Tristania – Ashes

31/03/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: Steamhammer
7 Tracks
Language: English

Seven tracks is a paltry sum for any album unless you’re Opeth, whose astounding sound quality and songlengths can only be rivalled by the choicest classical pieces. Unfortunately, Tristania aren’t Opeth so they can’t really get away with giving us such a small number of songs on an album. OK, Ashes has been hotly anticipated for a number of years and has had more stops and starts than the Jaipur Express, though this measly offering could at least be forgiven if it bore the quality of anything like some of the earlier Tristania releases. Like some kind of organised debate on abortion or euthanasia, most people will have already made their minds up before hearing anything, and I dare say that a lot of people were keen to fall down in deference in front of Ashes before they’d even heard the ratty strains of Kjetil’s voice in Libre. Still, I’m always willing to go the distance and to give things a chance, and I was very excited and intrigued to see what Tristania would come up with next.

The first thing that hits you when you press the play button is the screams of Kjetil, who, just as long as you don’t look at the guy, isn’t that bad at the death vocals. I remember seeing Tristania play in London a few months ago and I was shocked at how out of place he looked against the rest of the band. He looked like some kind of Gothic Keith Flint and I would have loved him to break into Breathe or Smack My Bitch Up halfway through a song. Image aside, Libre starts off in a gruelling, “we still mean business” kind of way with chuggy-chuggy guitars that are too shy to do anything but hop up and down a tone or two and it really is a poor start to an important album. Remember the opening to Widow’s Weeds? Beyond The Veil? The atmosphere, which is what a large part of Tristania’s music is about, is stripped from the soundwaves and we’re only left with something carrying the form of a musical head-butt, and quite a half-hearted one at that. And that’s one of the problems throughout the album as a whole – there’s no feeling of completion, of totality, everything just goes off half-cocked. The one saving grace is Vibeke, and when her vocals come in after about a minute, it’s hard not to feel a great sense of joy and relief. She, at least, has lost none of her former glory or talent as a vocalist and throughout all of Ashes her voice sounds angelic as ever.

I should at least pay tribute to Tristania for not doctoring their style to a more commercial arena though, especially since we’re now in a period where the pressure to do this is more prominent than ever. The song-writing is still good and there are no immediately catchy hooks, though the more likeable passages certainly become more noticeable after a couple of listens – Equilbirum being one of these and Shadowman, which is destined to become many people’s favrourite. Nevertheless, Tristania have altogether dispensed with the choirs on this record, which will be a disappointment to many people, but was something that I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me, which either goes to show that I wasn’t paying attention or that they’re not needed anyway. Though the former may be true somewhat, when you look at most of the passages, the standard 4/4 of the song-structures and the cadences which do very little in the way of interesting chord shifts means that a choir would be out of place, and this is a shame, because the music is just not that innovative on its own. The Wretched attempts some artsy drumming at the beginning before nosediving into one of the worst choruses I have heard in a metal song, when I first heard it I thought it was a joke. It sounds like it was sung by the cast of Sesame Street.

Tristania do show that they haven’t lost their ability to make beautiful melodies when they put their minds it, and Cure is one of the most gorgeous songs that the band have put out for a while, with no death vocals or distortion. It could even rival Deadlocked on World of Glass, the song for me which defines what Gothic Metal should be about. There are also parts on Shadowman and Endogenisis which show their talent in this regard, though it would be welcome to see some more classical instrumentation as well, since there is only the odd violin line thrown in here and there. It seems that the efforts are no longer concentrated on making an elaborate metal package with all the trimmings, but creating just as much as they can get away with.

There is very little on Ashes to get excited about if you compare it to their previous efforts. The biggest criticism is that the song lines are probably the most unadventurous that I have heard in a long while. If Tristania could have picked a time to depart positively from their previous sound, then this would have been it, unfortunately, they have done away with some of the parts that made them so extravagant and popular when they came to fruition at the end of the 90s. My inkling is that Ashes is the start of a downward spiral. If this were a debut, I’d be suitably impressed. However, Tristania are an established ensemble and we know what they are capable of when they put their minds to it, and they can come up with better material than this.

