Crownless - Confines Of Silence

Genre: Power Metal, Symphonic Metal

Gathering musicians from various death, black and thrash metal bands (the most eye catching being the colorfully named Anal Vomit), Crownless ventures into a wholly different territory. At first glance Crownless would appear to be Italian by judging from the sound, but from a time when Italian metal still had a certain freshness about it. Instead, these guys come from the Peruvian capital, and with their debut album Confines Of Silence, they bring a sweet exploration into the realms of the symphonic. It is a fresh blend of Nightwish and old school Rhapsody, sprinkled with touches of the old Dark Moor and the likes. Folksier notes are brought about in Legions Of Him while dramatic The Unloved go all out on theatrics. The album is ambitious, but not prone to grandstanding, showcasing a stripped down sound less reliant on big choirs and massive symphonic backdrops - though they are present of course - and more on beautiful, soaring melodies and musicianship, which works in Crownless’s favor.

Crownless - Confines Of Silence

Vocalist MariVe Iglesias brings just that right amount of over the top operatics while mostly sticking to a light and airy mid range. The contrasts therein make those Turunen inspired moments all the more powerful, unlike on their 2015 EP Sigillum, where they were used less sparingly and it just didn’t sound that good (though to be fair the production and mix on that EP was miles below what’s shown here). The vocal melodies are catchy and cheesy in the right amount, and Iglesias brings about a majestic sound in the high notes and emotional tinges when needed. The production suffers slightly due to a lack of dynamics; the bass is virtually absent, and only makes slight forays to make itself heard. Guitarist Pedro ‘Nekrogore’ Bernales lays down a few toxic solos and lead guitar parts to battle the keys which also would deserve to sit a little higher in the mix to show off the skills. The battling between the two in tracks like Sailing The Dark is phenomenal, and the song itself a high mark on the album, sounding like something Nightwish could have put out a few years back.

It won’t be revolutionizing symphonic metal by any means, but the album and the band’s style and direction is just so uplifting that it’s hard not be drawn along for the ride. The songs are rather short affairs, most clocking in around the four minute stretch, leaving the total runtime at slightly under 40 minutes, a few of which are filler material that doesn’t reach the standards of the higher points; so Confines Of Silence is by no means the perfect debut album, let alone a perfect album. Perhaps instead of Standing On - the blandest track on here - they could have redone another track from Sigillum (Sailing The Dark is the one they did), but as it is, the tracklist is decent at least, and in most senses outshines the aforementioned EP. It has its slight flaws and misses, but it leaves lots of taste for what else this Peruvian outfit might come up with in the years to come, and it does so while delivering plenty of substance in a relatively short time and with heaps of passion for the trade. And on the whole Confines Of Silence is a highly enjoyable little love affair with a sound that was thought foregone.

 

Standout tracks: Feathers In Flames, Contestatory, Sailing The Dark

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Crownless - Feathers In Flames

Chrysilia - Et in Arcadia Ego

Genre: Folk Metal, Symphonic Metal

Maybe it’s just me, but some tunes just seem to be made for the made for a rainy, dreary autumn afternoon; rain beating on the windows, sky grey and darkening. Chrysilia and their debut album Et in Arcadia Ego certainly fits this category, though in no negative sense of the word “dreary”. The Greek outfit blends symphonic metal with folk themes and a mythological dreamscape, brought to life by vocalist Chryso’s powerful voice and presence. Straight out of opening track By the Gates of Ypsus there seems to be no stopping the immersion brought about by the talented musicianship and thoughtful songwriting that focus not so much on the heavy side of metal, but on the sweeping melodics of classical music and the emotive performance by Chryso. If you are not incredibly picky about the amount of metal in your metal, Et in Arcadia Ego will prove to deliver.

Chrysilia - Et in Arcadia Ego

The symphonic keyboards never really take the upper hand, but rather play a role similar to those of Odysseas’s violin presence, bringing about melodic tinges and great, whirling melodic leads. The instrumental buildup in title track; dense, slow war drums set with an increasing violin melody and atmospheric keyboards just ooze epicness, like the calm before the battle. Then the twist comes, and it’s even deeper, no blast into full force, but an instrumental piece that builds onward with the drums and keys being the main focus - put this track over a war epic like Braveheart and it will not feel out of place. Still, it works best as a mid piece to halve the album lest it become overwhelming, while as a standalone track it might not do best. Instead, the serenely beautiful Desperate Wings or the ‘round the campfire feel of Chrysilia - vocalist Chryso bordering on bardlike - make better on their own. Still, the album is meant to be taken whole, and that’s how it does best. Though the mentioned ones are some of the less metallic tracks on here, there is no shortage of those, either.

