Diablo Swing Orchestra – The Butcher’s Ballroom

01/09/2006 § Leave a comment

Diablo Swing Orchestra are clearly a group who don’t harbour concerns about being labelled since most of the work is done for you in the band title. Yes, their sound does have a swing element to it in parts and yes, there is certainly an air of ‘devil’ to the music. Don’t let the term ‘orchestra’ fool you too much, however. Though there is a wide variety of different instruments on this album, they are rarely played all at the same time, therefore the orchestral sense refers more to the quantity of instruments at the band’s disposal rather than the idea that you’ll get twenty things playing simultaneously. This removes any ostentatiousness or epic air from the band’s sound that some may have been concerned about, so the songs don’t give the impression of being played in the majesty of an opera house or orchestral pit, but rather in the backroom of some 18th century peasant tavern.

The Butcher’s Ballroom is really a journey through a variety of different song ideas, some jazz, some metal and some swing, and others which are short, one minute interludes which help mesh the album together. These interludes, for what they’re worth, are certainly not fillers since though they are only a minute or so each they are all beautifully executed. D’angelo, a clean operatic aria sang over acoustic guitar, Qualms Of Conscience, a soft, piano-led piece along the lines of the slower Beethoven or Chopin pieces and Gunpowder Chant, by far the most creepy song on the album, which purely consists of the murmur of a didgeridoo put to the beat of a snare drum, conjure up a classically dark but sinister atmosphere between each number which is bespoke to the tone of the album.

The full songs themselves are also quite different to one another though it is the first two tracks of the album, Balrog Boogie and Heroines, which are the most deserving of the Swing tag, both of which heavily use trumpets and the plucking of a cello to add to the swing feel. Indeed, this theme bleeds into the third track on the album, the wonderful fiesta-esque Poetic Pitbull Revolutions, which includes trumpets in abundance and sounds like something that might be played at a Spanish carnival. The rhythm is mostly carried by the drums rather than the guitars, since the drumbeats dictate what kind of feel each song is going to have while still managing to retain an undeniably metal air.

The band have decided to use operatic female vocals for all of the songs and though this might scream ‘Nightwish’ to some people, nothing could be further from the truth since though Nightwish started out with operatic vocals as a mistake, Diablo Swing Orchestra use them very intentionally and they work spectacularly with the music. Ann-Louice Lögdlund is no doubt an immense talent and it’s clear that she is not attempting to have an operatic voice for effect. Opera is obviously her forte, and this does help the music to have a highly unique and individual feel even though a lot of the songs, especially on first listen, may come across as a little challenging.

Not every song on the album may be as individual as the band would like, though. Clearly an effort has been made to make a lot of the tracks sound different especially when in so many metal albums it’s usual for some songs to sound like carbon copies of the next. However, towards the end of the album the songs start to trail off and sound like nothing too special anymore. The earlier songs have such strength, energy and fire and the later ones, since they’re not using the same tricks anymore, turn into more standard metal songs with no real hooks or centres.

Still, this is hardly a big criticism since overall the music is inventive enough to hold its own and it will definitely keep you coming back for more time and time again. In a way Diablo Swing Orchestra have treated us with their uniqueness and it’s easy to take them for granted when there is hardly any other band that they can be compared to, especially when it comes to metal bands with female vocalists. The years since making their EP have clearly been put to good use and we should all enjoy the results of such a labour. The Butcher’s Ballroom, whichever way you look at it, is a thoroughly original and well-executed debut that many bands could only hope to pull off, and others wouldn’t even have the creativity to envision.

8.5/10

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