5.5/10

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Nemesea – Mana

31/03/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2004
Label: Ebony Tears
11 Tracks
Language: English

I hadn’t realised that up until November this year I had been living the life of a veal calf. I had heard of Nemesea but I hadn’t heard very much about them and thought that they would be nothing but another dime-a-dozen Gothic band that runs around the feet of the bigger players like a badly-behaved rugrat. As the Gothic Metal scene expands, and we will be seeing more of this over the coming years, new bands are being formed by people too easily inspired and too eager to ride the nu-gravy train to hopefully arrive at somewhere approximating notoriety. There are bands that I know who will forever be looping in the vortex of the optimistic and never creating anything remarkable. Then there are those than ram the scene head-on and there is no doubt that what you have in front of you is a very talented band. Nemesea hit me almost out of the blue. And Mana, their primordial offertory work to the scene, is a surprising and welcome breath of fresh air to me, and to not have heard more of their work since their inception I may as well have been trussed up in the dark somewhere, so sinfully ignorant I was of their bounty.

Holland pretty much has a five-star rating at the moment as a country that is producing some fine music in the Gothic metal scene, with only a couple of bands besmirching the reputation of an otherwise fine selection. I doubt whether it’s so much that something’s in the water in Holland than the established bands are giving way to another demi-generation of talented singers and songwriters who have been inspired by the likes of After Forever and Within Temptation. Nemesea will be the next big thing on the scene, they deserve to be, and there is some seriously basic injustice in the world [or in Europe at least] if that is not to be the case.

The influences are noticeable from very early on in the album, some of the passages and the combinations are quite reminiscent of After Forever. However, Nemesea’s music is not as technically adept, nor does it need to be since the effect that it gives is overwhelming and one that seriously impresses the listener. They experiment very nicely with tempo and time signature – the speed and rhythm which a song starts is not necessarily that with which it will finish, and the quiet, drawn-out choral sections are often rounded off with a digression into some death-metally blast-beats. However, this isn’t as harsh as it sounds since the warm and calming synths in the background make sure that the music firmly stays in the realm of Gothic Metal and doesn’t veer off into death or black. The same goes for the vocals too, there is the odd occasion where death vocals appear on a song, but it’s never for more that about a line, just popping their head in to be noticed and then buggering off again. Nemesea seem to have got their sound pretty well nailed down very quickly when so many bands are still trying to find themselves on their debut.

Manda’s vocals are something else that impressed me since I was expecting her to sound less sure of herself and to go off in quite a few places. A lot of times I have a phobia towards debut albums since they’re never very polished and more often than not quite embarrassing and a bad indication of what the band’s future sound will be like. Manda’s voice is reminiscent of Anneke from The Gathering’s, and I’m sure she’s very much an inspiration. Manda also manages to keep in tune very well, only occasionally needing to polish her delivery on the higher notes, but some of the passages she delivers certainly lets us know that the best is yet to come. Her voice sounds very much like it’s in its fledgling stages of development and there are tinges of brilliance to her talent which will hopefully shine forth to give us something really special on later releases.

What Mana also manages to do so well is to give us no less than 11 excellent songs, with none of them being fillers, each one being different from the other and all having their own colours to them. Each listener is likely to find something they love in each song, such is the musical patchwork of sounds and rhythms here, from the wonderful intro of Empress, the gorgeous piano chords in Angel In The Dark, the rhythm changes in Mortalitas Pt 1 and the time signature changes in the chorus of Lucifer. The only slightly outlandish thing about the album is the lyrics, which can be a little unusual in places and a lot of the time focus on the supernatural and witchcraft, while thankfully just missing being naff – you contact beings on the other side and use their enormous power/no human being with perfect trust is able to empower and thirteen witches came together/at midnight in a wood/a chalice with wine and their blood/and no difference between evil and good. Manda’s vocals are refreshingly clear in their diction and most of the time it’s possible to hear exactly what she’s singing, though the words are less punctuated the higher she goes.

Nevertheless you really have to burrow into the bedrock of Mana to find any problems with it, and if you do manage to dig one out it’s pretty easy to overlook it. One thing is for certain, Nemesea are a very confident band who have a lot of belief in their own work. I can’t remember the last time that I came across such a seriously good debut as this with fantastic song-writing and musicianship, which are well aided by the clear mix and production. I’m sure that Nemesea have a lot of good music to come, but it’s almost futile to concentrate on the future when what the present holds is so masterful.

Epica – Consign To Oblivion

31/03/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Label: Transmission
11 Tracks
Language: English

Epica’s songs have so far concentrated on the strength of the individual, confidence in personal ability and the need for overcoming imaginary boundaries. However, something has now changed in the transition between The Phantom Agony and the rather awkwardly-titled Consign To Oblivion. No longer do we have Mark and Simone – the Sonny and Cher of Gothic Metal – preaching to us about excellence, politics and pathos, but eleven nebulous songs inspired by the Latin backwash of Mexico, as Epica take a slightly different, and not altogether unwelcome new tack. Consign To Oblivion is a bit of an unusual album. Not because the title or the artwork don’t make sense [I suppose no-one said they had to], but because it was rushed out a year and a half after The Phantom Agony, and as a result there’s something not quite right about the album’s sound. It’s the sound of a square peg being pushed into a round hole, of an oversized bung being shoved into a bottleneck, needless to say, it just doesn’t fit together properly. Epica should never rush their sound, but Consign To Oblivion does unfortunately feel a little bit strained, and the result isn’t quite as satisfying as before.

Nevertheless, Epica have far from lost their magic touch and Consign To Oblivion is nothing like a bad album. It may be stuffed to Christmas-size portions with a little too much pretentiousness and not enough irony, but it’s still an enjoyable Gothic Metal romp. The old style has not changed one bit and a lot of the time the band are just recycling the old ideas and preconceptions about what Gothic Metal should be, since the younger members of the scene drink it up as if they were on the verge of some national drought. It’s no surprise that Transmission have been all too keen to release another Gothic-Metal-by-numbers cluster, especially since for a lot of people, Epica seem to be overshadowing After Forever in some kind of sick and twisted metal mutiny.

The album starts off as we would expect any Epica album to start, with some classical-esque intro. The only problem, apart from the token Inca reference, is that it really doesn’t sound as if it is played on classical instruments. If we hark back to the days of Ex Cathedra or even Adyta, you could hear the strokes of the bows on the strings, rather than the clumsy clumping of fingers on keys to attain a similar effect this time round. The overall result, employing ‘horns’ and not just ‘strings’, ends up sounding like something off the soundtrack to Jurassic Park in all its jolly buoyancy. Soon enough it trills to a close before Dance Of Fate begins, also exhibiting a similar lack of classical instrumentation, and instead of our ears being caressed by the sheer brushes of violin sounds as is clearly the intention, the first few bars end up sounding like the main melody is being played by a bunch of gypsies on squeezeboxes. However, though this start to the album is somewhat disheartening, the theme thankfully doesn’t continue. Dance Of Fate and The Last Crusade are both perfectly respectable songs and very listenable, although retaining that new bouncy feeling that Epica seem to be so proud of on this album. There are fewer tempo skips, fewer choir members, fewer clever chord progressions; the entire edifice is just more simple and more likeable, though less daring and less devilish.

The real challenge comes on Solitary Ground, probably one of the softest songs that Epica have produced and one gets the feeling that they’re a little proud of it. The melody is soft and effective, but unfortunately it really shows up the limitations in Simone’s voice, especially when this is the kind of number that should show off her talents as a singer. She has undergone some vocal ‘training’ this time round and the result, though not being bad, is less favourable than on The Phantom Agony. It is less operatic and more clean, and it doesn’t sound as if she’s singing in her natural voice at all. She can’t relax into the music since her mind seems to be ticking over a lot of the time with regard to what she’s supposed to be doing from quaver to quaver. Still, after this the album seems to find its centre more, with the rather affable Quietus; Blank Infinity, which is one of the more instantly enjoyable songs; Mother of Light and the token 10-minute number, Consign To Oblivion, which is actually the weakest song on the album since it tries to be big and clever but ends up being a little unconvincing and forced.

