on relationship with such music. This would be something that you would take away for a dirty weekend, a little knockabout that would keep you up for a few nights rather than something you would connect with on a deeper level for a lot longer. As ear candy it fulfils its job beautifully, but there’s nothing particularly wholesome or nourishing here.
07/05/2004 § Leave a comment
Believe it or not, there’s actually been some semblance of progression in Nightwish’s sound since Century Child. This is amazing for a band who have rarely changed their musical blueprint and frequently churn out albums that are formulaically mirror images of their predecessors. However, Nightwish have really gone to town this time and have managed to put together an album that the Gothic Metal genre has not seen the likes of before. Notice, also, the use of the ‘Gothic Metal’ tag here, since in the past, Nightwish were keen on making a kind of cheesy crowd-pleasing fantasy metal that had the tendency to slip over into the chasm of naffness. Now, whether the intention is to move the genre forward or to appeal to the mainstream more, Once is a pretty damn good piece of work. Sure, the sound is undoubtedly more commercial and those of you who were waiting for Nightwish to well and truly rise above the underground and be brought out into the glimmering, glowing light of day so you could go back to listening to non-profit making experimental metal and say that you never really liked Nightwish anyway, now’s your chance. And for those of you who couldn’t really give a hoot about whether an album sells 100 copies or 100,000 copies, you’re in for a real treat too.
The first thing that strikes you on listening to this album is the fact that Nightwish have obviously been given some kind of massive cash injection to make this. Spinefarm have apparently got it into their heads that Nightwish are to become one of their hallmark bands, so that when the label collapses in umpteen years time we can look on Nightwish as their epitaph and say what fantastic things they gave to the metal scene. As unconvincing as that may be, the money that’s been flung at this has [mostly] been put to good use, and it’s noticeable in the first few bars. Tuomas has somehow got hold of an orchestra, and not a piddly little seven-piece jobbie either, but a no-holds-barred, full-on philharmonic with strings, woodwind, percussion, the lot. Either that or Korg are making better keyboards than I had given them credit for. The sound is very impressive and nothing like anything I have heard on a metal album before. But then again, that’s partly the point – to make things sound as intense and impressive as possible, and Once certainly delivers on this account. Certain cadences really sound special with the crescendos of the strings, the trilling of flutes or the thundering echoes of timpanis. Maybe in places it’s a little over the top, but Nightwish have never done things by halves, and they’re proving that if you give them the right tools to work with, then the sky really is the limit. Not only have they acquired an orchestra, but a proper choir, and certain parts even reminded me of Tristania. This is very unusual for Nightwish, but a welcome change, and one that they seem to have pulled off well.
The other thing that’s slightly different about this album is that the songs are not too typically Nightwish. OK, some of the song structures are unmistakeable, but now that Tuomas has an entire orchestra at his disposal, he’s really laid off the keyboards quite a bit, presumably because in the past he was making do for the fact that he didn’t have the sections that he wanted. How often with bands the keyboards are used to fill in the spaces left by the absence of fuller, grander-sounding instruments. Now, no longer is there that tiresome arpeggiating or the doggerel drumming of a synthesiser-simulated orchestral hit. Now that there’s the real thing, the keyboards fade into the background. Anything else would just sound wrong.
The songs themselves are of an unfailingly good quality. Dark Chest of Wonders, although it has a slightly silly name, is a fantastic opener, and sometimes the numbers are heavier than usual Nightwish, as exemplified in Romanticide and Dead Gardens. Nightwish really let rip with some deeply powerful guitars along the lines of Slaying The Dreamer on Century Child, and whether it’s the orchestration or the power chords, Once really is an album that’s not afraid to speak up for itself. This is shown nowhere as effectively as in the wonderful opus Ghost Love Score, which is ten minutes-worth of the best stuff that Nightwish have come up with.
It’s not all footloose and fancy-free wonderment in the Nightwish halls, though. The orchestration that makes Once stand out so much and makes it such an impressive and expressive album does not do a world of favours for Tarja. One of the things that people love more than anything about a Nightwish album is Tarja’s operatic vocals, however, this album is weak vocally on two points. Firstly, Tarja has gone less operatic. This is doubtless part of Nightwish’s scheme to be more commercial and appeal to the wider audience, and this is not only the seasoned Gothic Metallers [by which I mean people who have been listening to the genre for more than a year] but also the baggy-trousered, spiky-haired Evanescence kids who slouch round HMV like little gothic slugs, hoovering up commercial albums like they were going out of fashion. The ‘cleaner’ singing kind of works as well, but it can be a little flat in places. Secondly, Tarja has always been part of the driving force behind the band’s sound and one of the things that stands out the most, however, this time round she has been outdone by the intensity of the orchestration, which is at times so overbearing that her voice gets swamped and she sometimes even sounds out of breath and drowning beneath the current of strings and wind instruments.
In spite of all the astonishingly good elements that have gone into Once, I’m not convinced that it will be the main Nightwish album that it sets out to be, the great seal on Tuomas’s life’s work. In fact, it comes across as more of an experiment to see just what could be done with Gothic Metal, to see how the genre could be brought forward, or pushed, kicking and screaming like some petulant mini-mosher to somewhere it really doesn’t want to be. To all intents and purposes it works, but seeing as it’s the first time that anytime has attempted anything like this, there’s certainly room for improvements. Yes, I know it’s Nightwish, but still, the orchestration could be a little less lavish, Tarja could be fuller and some of the songs could be shortened just to cut out the musical ballast that weighs them down. I see where Nightwish were going with this one, and if this is their new sound and this is the way things are to go from now on, it’s the first step in an exciting journey. Some definite compromises have to be made, but if they are, next time round Nightwish could produce the album of their musical careers.