13/01/2006 § Leave a comment
2005 was very much the year of the underdog. Most of the bigger names in the industry such as Within Temptation, Nightwish and After Forever had released albums in 2004 and had thus cleared the way for the lesser bands in 2005 to get some exposure.
As the year dragged on, and drag it did, pockets of talent from the less well-known corners of the genre seemed to show through. However, the sound of the underground was hardly the fresh hum of something positive and promising but the flat drone of something monotonous and plain. The Gothic underground seemed to have turned through neglect into some kind of disgruntled, unwell creature sat festering too long in its own juices. What there was to see, more than anything, was not necessarily a gaping hole at the centre of the scene but a wound created by the mainstream. The lack of attention towards the larger bands meant that we really got to see the up-and-coming contenders for the femme metal crown in all their glory, though unfortunately, the next suitors going for their run of the Gothic gauntlet did not look that formidable.
Many would agree that 2005 was a dry year with nothing really to offer and though there were one or two diamonds in the rough, they were few and far between and sometimes quite a respectable amount of excavation was necessary before they made themselves known. It was not a year either for the newly-initiated to become au fait with new releases since there was little there of quality. Musical genres, like wines, have their good and bad years, and unfortunately 2005 was very much a case of sour grapes rather than the cream of the crop and there were moments when one found oneself delving into the Deciphers, Mother Earths and Comalies just to remember why exactly the new BESEECH or SUNTERRA album had found its way into the CD player in the first place.
But was it really all that bad? No, it wasn’t terrible but things have certainly been better. Scandinavia had the largest amount of new material on offer in 2005, starting with the sensational MIDNATTSOL, whose folky twist to femme metal made their sound slightly more interesting than LEAVES’ EYES’, who produced their worst album so far with Vinland Saga. This was something that I, in particular, found quite disappointing since I thought that Lovelorn had the capability to be something really quite good but just missed the mark: there was definitely a potential there, a presence which didn’t need too much exploiting to be half-decent. Still, LEAVES’ EYES had two directions they could have gone in since their debut last year – straight up or down – and it was quite an unceremonious downwards trajectory that they took with Vinland Saga. Their reception amongst the more seasoned members of the Gothic metal crowd has never been that favourable but now they need to do something quite drastic to salvage their reputation.
Through MIDNATTSOL the term ‘folk metal’ rang out heavily at the start of the year, though the true holders of the femme folk metal standard, LUMSK, went by more or less unnoticed as they produced another album of quite startlingly high quality with Troll. Though only eight tracks long in comparison to the fourteen -track marathon that was their last effort, Troll showed off some amazing vocals and wonderfully progressive songwriting, nevertheless, it slipped by with little more than a puff rather than a fanfare and as a result the band remain one of the most underrated in femme metal at the moment.
Other bands from Scandinavia which also released albums to relatively little aplomb were the unsung heroes of progressive female metal, THE PROVENANCE, whose third unpleasantly-titled offering, How Would You Like To Be Spat At – a darkly honest and personal heartwrencher – had little press; while my heart went out altogether for MORTAL LOVE, whose second album, I Have Lost, was miles ahead of their previous dreary effort. Unfortunately, it seemed that their debut had so alienated people [probably due to the atrocious nature of its lyrics more than anything else] that most listeners thought it pointless to check out whatever they had to say next.
Many were waiting desperately to see what TRISTANIA would come up with next now that they didn’t have any Morten-dregs to siphon off since World Of Glass. Ashes was very much a double-edged sword – beautifully satiating for some and terribly bland and lifeless for others – it will forever remain an album which the devotees of the band love, while the devotees of the genre will just sit quiet in the knowledge that Ashes was very much an underdone steak of an album, unsucculent and unsatisfying, though if it had been left to marinate longer it could have been something really quite special. Not so much, however, could be said for Darker Designs & Images by Norway’s kings of black metal corn, SIEBENBURGEN, who put out probably their worst effort yet and proved that they are no longer a band worth following. Meanwhile, THE CREST put on a good show with Vain City Chronicles in spite of the fact that Nell has taken time out for THEATRE OF TRAGEDY, and RAM-ZET went from strength to strength with their best, most complex and innovative offering yet, Intra.
Scandinavia really took the lion’s share of albums and new releases, leaving the main contender, Holland, with little to say by comparison. However, two of the heavyweights, AFTER FOREVER and EPICA, ended up not so much battling it out at a few gigs together but releasing a couple more albums in the interim. EPICA’s Consign To Oblivion, though quite accomplished, was unfortunately not to the same standard as their wonderful Phantom Agony, while AFTER FOREVER’s Remagine ended up being something of a surprise since though it was written and thrown together in a small amount of time, this actually seemed to be its strength. The shorter songs and easy-to-follow lyrics really did the trick against Invisible Circles which was full of sound and fury by comparison but did, ultimately, signify nothing.