I was expecting Consign To Oblivion to be an energetic, bombastic Gothic Metal explosion and in some ways it is. The production is a little weaker than on The Phantom Agony, though not enough to debilitate the album; the singing is a little weak and the death vocals are extremely sparse, being in only three songs. It is very much a Simone-dominated album. Transmission clearly saw The Phantom Agony take off into the stratosphere and decided that Epica were the future, so this album has been finely chiselled to make it even more likeable to even the coy metal softies out there. However, the main problem with the album is none of these points, but the embarrassing lack of development that Epica have shown in their songwriting. Consign To Oblivion is so similar to The Phantom Agony, you’d almost want to call it The Phantom Agony Mark II, but on examination you’d be hard pressed to since the sound production, chord and song-structures are quite unadventurous, so it actually feels like a bit of a step back, an inferior work to its predecessor.

However, before people start crying over their PCs and feeling like their favourite pet has just died, it should be made clear that Consign To Oblivion does one thing very well, and that is delivering many enjoyable Gothic Metal moments which you could listen to over and over again. There’s no bad music here, and on the surface the overall effect of the album is really quite pleasurable. However, deep down we all know that Epica are an inventive band and extremely creative, but this album doesn’t show these talents off. I’m sure they have the strength and the potential to write even more innovative music, but due to what is clearly some pressure on the part of Transmission to shove another album out onto the shelves quickly, there’s none of it here. Consign To Oblivion should have been an album of eleven great tracks, not merely eleven good tracks, and it really shows that the band should be given the chance to develop their music and experiment. If this freedom is not given to them and the stranglehold is retained, the genre is in danger of losing one of its most valued contributors.

7/10

Draconian – Where Lovers Mourn

31/03/2005 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2002
Label: Napalm
8 Tracks
Language: English

The BnB genre is a place for wannabes and imposters. It is a court for those with delusions of musical grandeur to frolic in, to experiment with the sounds of their predecessors, and to come up with something that sounds clichéd and overdone. Very few bands in BnB dare to do anything too progressive, and unfortunately Draconian aren’t one of them. However, one thing that Draconian do tend to do well is to go on about how damned depressed they are. In fact, anyone that makes too much of a point of something ends up being rather unconvincing, and I don’t believe that Anders et al really want to flap about in their own misery any more than I want to hear lines like, I have a thousand reasons to die/and many millions of tears to cry. If you’re really that depressed about things, just terminate your miserable existence and don’t whinge about everything. Or maybe sell a few more albums and then do it.

Still, there’s nothing on Where Lovers Mourn that is going to stir the dead in their graves, but on the whole it’s not a bad album. Sure, they really exploit the point that they would rather be collectively hanging themselves from the rafters than growling another microtone, but if you strip away the pretentiousness, you end up with quite a decent piece of BnB. Not only this, but some of the tracks on the album are not only nicely written and put together, but the quality of the sound production really does the music justice.

The album starts off with The Cry Of Silence, which is one of the best BnB tracks I have ever heard. I absolutely adore the strength of Anders’voice and though the song bobs along at an almost lento pace for about five minutes, when it speeds up, it’s a real pleasure, then dipping down again before the final runaway crescendo. What such a good opening number does for the album is to create a precedent and a prescience, showing us that there will be other moments on the album when we will all be feeling just a little bored by the slothful gait of some of the numbers and at other times riveted by their momentum. It’s all very well for the odd black metal number to be plodding and slow, but I did catch myself nodding off quite frequently in some of the later numbers here. Fortunately there are good songs like Silent Winter, which bounces along at a nice pace with some beautiful choruses and a helter-skelter of chromatics round the midsection. Lisa Johanssen has a good voice to really carry the higher notes, and thankfully, though it has choral elements to it, it’s not too squeaky or warbly, which is just as well, because I’m really starting to get fed up with ‘operatic’ Gothic Metal vocalists who probably think that Opera is only a web browser and that an ‘aria’ is a nice part of town where middle-class people come from.

Silent Winter, unfortunately, cannot save us all from the dirgefest to follow, and songs like Solitude and Reversio Ad Secussen do very little for the album apart from drag its tone further into some kind of musical bog. I’m aware that this stuff is supposed to be depressing, but if I were thinking of committing suicide and I was listening to these tracks at the time, I’d be too bored to do it. Nevertheless, it does get a little bit better later on, The Amaranth being another goodie, though the version on the demo was way better before Napalm got their hands on it. The guitar is so full-on and crunchy that it sounds a little tuneless and that Johan is actually attempting to start his car in the background rather than play power chords. There is also the gesture acoustic number Akherousin, which plays perfectly well apart from the fact that the violin playing sounds like a cat high on catnip battering a squeaky mouse, and then there’s the finale, It Grieves My Heart, which is one of the better and more interesting tracks. If this track had been included earlier in the album it would have provided a glimmer of hope against the dull opacity of the gloomier numbers, though by the end of the album it’s hard to be too enthusiastic about it.

Where Lovers Mourn is by no means a bad peace of work. This is the sound of a bad who obviously have found their musical niche and it’s going to be difficult to see if they’ll ever veer off this trajectory. The amount of time they have been around before Where Lovers Mourn shows a strong willingness and forceful direction, so it’s a shame that this, for all intents and purposes, their debut, falls flat on a number of levels. The main problem is that a lot of the songs are too similar, and not only that, but sometimes they trudge along at the same slow pace for too often. This hardly instils the listener with a sense of awe and excitement, but nor is it meant to, though I don’t think Draconian’s intention in writing the slower numbers was to make their listeners get so low that they want to catch forty winks. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to respect the power and the dark beauty of some of the songs here, and they really show talent and promise in an otherwise incentiveless and monotonous subgenre. Draconian are capable of capturing the dark atmosphere that a lot of Gothic Metal misses out on, and for this they should be commended. With the right amount of work Draconian could fly the flag for a new era of quality BnB, though with this album they didn’t quite reach the bar enough to raise it.

7/10

Nemesea Interview

31/03/2005 § Leave a comment

Nemesea Interview
Band Interviews – Band Interviews
Written by Sam Grant
Thursday, 31 March 2005

Nemesea Interview
By: Sam Grant
With: Manda Ophuis of Nemesea

Interview Info
By: Sam Grant
With: Manda Ophuis of Nemesea

Sam: Nemesea deserve to be the next big thing on the Gothic metal scene. Are you surprised by how quickly you’ve attained a notoriety and following?

Manda: Yes and no. We work very hard and we are very ambitious but It went quite fast thanx to for instance After Forever and our label Ebony Tears.

Sam: Nemesea was founded in September 2002. Give us a brief rundown of what got you to where you are today since the inception of the band.

Manda: We started this band in September 2002. In April 2003 Ebony tears offered us a record deal and we got a call from a venue in the Netherlands. They heard the demo we recorded in November 2002. He asked us if we would like to play as support act for After Forever. After Forever liked our music and performance so they asked us to tour with them. This was great and we thank them BIG time!!!

Sam: Mana has been out for nearly a month now and it is a startlingly good debut, one of the best I’ve heard. Was it a lot of work to put together and did your personal lives suffer at all in making it?

Manda: Well, It was a lot of work and the fact that we had no experience at all made It even harder. We give 100/150% in everything we do and we are very demanding If It comes to creating something. All these things made It hard to get something done but when we got the hang of It and the locomotive got on speed the things went quite well. And we had to because we had a deadline that was approaching fast.

Sam: My favourite songs on Mana at the moment are Empress and Disclosure. The latter in particular seems to be quite a personal song. Can you tell us what these two songs are about?

Manda: Empress is about a female character that takes advantage of people, men in particular. Basically she pretends to be someone/something while she isn’t. And that’s a situation that’s quite common these days. Lies and betrayal to get what you want. Disclosure is indeed very personal. I would like to keep It that way. The idea and reason why we put the song on the album is that people can interpretate in their own way.

Sam: What is the story behind Mortalitas?

Manda: The story behind Mortalitas is the struggle with death and how we all, sooner or later, will find out what happens in the afterlife. Or .. If there is an afterlife. We wrote It like a short story. It’s about a boy/young man who wakes up one morning and has to confront death. Part 1, The Taker, is about the confrontation with death/The taker telling the boy his time has come. Part 2, Dies Irae , are the Taker’s words going thru the boys head and he almost has accepted is faith. Part3, Moriendum Tibi Est, is the fight that follows. The one last breath you could say played in an instrumental form. Part 4, From Beneath You It Devours, is about defeat and the fact that mankind is mortal.

