2019 Roundup: Melodic Metal 2
Ray Alder – What the Water Wants
When Fates Warning decided to take some time off for guitarist Jim Matheos to focus on the sophomore release from Arch/Matheos, Ray Alder decided to record the first solo album of his lengthy career. What the Water Wants divides the heavier, more metallic songs with guitarist Tony Hernando, whose schedule with his own band (Restless Spirits/Lords of Black) prevented him from partaking in the entire record, leaving FW live guitarist Michael Abdow to step in. Shades of both Fates Warning and Redemption, from which Alder exited a few years back, can be heard throughout the album, but What the Water Wants isn’t entirely derivative of Alder’s past. It’s easily at its best when it encourages Alder to reign it in, singing softly instead of using his trademark bellowing style, which, though pregnant with power and emotion, often obscures his melodies.
The restrained opener “Lost” outlines the album’s finest hours. A mellow prog-rocker with a pained chorus where Alder sings against himself, and a funky bass riff exploding simultaneously with the guitar solo. With the follow-up highlight “Crown of Thorns”, based entirely around an infectious, likewise funky bass riff, it also presents the album at its most independent. Though the heavier songs supply What the Water Wants with a welcome diversity, as pieces of their own they’re by far the worst it has to offer. “Shine” revolves around a chorus armed with a rock radio riff that sounds like Hernando dug it up from a decade-old waste bin, though given his long time fandom of Alder, it would seem unlikely. “A Beautiful Lie” is a fine song on its own, but a little too reminiscent of Fates Warning’s early 90’s records, while “Under Dark Skies” loses to the album’s more stripped down ballads, like the preceding “Some Days”, by a mile in raw emotion and composition alike.
After the strong opening trio, What the Water Wants loses wind and sight of what made them so good, and doesn’t pick up until the very stripped down “The Road”, and consecutively almost loses it on the followup “Wait”, barely saved by the bell. (That is to say, one of the finer choruses on the record.) An acoustic version of “The Road” has been tacked on to the end, and I think I would have preferred if it had been elevated from a bonus track to the album closer proper, instead of the passable “The Killing Floor”, allowing the band to ride their second wind right until the closing moments. Mostly a good, very emotional piece of Adult Oriented Prog (patent pending), What the Water Wants struggles with its mid-album slog and the awkward inclusion of Hernando’s material, both inferior and out of place against Abdow’s. Nevertheless, for any friends of later Fates Warning, or Alder in general, a hearty recommendation.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
It kills me not to be able to raise the score a notch because of the amazing and heartfelt songwriting present on this record, but it’s much too much of a mixed bag.
Vorna – Sateet Palata Saavat
More than half a decade back, Vorna released their debut Ajastaika. While wrapped in a crude and raw cloth, its core was that of dynamic pagan metal. Their stock rose significantly with the well- received Ei Valo Minua Seuraa, still offering friends of Moonsorrow and the likes something to marvel at, but developing their own sound by approaching their influences through melodeath. Eluding genre conventions, Vorna’s music remains dark, moody and melodic, but freed of any restraints. And now their growing prowess has been noted abroad and they’ve signed to the German Lifeforce Records.
Sateet Palata Saavat doesn’t bring much new to the table, not for older fans, rather aiming to refine every aspect of Vorna’s expression. The compositions are cohesive but winding, the lyrics and songwriting support each other and the arrangements are discreet but massive. There’re much more clean vocals on Sateet than before, which is all good, for the hoarse growls already felt like a remnant from the past rather than a thought-out choice on Ei Valo Minua Seuraa. At their best and calmest, there’s a strong Anton Belov-esque vibe to them, which makes the slower parts of the album an especial treat to listen to.