As the year waned on it became clear that there was one more voice in Holland which was going to make itself known and rightfully hog the limelight in 2005. Arjen Lucassen had created many impressive offerings over the years but with STREAM OF PASSION he cornered the femme metal market. There was nothing Gothic about Embrace The Storm so there was no commercial imagery attached to the music, but for a straight femme-metal debut album it was strikingly impressive. Those who had not heard of ELFONIA’s Marcela Bovia were totally floored by her vocal talent and for many Embrace The Storm was unquestionably the album of the year – and deservedly so.
It wasn’t just Holland that had a couple of things to offer – newer talent was emerging from the rest of Europe and there were many bands who put out impressive debuts. It was not only new bands that came to light though, but new countries placed themselves on the Gothic Metal map: Slovenia came through with NAIO SSAION who had released Numedia a few years ago but which Napalm reworked for what it called their ‘debut’, Out Loud. Turkey came through with a more rocky SEBNEM FERAH and CATAFALQUE showed that they could teach many a band in the scene how BnB really should be done. Poland didn’t really have much to show with two disastrously disappointing releases, MOONLIGHT’s Downwords and UNDISH’s A Gift Of Flying which were both literally shadows of what they could have been. Nevertheless, it was Italy’s FOREVER SLAVE who came up with one of the worst albums of the year, Alice’s Inferno, which was a blind stab in the dark at being popular amongst the Gothic Metal crowd and was only lauded by those critics who had heard little or no truly good Gothic Metal before.
However, what 2005 did do very well was to reform our preconceptions and expectations of the genre. A lot of people expected great things from the likes of LEAVES’ EYES, TRISTANIA and EPICA and a lot of people were disappointed – still, this was no bad thing since it gave a chance for a bare few bands – RAM-ZET, MORTAL LOVE, THE CREST and STREAM OF PASSION to shine through and show that that there were still other people out there making very good albums.
2005 also saw the emergence of a few bands who will be very necessary to watch in the near future and which we should all expect good releases from in 2006. The first of these is the wonderful TO-MERA featuring the vocals of ex-WITHOUT FACE singer Julie Kiss. TO-MERA’s two-song demo with sublime, lush vocals and progressive, composite instrumentation attracted attention from many labels [now signed to Candlelight] and it will be interesting to see what their debut will bring. There are also two up and coming Dutch bands, namely AURACLE and DELAIN who have both put together impressive demos and should have some very special releases coming in the new year.
As if this wasn’t enough, there are some massive bands putting out albums in 2006 and the line-up is quite impressive already with THE GATHERING, THEATRE OF TRAGEDY, FLOWING TEARS, LACUNA COIL, EVANESCENCE and WITHIN TEMPTATION all expected to honour releases. However, there is one big name – NIGHTWISH – missing from the equation, and the only thing we are likely to hear from them in 2006 is who their new vocalist will be. Speculation will undoubtedly continue about the identity of the new singer, though hardly anyone knows at this stage who it could be. However, one thing remains for sure: NIGHTWISH continue to grab people’s attention even when they’re not making music.
2005 Notable releases:
Midnattsol – Where Twilight Dwells
Mortal Love – I Have Lost
Tristania – Ashes
Leaves’ Eyes – Vinland Saga
The Crest – Vain City Chronicles
Lumsk – Troll
Ram-Zet – Intra
The Provenance – How Would You Like To Be Spat At
Beseech – Sunless Days
After Forever – Remagine
Epica – Consign To Oblivion
Stream Of Passion – Embrace The Storm
Delphian – Oracle
The Gathering – Accessories, Rarities & B-sides
Morning – Hour Of Joy
Moonlight – Downwords
Undish – The Gift Of Flying
Rest Of Europe
Catafalque – Unique [Turkey]
Skeptical Minds – Rent To Kill [France]
Forever Slave – Alice’s Inferno [Italy]
Elfonia – This Sonic Landscape [Spain]
Sebnem Ferah – Can Kiriklari [Turkey]
Naio Ssaion – Out Loud [Slovenia]
Xandria – India [Germany]
Lucid Fly – Adapting To Gravity
Era For A Moment – Realise
Gretchen – In The Mean Time
Legion Of Hetheria – Choices
Bands to watch in 2006
Lucid Fear [Norway]
Sylver Myst [Holland]
Ebony Ark [Spain]
Skeptical Minds [Belgium]
The Gathering [Holland]
Theatre Of Tragedy [Norway]
Lacuna Coil [Italy]
Flowing Tears [Germany]
Crimson Tears [UK]