Friday, November 9, 2012

Solisia - UniverSeasons (2012)

One look at the artwork for "UniverSeasons," the second studio album by symphonic metal band Solisia, and you may get the impression that you are in for something special. This five piece, completed by recent addition Elie Syrelia on vocals, are wading through a crowded and competitive Italian metal scene that seems to churn out female fronted metal by the truck load. But not content to drown in the sea of their peers, they seek to separate themselves with this follow up to 2010's "Ordinary Fate." What you get is a blend of progressive power metal, splashed with keyboard arrangements and a frontwoman who is only learning how to lead the charge.

In the title track, there is a clear statement of where the band fits in to a complex and growing metal community. There is an emphasis on percussion, in the form of rapid double kicks, cracking snare drums and the metallic ring of cymbals. The guitar work is tight without being overbearing, allowing Syrelia to construct some creative melodies on top of it all. As an opening track, this has it all, starting things out on a high note. This puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the album to follow suit, and, in particular, the following song. Luckily, "The Guns Fall Silent" not only keeps the momentum going, but even helps to build it further. Atop a sea of explosive percussion is a ave of keyboards, one that sounds as off the wall as you could imagine. With the tempo at a new found speed, accuracy is at a premium. In these blistering segments, any misplaced note could throw the whole operation off. but the band keeps it together, delivering a progressive splash overflowing with guitar riffs aplenty. The sheer power of the instrumental helps to carry Syrelia, who has a wealth of effects weighing down her voice. When left to her own devices, she shines brightly, as she does on "Kiss The Sky." A strong keyboard presence does wonders for the overall sound of the track, which takes a more simplistic, stripped down approach. That is, of course, until guitarist Gianluca Quinto breaks the sound barrier with a ridiculous solo.

One of the more interesting pieces on the album comes in the form of the heavy handed "Mind Killer," a mixed bag from start to finish. The instrumental is excellent, taking off the chains and allowing the entire band to show off the heavier aspects of their sound. But for Syrelia, there is an on and off struggle. Her voice is lost in the verse in odd timed, and even odder sounding sections. For every misstep there, she redeems herself with a powerful chorus. And while it sets a dangerous precedent, she holds her own, even in the very off beat bridge. But with Quinto and keyboardist Wilson Di Geso on standby, a rescue is never far away. The haunting music box effect at the start of "All I Want" is almost disturbing, but seems to inspire the band going forward. What results is a chorus that sounds reminiscent of more recent Within Temptation, bordering on a dance beat. But hidden in the bridge and breakdown is a "Phantom Of The Opera" tribute of sorts, one done with a thunderous drum set backing it all.

Unlike the rest of the album, there is something heartfelt and emotional about "Betrayed By Faith," a track that could be considered a ballad by all accounts. The combination of Syrelia's voice and a solemn piano is stunning, even moreso when joined by a distorted guitar. The track would be a rousing success, even without a driven guitar solo to tie it together. And despite the title that may have led your mind astray, "Dirty Feeling" is an all out attack, unlike anything the rest of the album has to offer. Finally, the instrumental holds nothing back, bludgeoning your ears with rolling double kicks, winding guitar riffs, and an uncharacteristic stomp in the bridge. And, after being drowned out, the keyboards return with an atmospheric opening on "From Dusk Till Dawn." The arrangement here is short, but sweet, setting the tone for the track to come. Unfortunately, what follows is a trip to the generic side, with Syrelia taking a radio friendly approach to the vocal lines. There is something missing from the mix, an element that just doesn't make it into the song. Call it what you will, but this four minute effort lacks heart, something that is hard to quantify but impossible to ignore.

One of the more impressive moments for Syrelia comes on "Symbiosis," where her layered vocals deliver both strength and grace. For the first in several tracks, the intensity of the clean singing is matched by that of the instrumental, a well balanced attack of drums, guitar, bass, and light synthesizer touches. It is, undoubtedly, one of the achievements of the album. Don't let the beginning antics of "The Queen's Crown" fool you; what follows is actually a solid vocal track disguised as a novelty. With the band taking a back seat for this three and a half minute period, it allows the frontwoman to stand on her own two feet, something she hasn't been asked to do very often to this point. Syrelia responds well, carrying the melody, and the track. When a track like "I Loose Myself" fills the role of the closer, it is sure to have mixed results. Starting out as a very tame ballad, with that same female voice/piano combination we heard earlier, it isn't fully realized. With little more than an electronic inspired beat joining in sparingly, it seems like a very odd choice as the summation of your work.

Whatever your profession, you always want to be the absolute best at what you do. For metal musicians, the goal is always to stand out above the rest of your contemporaries. For Solisia, that was a daunting task before they ever picked up their instruments. With female fronted metal bands cropping up all over Italy, breaking through takes even more than it would elsewhere. Unfortunately, the eleven tracks the band are offering don't do much to call attention to their craft. There isn't anything glaringly wrong with the album, necessarily; but there isn't that signature moment that hits you like a nine pound hammer. Instead, what you get is some well played, well executed, but wholly generic metal with a frontwoman that, while exceedingly talented, hasn't yet found her true voice. Rome wasn't built in a day; and "UniverSeasons" won't be the end for Solisia.


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