On the other hand, despite the abundance of things going on, there’s not a hint of chaos, and Vorna has condensed their sound as well. Not something I welcome with arms wide open. In addition to the cleans, the previously blackened tremolo riffs have been stripped away, and though still pushing their limits, Sateet sits much more comfortably in the melodeath corner than its predecessor. Though it’s a fairly small part of their sound, it’s a fair representation of the direction taken here, far less daring than previously. It’s not all about the lack of experimentation though, much of it comes down to Sateet Palata Saavat no longer sounding like the work of a band that will push boundaries in the future. It’s a far less excitable, though perhaps more professional counterpart to the sophomore.
At 52 minutes, some trimming would have done wonders for Sateet. There’s no filler, nor much fat, but it feels like Ei Valo…, though not significantly shorter, accomplished thrice as much in its shorter duration. Especially the inclusion of “Aallot”, previously released as a stand-alone single, is questionable. Its quality defends its position, a fair example of the Belov-esque vocals at the start, and lead guitar tone vividly reminiscent of Windir making an appearance towards the end, make for some of the best individual moments on the album, but it is a song released several years prior to a record that isn’t using its length to its advantage.
Sateet Palata Saavat is a step back, but a fairly good album in its own right. And at the very least, it still keeps up the flame of hope that Vorna will still deliver the masterpiece they’ve been hinting at.
3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Wilderun – Veil of Imagination
Symphonic, progressive metal with a twist of folk, and a constant sense of grandeur, where neither the quietest nor the smallest moments could escape that feeling. So was 2015’s Sleep At the Edge of the Earth, and so is Veil of Imagination. But just as one may look upon a set of influences and expect to hear something entirely different from what is delivered, yet the delivered may just as clearly be built from the same set of influences; as expected, Veil of Imagination both sounds like its predecessor, and doesn’t sound like it at all.
Some of the band’s core development can be heard in the way their influences meld together from what is momentarily a swinging melodeath Opeth, the most ambitious Turisas at the next turn, and a crackpot merging of Xanthochroid and Winterhorde at the last, to something that never sounds like anything but themselves, and only themselves. But the greatest leaps come elsewhere. The pacing of the album is simply incredible, it’s nigh impossible to tell where one song ends and another begins, and within each song are contained moments you could swear the next one began, while only halfway through. More movements of a symphony than anything resembling an individual piece. The early, middle and late album is divided into acts, each carved from the same set of influences, but each with its own pronounced slightly more than on the others.
Practically every symphonic metal band, from the up-its-own-perceived-ingenuity Nightwish to the crapfuckingtastic Epica could use a lesson in arranging from Wilderun and their Dan Müller and Wayne Ingram, the duo responsible for the orchestral arrangements on Veil of Imagination. No matter how well most symphonic metal bands arrange their sections, it almost always comes down to the awkwardly crossed line between the orchestra and the band. And the better they come arranged, the less there is for the band to play, devolving into generic chug riffs while letting the orchestra and the vocalist do all the heavy lifting. Reduced to needles they forcibly inject the music with the “metal”, just as on the cheapest YouTube cover of a semi-famous pop song that definitely needed to have a metal cover. That is to say: a few chug riffs and slightly gruffer vocal intonation. Because even at its worst, metal is best. Fuck you.
The reason for the above rant (apologies) is my deep affection for symphonic metal and being forced to come to terms with how utterly terrible so much of it is, time and time again. And the joy of bands like Wilderun, where the above couldn’t be further from the truth. On Veil of Imagination there are no instruments for the mere sake of their presence. There’s plenty to listen to, plenty to bask in awe of, for each instrumentalist, from the vocals through the guitars to the rhythm group, and especially the orchestra. This has been achieved by melding the band into the orchestra, making them a part of the latter. You’d think it was logical to act this way, if you’re going to base your songwriting on the orchestral parts, and leave the band as a space-filler, don’t force the orchestra into a mere extension of the band performance-wise either.
But I’m beginning to feel like the longer this goes on, the less it’s going to be about Wilderun, so I’m just going to summarize quickly. Veil of Imagination is an incredible record, you should listen to it, it’s not in line with what symphonic metal generally speaking represents, and I could cut diamonds with my erection when the Philip Glass tribute drops in “When the Fire and the Rose Were One”.
5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell