Gothic Metal – A Fading Tale

20/04/2006 § Leave a comment

2006 has already proved an important year. After the musical wasteland of 2005 it’s been reassuring to see some of the bigger names releasing long-awaited albums and some of those albums have not only been long-awaited, but needed, demanded, craved and pined for by a whole host of Gothic Metal fanatics all over the world.

At the beginning of the year, with Lacuna Coil out of the spotlight since 2002 and with Nightwish having jettisoned their vocalist in favour of someone with an ego not quite as large as the next WTC conspiracy theory it almost felt as if the Gothic Metal genre had been unintentionally orphaned and that it was up to Within Temptation and a number of smaller bands to take up the parenthood and make us all feel that everything wasn’t going to go to hell in a chickenbasket.

Though why should any of us have been worried at all anyway? Are we really that fickle and pernickety that as soon as one of the keystones drops out temporarily we’ll all be shaking our heads, commenting that everything’s gone dry and that the luscious, verdant plateau of musical ecstasy we were once all frolicking in has become a barren vacuum of hopelessness? Well, yes and no. Tristania did try to reassure us all that they still had it in them with their mediocre Ashes, and Epica’s Consign To oblivion didn’t quite live up to the standard of its predecessor, however, After Forever did manage to convince us of their worthiness with Remagine, even though it was starkly different from the Gothic loveliness of their earlier works. And there lies the rub: the problem exists in the fact that most of us got into Gothic metal in the first place through the sounds of early Tristania, LC and Theatre Of Tragedy whose offerings are now almost disparate from what they used to be. The goalposts have well and truly shifted in favour of success and commercialism, and now that a slightly different sound is expected of bands in order to sell records, the likelihood of things changing back to their original order is slim.

Nevertheless, this is how musical genres, bands and styles develop and it’s clear to see that femme-fronted Gothic Metal in the late 90s is no longer the inventive nightling it used to be. The main albums of 2006 have been now put out by some of the most important bands around – The Gathering, Theatre Of Tragedy and Lacuna Coil – bands that have shaped the very foundations of the music which subsequent artists such as Xandria, Elis, Evanescence and Bloodflowerz now practise. However, in order for things to really go with a bang for Mr Label Magnate and his minions – the emphasis in Gothic metal really has to be in the ‘metal’ rather than Gothic. What does Gothic mean for the genre anymore but just the inclusion of female vocals and the odd choir sample thrown in? Maybe we’re all becoming too easy to please and a little too indiscriminate. It seems that the original Gothic essence is being lost in favour of what the majority of people really want and since Gothic metal didn’t sell enough of its own back, the labels have to bring in the cavalry in the shape of chunkier, bouncy riffs and songs which are as easily forgotten as you can say ‘MTV2’.

There is always another way to relieve the pressure of the tide of corporate condition though. The most discriminate band of the original bunch would be The Gathering who released one of the most impressive albums that I’ve heard for a long time this month. My faith for the band had been slowly spiralling downwards for the last few years but Home has beautifully righted the balance. The Gathering were a band who, one album after releasing their much-acclaimed seminal Gothic metal album, did a bit of a Radiohead manoeuvre [and it’s no coincidence that this is one of the bands which they respect the most] and instead of trying to top what they had already written, they went in a totally different direction in 1998 and have been honing their sound and whittling it to perfection over since. Home deserves to stand proud above the rest of Gothic metal though it is, in a sense, not Gothic at all. Backing away from Century Media really gave the band the chance to explore what avenues of interest they wanted to, and listening to Home serves as a reminder that these people have risen above the genre which they created rather than have their music contorted into something user-friendly, bitesize, colourful and sugary which a lot of other bands do. The choice was theirs – go your own way or go with a major label and have your music altered in order to make your albums fly off the shelves with greater ease.

