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Music Reviews: Nightwish, Evanescence, Lyriel, Beyond the Bridge, Nucleus Torn, Opera Diabolicus

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This week I present a selection of female-fronted metal bands of varying types. It seems to be an early year tradition to release a whole bunch of frock metal.

CD Reviews

Nightwish: Imaginaerum

This is the second release without Tarja and unfortunately it shows. Annete Olzon seems to have more input on the music on here and it begun to sound in places like a heavier Abba. “Storytime” sounds less like Nightwish than Therion did when they covered “Summernight City”. It is a dire song that really does not fit into the Nightwish mileu. There is even a jazz piece, which I quite like in and of itself, but it is not Nightwish.

Why bother having a torch song in the form of “Slow, Love, Slow”? Granted it is a decent set-up for the best song on here, which reminds us all of what they are capable of in the form of “I want my tears back,” and a couple of other glimpses of their previous output.

Then there is always “Turn Lose the Mermaids,” which brings to mind Blackmore’s Night minus a bit of mandolin.

Overall Olzon really can’t keep up with the music and her vocals seem to be struggling most of the time. There is no sense of warmth and engagement in her delivery. Is Olzon the Blaze Bailey (who spent two patchy albums with Iron Maiden before Bruce came back) of the goth metal world? Olzon is not a bad singer, but despite her pop rather than operatic style of singing, she just does not work in Nightwish.

Then there is rather dire and too-long track “Song of Myself” with its lame spoken word bit and dire lyrics. Hasn’t the whole circus oddity theme been beaten to death in the metal yet?

The fact there is more than 10 minutes of instrumental music, in the form of two different tracks, really suggests the band know that Olzon is weak on the vocal front in relation to the Nightwish people expect to hear.

Of course the major trouble for this band is that there are bands that have followed in their original wake that are producing stuff that rivals Nightwish at their “Wish I had an Angel” peak.

This album demonstrates a band that is not exactly in sync with its history or music. It is too haphazard and the quality of the stuff on here is not up to their past output. Yes the quality musicianship is there but there is something missing that leaves this listener cold.

Evanescence: s/t

While this is not as whiney or navel-gazing as the last release from Amy and her band of hired hands, it is still not a patch on their earlier efforts. This whole release seems phoned in and rather bland. There is no real stand-out track that grabs you in any way.

I have listened to this release quite a few times and tried to see if there was anything on here that was at all memorable and there just isn’t. That is not to say the musicianship on here is bad and the singing is even decent. The trouble is the songs are just not all that special. You want to like it but just can’t find any song to base that reaction on.

It is patently obvious that what was so good when this band first started has been completely lost. The instantly catchy hooks are gone and so is that instant likability. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for this release and the last, I still go back to the break-through album by this band to listen to some of the tracks because it is a damn good album to this day.

The band need to figure out a way to recapture that magic and remember how to write decent songs. If not, they will continue to release this sort of average releases that please their hard-core fans but leave the rest of us wondering what went wrong.

Lyriel: Leverage

This band have taken the folk faux-medieval fantasy vibe of Blackmore’s Night and re-introduced it to the world of female-fronted metal. It is catchy and jaunty with a serious dose of tongue in cheek. While similar to some of the swords and drinking Viking party metal, this has a more laid back attitude, thought not always.

It is more for dancing too under the moonlight with your significant other rather than for celebrating after a successful raid.

This release is even better than their last partly because it does not have that tired theme of a circus. The songwriting and songs are much improved over the last album, which was by no means a bad one. It is good to see the band building on their last release. The German band have upped their game completely here and are set to complete with the some of the heavy hitters of larger genre.

There are other bands that do something that is sort of similar to Lyriel, but there is not really anyone who does exactly the same thing. “The Road not Taken” is an impressive violin-heavy power-ballad that has all the right elements for a crowd-pleaser.