Sam: Some of Nemesea’s lyrics concentrate on the occult and the supernatural. There is also clearly a strong interest in Mythology. What drew you to these subjects and what interests you about them?

Manda: I’m writing most of the lyrics. I write about things that bother me or interest me very much. Wicca is my religion, I have written a lot of lyrics about that. A couple of them are found on Mana. But also things in life that you hear from the media can be used to write about.

Sam: Caretaker Creations are responsible for your album’s artwork. What does the cover of Mana represent?

Manda: This is a face of the goddess “Nemesis” as we see her. Her face is made out of the wings of a butterfly that stands for her judgmental side, but there’s also the dark side/environment present. You could say it is Nemesis looking over the remains after her revenge. Caretaker Creations did a great job, we are very satisfied.

Sam: After Forever have always been keen to say they don’t make Gothic Metal, whereas Epica say they do. Bearing in mind that people will always wants to label music, what is the definition of Gothic Metal and are you happy being described in this way?

Manda: The definition…..hmmmm that’s a mean one. I think people label a band with gothic/metal If It has female fronted vocals, combined with classical vocal elements and heavy music combined with classical/symphonic orientated orchestrations. We don’t mind If people label our music, we hope they like It, that’s more important.

Sam: Tell us a little about your personal history. Where did you grow up and what kind of music were you into when you were younger?

Manda: I started to play the recorder when I was 7 years old. When I was 9 my parents bought me a flute and I played it for 9 years. I even took pre-education at the conservatory for two years. When I was 18 I found out that I liked singing very much and took singing lessons. After a year I took an entre exam for the conservatory again, but this time it was for singing. I was admitted. Only two years ago I started classical singinglessons.

Sam: When you were at the Noord Nederlands Conservatory you were one of the only ones who was into metal. I myself also found this in the past, which is unusual since my education focussed on classical music. What first got you interested in metal and why do you think it has a reputation in the music world for being a slightly unusual music format?

Manda: The first metal band I ever heard was Metallica. I also listened a lot to classical music as a child. But I found out that the emotion I Found in classical music, was also used in metal ( Fade to black – METALLICA). I loved it immediately.

Sam: Holland is one of the most successful countries for Gothic Metal. What do you think it is about Holland that produces this sort of music so well, while other European countries are struggling by comparison?

Manda: I really don’t know , maybe because of the fact that when there is a great band other/new bands try to get better but … maybe It is just that there is a lot of talent in this country. Not only in metal or even music but in a lot of things.

Sam: What other bands do you think are up and coming on the scene, and which aren’t as good as they used to be?

Manda: Up in the scene I think are After Forever, Within Temptation, Epica and they deserve It. Upcoming are (hopefully) Nemesea and Autumn. There are a lot of other bands in the scene but lack (this is my opinion) the talent or devotion to reach top level. All bands I’ve mentioned get better and better each time they write a new album. I think Nemesea and Epica will too so…. Great isn’t it?

Sam: I hear you will be writing new material soon. Can you tell us anything about the musical direction you want to go in? What other elements, themes and sounds would you like your music to employ?

Manda: The music will become tighter and more compact. We learned a lot about our strong and weak sides in our music and playing so we expect to make a better album. The songs will be shorter but stronger in melody, rhythm and harmony. And of course, how could I forget, the band plays a lot better now so we have a lot of faith in the future. We will use choir and string arrangements even more, and of course more beautiful. Samples will be an element we will expand.

Sam: What albums have you been listening to and enjoying recently?

Manda: I’m still enjoying Fallen/Evenescene and I play it quite often. I’m a DVD freak and recently bought Linkin Park’ live in Texas’ and it’s great. I listen to Invisible Circles/After Forever a lot, it’s a great album!

Sam: Finally, thank you very much for the interview! Do you have any final words for the dedicated [and slightly obsessive] Sonic Cathedral readers?

Manda: Stay tuned and let us know what you think of our debut album ‘MANA’. We hope to see you during our gigs and go and have a visit at our web site http://www.nemesea.com
Enjoy the music!!!

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