One band who are guilty of this, now more than before, are the ever-inventive Lacuna Coil. Inventive, that is, in creating less and less complex songs, saying less and less likeable things about the genre that spawned their success and becoming less and less agreeable people. Is this what happens to bands when they become successful? Maybe for some, though I would have thought that LC would have risen above such an attitude. However, the evidence is there, horrible for all to see and though Karmacode isn’t terrible as an album, it is but a carcass of the kind of music they used to produce – a rotting shell with only a semblance of similarity to the music they were making five years ago, such is the draw and pull of the recording industry when it sinks its fangs into you. Of course the new – and younger – fans will lap it up like it’s the best thing their little ears have come ever across and oh how popular they will in the forums discussing it. Then there are the new experts who will have managed to quickly purchase all LC’s other albums on the back of this one so they can say how diverse the band used to be but Karmacode is far and away their best effort.

Still, once can’t really blame the band for taking this tack. When presented with the option of making a living out of your life’s love of music or earning a hell of a lot less money but still having freedom to do what you want with your sound, most of us would probably choose the former option. Are we really going to blame LC over The Gathering when people were also saying three years ago that Souvenirs was a total betrayal to their earlier music? The answer is simple – you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can at least ensure that the majority of your fanbase retains respect for you. In this way, The Gathering show themselves to be more innovative than one might initially think since by being individuals rather than pieces of the machine they can still garner respect from their fans to the point where people will buy their music having not heard it since they know they will be in for an interesting and challenging listen whenever they buy a Gathering record. That’s an experience which hardly any of the LC fanbase can admit to sharing. And that, for the serious music fan, is a risk that many of us are willing to take.

It’s a bit of shame that just over ten years down the line since female-fronted Gothic metal came into its own, that many of us would plead for a back-to-basics approach to the genre, reigniting the torch that carried it this far before commercialism got its hold. On the other hand, ten years in the land of rock and metal is a very long time with fads and genres being created and falling away left, right and centre. Creativity is about using what tools you have open to you and allowing only as much influence in as you can control. In another ten years time The Gathering are far more likely to stick around than Lacuna Coil. By then, the moguls will have filled their pockets, the kiddies will be into something else but the older and more respected bands will have grown in strength. Maturity isn’t always counted in years. It is primarily – and musically – a state of mind.

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Sage – In Vain

20/04/2006 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2005
Self-financed
5 Tracks
English Lyrics

I don’t know about you but when I think of Sage I think about stuffing. Turkeys. Forced festivities. Any form of family celebration that necessities getting all your relatives together and pretending that you get on for more of a reason than that you just happen to share a bloodline. A lot of the time it’s difficult enough to share a dinner table with your relatives let alone a lineage. Nevertheless, you’ll be pleased to know that this particular kind of Sage, a quartet from Chicago, have little or nothing to do with Yuletide ditties, herb parcels or anything that involves you getting yourself elbow deep in poultry; and though there’s generally a hidden meaning in a lot of band’s lyrics, I can’t find anything about that kind of thing in here.

Sage already had one EP out before In Vain released itself into the female-fronted metal scene but it seems to have been digested somewhere into the intestines of obscurity. No matter though, since In Vain is a perfectly respectable offering which is noteworthy on a number of levels. The first thing that attracted me to this band is how tight their sound was – everything is spot on and to the semi-quaver, and for a band with only two EPs out, it’s not a bad accomplishment. Secondly, Tracey Sage’s vocals are uncompromisingly attractive in their gritty nature: she has a terribly strong and emotive rock voice which slots into the musical passages with thoughtless ease.

The idea of rock is quite a present one on the album since the music that Sage make is not particularly metal. More than anything the style of music here is progressive, hard rock with a dash of metal thrown in, though the slightly over-trebly guitars ensure that this stays very much in rock territory. Sage are hardly writing easy music for themselves and as experienced as I like to think I am in the realms of progressive music I have to admit to being slightly impressed with how far this band have come in such a short amount of time: some of the songs really command a lot of musical skill and proficiency to carry off successfully. The first track on the album, Manifest Destiny, with its looping, rollercoastering bass line is certainly a good example of this. Also, the tight, fast-paced Backbone begins with heavier guitars that hammer into your ears with relentless harshness and which are impressively timed with the scattered pounding of the drums. However, by far the best track on the EP is the more melodic Graves and though it’s nowhere near a ballad of a song, it does have a more mellow feel to it since a lot of Sage’s songs are quite pushy and demand attention, whereas this is the only one that lets you drift without feeling like your being bashed about too much by the music.

Still, even though In Vain does very well as a five song EP, it becomes quite hard to discriminate between the songs after a few listens – the trebly guitar gets a bit overwhelming and though Tracey has a fantastic voice and she can throw the notes out like anybody’s business, there’s no particular difference to her tones throughout the songs. Her vocal intensity remains at the same level from the first to the last note which, as a listener, doesn’t really let you become lifted and borne on the music but more harangued by the musical equivalent of a town cryer. This is In Vain’s main issue, and though the lyrics are quite personal and profound, their delivery is crying out for a more sympathetic and compassionate approach, since the loud, obtrusive way in which they’re conveyed sometimes seems a little jarring.

In spite of this, Sage are still a terribly promising band who have a great deal of potential. There is clearly a lot of talent here and I get the impression that over time this band could become even more deft and could create music of extremely high quality and power. Sage is one in a long line of bands crying out for more exposure and a full-length album would certainly not disappoint. A little more feeling and concentration on the finer details of the musical exposure could make a full-length album a very tasty offering indeed.

7/10

Satyrian – Eternitas

20/04/2006 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2006
Lion Music
11 tracks
English Lyrics

Satyrian, until a couple of months ago, had to be one of the biggest kept secrets in Gothic Metal. The band was actually founded back in 2002 but due to the fact that the other members had multiple projects on, we haven’t got to see a full album till 2006. In order for Satryrian to exist, Jan Yrland from Lacrimosa scraped together a few artists from a cereal of well-known bands and sculpted a Gothic-metal supergroup out of them. I was rather excited when I came across these people, it seemed like they’d been hiding in a bunker for the last few years and were only just ready to shower the music world with the fruits of their labour, so when the promo finally arrived I was ready to burst – unceremoniously messily – with the prospect of what goodness this album would hold.

And when you look at the members list it’s not difficult to see why – Kemi from the Dreamside; Judith from Danse Macabre; Roman Schönsee who has produced God knows how many albums for bands like The Cruxshdows, Funker Vogt and Asrai; and Jan Yrlund himself. With all that talent stewing together in the same pot the result should be an explosive surge of musical greatness, should it not? Well, in theory yes, but the overall result seems to be a bit of a Beto Vasquez Infinity effect – so much talent in one space that it almost seems to cancel itself out. The band members are all clearly very competent and experienced and the songs are well put together, but for some reason the result isn’t a lot more interesting than a celery and Ryvita sandwich.

The album starts off with the title track and the pianos and synths are immediately followed by the fast-timed drums and the guitars. It’s the kind of stuff that we’ve all heard a hundred times before, however, when Kemi’s vocals come in it’s clear that her voice is just not tailored to this kind of music: it’s too rich and soft and she seems a little out of place among the heavy guitars and the fast drumming. Her voice has colour and feeling, but it doesn’t have that much strength and in places it seems as if the music is running away and she’s struggling to keep up. Invictus, the next track, is better sounding with the Gregorian-esque chants in the background and there are some nice industrial synths in places but there is something desperately lacking – some style, some flair, some inventiveness – which I expected from this lot but which for some reason isn’t quite delivered and I was hoping the rest of the album wasn’t going to go the same way.

There are some better moments further on though – the best track on the album is probably The Dark Gift with its catchy simple synth intro and runaway chorus. However, I couldn’t help thinking that songs like this are the albums’ strength only because the rest of the stuff on offer is actually quite bland. I was also surprised to hear a number like The Bridge Of Death, which goes for the whole jolly jester feel with a male/female dialogue and lyrics like “standing on the bridge of death, who will dance with me,”/”there’s never a man of living breath who will dare to dance with thee” which are painfully cheesy, and when the bouncy ‘lalallaa’ chorus came in I’m surprised I didn’t grind my teeth into powder through wincing.

At the end of the album there are a couple of stronger numbers like Fall From Grace and the softer This Dream but overall there’s little to raise Eternitas above the level of mediocrity which weighs it down quite noticeably. All the songs bumble along at the same pace and there are no real climbs in the vocals or instrumental passages, it’s almost as if the music is afraid to do anything but hover around a central point and though I have listened to this time and time again, I’m hard-pressed to find much that stands out. What Satyrian really need to do is create some more diverse sounds since the talent is quite definitely here, but the songwriting seems to do little else but check all the Gothic Metal requirement boxes: chants, guitars and synths abound, but there’s nothing particularly interesting being done with them. As a debut from any other band this wouldn’t be bad at all, but we all know this lot are capable of pulling off better material than this and by their next album I certainly hope they can.

6.5/10

The Gathering – Home

20/04/2006 § Leave a comment

CD Info
2006
Psychonaut
13 Tracks
English lyrics

There have been numerous occasions where The Gathering have disappointed me. Mandylion was, and probably will always remain, one of the most significant albums in femme-metal though their direction after How To Measure A Planet hinted strongly at a band that were searching for a different sound but who were unable to find it. It has now been three years since their last release, Souvenirs, and I was wondering what the Gathering had left to offer us. When any band changes its sound drastically they can only hold the baton of invention for so long before dropping it altogether and slipping into obscurity. However, what Rene and Anneke realised was that Souvenirs was an overgilded piece of work and flogging an art form to death really does nothing to ensure its quality.

Home is very much a step back from the sound on Souvenirs: it is far more spontaneous, far more modest and far more successful in setting out what it is trying to achieve. It is an example of the success of The Gathering’s inventiveness and proof that when they get the mix right, they can create music which is far better than what the majority of bands in the genre can ever hope to produce. The key to Home is sensitivity, and in a way this may have been a point learned from Sleepy Buildings. There is still a triprock essence, but for the first time it works since it is a natural hybrid of the innovative extremities of Souvenirs and How To Measure A Planet.

What The Gathering do so well this time round is make every song on the album not only distinct from all the others but they also manage to divide many of the songs into different sections. A lot of the numbers have numerous ideas melded into the same part but because each element is carried out with great simplicity the entire edifice works beautifully well. In addition to this, certain musical themes lay a bedrock for each song which strengthens the musical foundations and ultimately provides greater authority: Shortest Day with its guitar fade-in/out effect which dominates the verse, In Between with its jumpy chords and Alone with its buzzing repetitive bassline.

The Gathering have also not forgotten the extreme talents of their frontwoman and there are many moments on Home where one is reminded of just how good she can be. Anneke plays with words and verbal rhythms as much as she does with the notes and vocal melodies, some of which are nothing short of stunning: songs like Forgotten, which only contain Anneke and a piano, will make you stop everything you are doing in order to concentrate on the refinement of the music before you. Her intonation is as endearing as possible and just the way she can whisper a word like ‘box’ is crisp and sharp, and though there are moments in Waking Hour, one of the best songs on the album, where she actually misses some of the higher notes, one gets the impression that the range is intentionally too high for her so that she’s forced to gasp the final strains of the song, choking on the high end of the stave but doing so with a certain humility.

There are very few negative moments on Home but unfortunately some are present. There is the pointless instrumental that is Fatigue, the sampled Spanish mutterings on Solace and the reprise of Forgotten at the end of the album which we could really have done without. Nevertheless, these don’t get in the way of the enjoyment on any level, it’s clear from start to finish that Home is a work of very high quality and we are reminded of this constantly throughout it. In fact, it is clearly the most rounded work that The Gathering have produced for many, many years. Gone is the pretentious trial of Black Light District and the loopy drum beats of HTMAP and Souvenirs, and while there may be the odd drum loop hint on Home, it’s nothing but a hangover since the band have realised that these work far better as a background building block rather than some gargolic foreground din. The sound on Home is far more conventional in its use of drums, guitar and bass, and dropping the majority of the other effects is quite a relief.

More than anything though, Home feels just like its namesake – the place where The Gathering have been meaning to get to musically for a long time but, through various personal and artistic difficulties, haven’t quite managed to find themselves there. Sleepy Buildings was a sign of further excellence to come and now The Gathering have proved, once again, that they are the indisputable masters of the genre who deserve the utmost reverence for the quality of their music. Home is an album which will require the greatest amount of time and respect to be understood, but with such good material on offer, it’s unlikely you’ll want to give it anything else.

8/10

Lucid Fly Interview

20/04/2006 § Leave a comment

Band Interviews – Band Interviews
Written by Sam Grant
Thursday, 20 April 2006

Lucid Fly Interview By: Sam Grant
With: Nikki Layne of Lucid Fly

Interview Info
By: Sam Grant
With: Nikki Layne of Lucid Fly
April 2006

Sam: Maybe I’m not the first person to ask this but it has to be done. Why the name Lucid Fly? I imagine it doesn’t relate to the insect but more to the sensation of movement, as the album title hints at.

Nikki: Lucid Flies into the Record Book…The name “Lucid Fly” came from this newspaper headline about America’s most experienced astronaut, female pioneer Dr. Shannon Lucid. We felt we had exhausted all the names and got tired of pulling randomly out of the dictionary, so when a friend saw the headline, the name just kind of stuck!

Sam: My favourite song by far on the album is Center Of Your Space – it’s certainly the most progressive. Artists generally don’t like to reveal the meanings behind their songs – care to break the mould?

Nikki: The song “Center Of Your Space” is one of our earlier songs, and it basically envelopes the thoughts about relationships and people coming in & out of your life and what lessons you might learn from these experiences.

Sam: I would describe Lucid Fly very much as progressive rock – what other genres of music do you have an interest in and you think might have influenced you sound?

Nikki: To me our style has been very difficult to categorize because we all have such diverse influences. I would definitely describe the music as progressive hard rock. My favorite types of genres would have to include Rock (of all types), Metal, Ambient, Pop, Folk, Trip Hop, Soul, Jazz. I draw from anything that moves me.

Sam: Adapting To Gravity has been out for about a year now – what was the response of the album in the media and what expectations did you have of the album’s reception prior to its release?

Nikki: The response of ATG has been awesome, we most often get that people can’t take it out of their cd player…which is great! I have always felt like our music is edgy and has an unexpectedness to it that grows on you. We have been lucky enough to sell cds all over the world! Prior to its release, we really had no expectations – we just wanted to have great recordings of our songs and something to sell to our fans…we feel very lucky that we were able to accomplish that and that people are listening and buying it!

Sam: In Collide there is a philosophical hint of inevitability in the desires for two people to get romantically involved. Do you believe in the pull of fate or do you think that everything is indeterminate and we all have the sole power to decide our own courses?

Nikki: From my own experience, I feel that everyone we meet and everything that happens is for a reason. I feel we choose our fate based on the experiences that are beyond our control. I don’t feel there are coincidences…life is about choices-its all in the mindset.

Sam: The rock that Lucid Fly makes is certainly very assured and skilful but are there any other avenues of composition you would like to explore or is rock an undying passion for you?

Nikki: Well, my first passion is definitely rock, but I am really not limiting myself to just one genre. I really feed off all types of music…like I love drum n bass grooves, I love soulful music, so I guess I will just continue to play from the heart, and whatever comes out will come out!

Sam: The singing on the album is very adept. What training and experience have you had vocally over the year? When did you first start singing?

Nikki: Lucid Fly is the first band I have ever been in, I grew up in a very creative environment full of musicians, painters, artists etc. so I was destined to become an artist myself. I have never really had any formal vocal training but I have been singing my whole life (but I kept it to myself until about 8 years ago). My main influences (vocally) are: Maynard James Keenan, Imogen Heap, Ann Wilson, Chris Cornell, Pat Benatar…just to name a few!