Talented guitarist Teo Ross gets more work on his hands in tracks like By the Gates of Ypsus and King of a Stellar War. Still heavy with folk elements however, the music never really seems to let the guitars reach their full potential. The riff work seems underdeveloped and the solos - when they appear - are bland. Perhaps in a natural sense, with the overall focus on John Matzakos’s keys, Odysseas’s violin and of course the operatic vocals of Chryso. Overall however, the blend of metal and classic elements with the folkier tunes is interesting and done well, evidently with a lot of passion and a sense of colorful storytelling. The entire album clocks in at just under 50 minutes (not counting bonus the bonus “operatic” version of Desperate Wings), but if you let it sweep you away it feels longer - in a good sense. Clearly, the album has its small flaws, little things to work on and bits and pieces that aren’t quite up to par with the best parts, but in all Chrysilia delivers a sweet debut; clever, mythological and heavily serene.

 

Standout tracks: By the Gates of Ypsus, Arcadia

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Chrysilia - The Menalon Trail

Blind Guardian - Nightfall In Middle-Earth

Genre: Power Metal, Symphonic Metal

Numer tämligen legendariska Blind Guardian hade sprungit ur en thrash-baserad speed metal-grund och gick därvid i täten för Tysklands skola av speed/power metal. Och medan de alltid var mer teatraliska än sina tyska gelikar (tidiga Helloween, Grave Digger, Running Wild) dröjde det till 1998 och Nightfall In Middle-Earth innan den teatraliska ådran skulle ta den kreativa överhanden och skapa ett av de mest inflytelserika symphonic metal-album som världen skådat. Hansi Kürsch, som dittills också agerat bassist, lämnade över den rollen till gästmusikern Oliver Holzwarth (ex- Sieges Even) och gick oavkortat över till en större sångnärvaro. Albumet är näst intill en metal-opera, vari Kürsch själv gestaltar varje karaktär och känsloyttring (med undantag för berättarrösterna i interluderna och en del körhjälp). Deras tidigare album var mer direkta; sånglinjerna bryskare och simplare, André Olbrich och Marcus Siepens riff tuffare, hårdare och aggressivare. Till Nightfall In Middle-Earth hämtade Kürsch mer inspiration från Queen och Freddie Mercury; aggressiviteten tonades ner för ett mer komplext låtskrivande. Hans kraftiga användning av layered vocals inspirerades starkt av Mercury, och ger Nightfall In Middle-Earth ett väldigt djup och en stark orkestral flärd.

Blind Guardian - Nightfall In Middle-Earth

Ett splittrande album, men också Blind Guardians mest inflytelserika. Det brukar ofta kallas deras bästa, även om (den subjektiva) sanningen kanske inte håller med. Ursprungligen släppt i slutet av nittiotalet skulle Nightfall In Middle-Earth snart visa sig ett föredömligt verk inom symphonic metal, ny mark för Blind Guardian, och en genre som vid den tiden var relativt ny. Den tyngre keyboardnärvaron tillsammans med Kürschs breddade sångstrukturer var tidigare oskådat. Sessionsmusikern Mathias Wiesner gjorde ett större avtryck än dittills på en Blind Guardian-platta, då Olbrichs ledmelodier fick tampas med hans högtravande stråk. Det betyder inte helt att albumet saknar aggression; delar av riffstrukturen i Blood Tears ger tydlig känsla av att albumet följde på Imaginations From The Other Side (1995) och When Sorrow Sang och dess maffiga trumsektion (Thomen Stauch var inte helt förtjust i utvecklingen som Blind Guardian tog, och slutade efter A Night At The Opera (2002)) sportar hårdkantade verser. Vidare är Mirror Mirror ett snabbare, hårdare spår som kanske är albumets undantag till just den regeln, om än med något myckna keyboards mot Olbrichs maffiga ledriff. Ändå tycks det saknas något mer i den stilen. Något som verkligen återkopplar till de tidigare albumen och rötterna. De tryfflande riffen och blixtrande ledgitarrerna tycks bortblåsta, och ofta hade Nightfall In Middle-Earth mått bättre av en högre närvaro därav.

Albumet är ändå ett otroligt ambitiöst verk, i den aspekten omatchat både förr och därefter i bandets egen diskografi och egentligen i majoriteten av alla album det inspirerat. Längden och storleken, och de många halvminutslånga interluderna gör det till ett svårpenetrerat verk, men här står också, trots den (i skribentens tycke) inte helt perfekta utvecklingen åt det teatraliska och symfoniska, att finna några av Blind Guardians bästa spår. Episka semiballaden Nightfall är vacker och storslagen i ett, medan Mirror Mirror återkopplar mycket av den tidigare speed-grunden, om än på ett sätt som kom att inkorporera Kürschs layered vocals och den tyngre keyboardnärvaron på ett sätt som resten av albumet kanske inte helt hänger med i. Den första hälften av 90-talet utgjode en sorts gyllene tidsålder för Blind Guardian, både stilistiskt och utvecklingsmässigt. Tales From The Twilight World (1990), Somewhere Far Beyond (1992) och Imaginations From The Other Side var alla mästerliga album inom speed/power, hela tiden med Kürschs växande känsla för det teatraliska som ett byggande lager. Och medan Nightfall In Middle-Earth sannerligen inte haltade Blind Guardians framfart (tvärtom) markerade albumet slutet på en era - om än också början på en ny.

 

Bästa låtar: Nightfall, Mirror Mirror, Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill)

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Blind Guardian - Mirror Mirror