The quality of this release could in fact propel the band to the next level of popularity. They are ready for the big leagues now and have produced a far better album than many of the “heavy hitters” in the last few months. And yes I mean the two reviews above this one. When this band really want to they can out-Nightwish/Within Temptation with the best of them. Just check out the title track for proof. It helps that their lead vocalist can belt them out with ease.

The instantly catchy quality to the tracks on here that is very much needed in this genre. “Voice in my Head” prove they can do heads down metal when the needs arises. An excellent all around package and well worth checking out.

Beyond the Bridge: Old Man & The Spirit

Like Lyriel, this lot hail from Germany. But unlike that band they do not do folk metal, but jazz-tinged power prog metal. A lazy description would be a male/female fronted Dream Theater at their most accessible.

Like DT, all the members of this band have gone to various academies of music in their native land. And as you might expect this release is first class and quite impressive for a debut. This album has taken a full seven years to get to the public and it was clearly time well spent.

Furthermore the album is more or less a concept album, but they have managed to make sure all the songs here work on their own. Like many such albums it takes a few listens to truly grasp the album for all its worth. Thought there are some catchy tunes that will stick with you after the first listen.

The title track could easily be a hit single as it is one hell of a tune. The soaring vocal pairing works and really impresses. The fact that the chorus is so over-whelming catchy helps matters as well. Think of this as the band’s “Pull me Under”, or maybe its their “I want to know what Love Is”.

This release is worth it just for this song alone. It is pure AOR goodness that rises above the uber-clever prog metal of the rest of the album and works on so many levels. It has all the elements for a great power ballad with none of the drawbacks that sinks so bands’ efforts at having a go. To say the song soars is just an understatement.

So a bunch of music swots get together to crack out a prog heavy rock album of great quality. It is always nice to start the year by discovering such a musical delight.

Nucleus Torn: Golden Age

If you ever wanted to know what the link between someone like Kate Bush and female-led folk metal is then you might want to check this band out. This is folk prog not unlike some of the Opeth’s recent output but with a very interesting female vocalist. Quite a bit of this music can be quite jarring at times especially on the title track. While this is not metal it certainly has a certain heaviness to it that might attract the more open minded heavy rocker. Some of the tracks are both jarring and beautiful at the same time. Sometimes the band is described as avant garde which might be because they have a habit of throwing every type of acoustic instrument into the mix they can possible find.

Granted this release is probably not for everyone who reads this column, as it is a bit out there. However if you enjoyed the latest Opeth as much as I did then you might just want to give this a shot. As with many such releases it takes quite a few listens to truly sink in but once it does it is a rather rewarding release. Probably not your daily listen but one for the right mood for sure.

Opera Diabolicus: +1614

Can’t find too much information about this release, but it is the brainchild of David Grimoire and lyricist Adrian de Crow. Snowy Shaw and Mats Levin of Therion fame head a whole list of talent appearing on this. There is a pretty female voice to counter the gruff male singers on the tracks. This is symphonic metal as you might imagine and it is very operatic in scope.

I suspect the main characters behind this are psudonyms for a couple of people having a good laugh. The cover of the album features two men in masked ball masks arm-wrestling. This is top quality frock metal with all the trimmings. There are touches of Therion and any of the various female-fronted metal bands you could think of.

The song-writing is top notch and although they might take on the much-sung-about Countess Bathory, it is a great track. A pinch of King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, without the daft vocal style, might be down to the producer being Andy Le Rocque.

The great thing about this album is while it is operatic and very epic in scope, it never drifts into the Phantom of the Opera or Meatloaf type of over-blown kitsch. Any metal-head worth his salt can still hold their head up and really enjoy this release. They rush up to the edge of silliness but never step over the line to blow it all. All the elements are done in their proper balance. The mixture of vocal styles makes all more enjoyable and varied. Gloriously over the top but never too much, this is a fun symphonic metal romp that will put a smile on your face.

Well that is your lot for this week stay warm, safe and rocking out there.

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