Sam: I notice you have quite an intense gigging schedule – what kind of reaction do you generally get at gigs and what have been the most memorable gigs so far and the ones you’d least like to remember?

Nikki: Yes, we have been keeping a steady gig schedule. We get a great response at every show, building a solid fan base all over. I think our best, most memorable show was the most recent tour we played. We travelled to Austin, TX for the SXSW Music Conference. We played at the infamous “Coyote Ugly” for a Music Gorilla Showcase. The crowd was very responsive, the venue was fun and intimate (and quirky J) We played tight and the sound was huge!!! Any time we travel is a great band bonding experience, but when we play well and get great feedback it just motivates us that much more to keep doing what we love…

Sam: You have only played inside the US, it seems. What is the best country you have been to on a personal level and which country which you most like to play in as a band?

Nikki: Yes, so far we have played mostly in the Southeast & Midwest Regions of the US: FL, GA, KY, LA, TX, OH, PA. On a personal level, I have been to the tropical regions: Aruba, Bahamas, Grand Cayman, Mexico, but my passport is here and ready for use, lol!!! As a band we would love to play in Europe, Australia, Japan. We are ready for world domination, haha..

Sam: I think that Lucid Fly definitely has the ability to be signed to a label. Is this something that you’re geared towards and are interested in making a commitment to?

Nikki: We are very committed as a band, and work very hard to write good music, be professional and put on the best live performance possible. We absolutely would love to get signed to a major/indie label..but “making it” to us is pushing our personal limits as musicians, being as creative as possible, and also playing our music for as many people as possible, everything else is icing on the cake!

Sam: Has Lucid Fly been through various incarnations? Can you tell us a little about the band’s history?

Nikki: The band originated with Nikki (vocals) and Doug (guitarist) in 1998 and after a few member changes we came across Derrick (drummer) in 2002 and Justin (bass)…we got together and worked on some ideas and at that point we knew we hit on a winning combination…we’ve been collaborating ever since J

Sam: Tell us more about your personal formative years. Would you say you had a normal upbringing? What elements of your youth do you think have influenced and become integrated in your music?

Nikki: Well, I would say I turned out pretty normal, lol but growing up it was never a dull moment. I was immersed in music (mostly southern rock, classic rock, gospel & country) My father was in a southern rock band…he played guitar, harmonica, and sang, and my grandparents, my aunt and my uncle were in several country bands. They played everything from banjo, guitar, piano, and of course sang. I was very fortunate to be surrounded with such talent. I was very shy and although I knew I had a voice, I never revealed it until about 8 years ago…sure glad I did! I think the fact that my family was so open to all music is what gave me the courage, and the power to be to create my own music.

Sam: I imagine music is not your full-time job. What do you do when you’re not spending your time in a band? What are your interests, day activities and obsessions?

Nikki: I do work at an entertainment industry related media arts college, but Lucid Fly is pretty much 2 full time jobs wrapped into 1 for me. In addition to rehearsing and writing at least 3x’s a week, I manage and book all the shows which keeps me very busy. When I do find time for R&R, I listen to new music, I love to travel, I love fashion/makeup, I like reading and hanging out with friends. Oh, and I can always go for some good sushi or Mexican food!

Sam: Have you started working on any new material and what future enhancements can we expect from Lucid Fly’s sounds in the future?

Nikki: Yes, we have been working on lots of new material…that is our focus for the time being, we also gearing up for a video shoot for the song No Sleep, and looking forward to that.

Sam: Before you go, do you have any word for the devoted and obsessed Sonic Cathedral faithful?

Nikki: Well, be sure to check out our music on the upcoming Sonic Cathedral compilation series called “Sirens”. Also, thanks for being such great fans who support our music…keep spreading the word…hope to see you at a show in the near future! Keep rockin’.

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