Thursday, May 23, 2013

Upon Wings - Afterlife (EP) (2013)

For better or worse, the rise of the female hard rock/metal vocalist has done wonders for the popularity of the genre. At one time, Amy Lee of Evanescence was the model of the powerful female lead, but that dynamic has shifted numerous times in the last decade. The music has gotten heavier, and the vocals more sublime. Unfortunately, this has left the market saturated with wannabes and never-weres, making the process of separating the real from the manufactured to be a painstaking one. But more often than not, the voice speaks for itself. And for Michigan based Upon Wings, the brainchild of classically trained singer Anne Autumn Erickson, it is her voice that speaks loudest. Walking the fine line between operatic metal and easily digested radio rock, she has bridged a gap that many feared would bring an end to the substance and quality of female fronted symphonic metal. But on her new EP, the eerily titled "Afterlife," Erickson gives us reason to believe; maybe it isn't a choice of quality over accessibility. Maybe we can have our cake, eat it, and enjoy it too.

The opening track, which is also the title track, is an exhibition of the vocal talents singer Erickson has in store for you throughout the EP. With a voice that hits all of the right notes in all of the right ways, she croons her way through verse and chorus with grace and style. In one breath, she goes into the higher, more operatic register, then returns to more accessible melodic singing. That ability - to be all things at once - is a rare feat. The end result is a song that flows beautifully from start to finish, even with the more standard rock fare that makes up the instrumental. By contrast, "You Are My Weapon" carries a far sharper edge in that respect, gracing us with a fairly impressive set of riffs to back that golden voice. Erickson takes a more soothing approach this time around, keeping her voice from exploding too much, too soon. The only real miss on the EP is the short burst of "Take Away," which lacks the substance of the other three. There is a subtle keyboard element that is, unfortunately, lost in the shuffle. the true crime, though, is coating a rich voice with effects as they've done in the pre-chorus. And clocking in under the three minute mark, it fail to achieve a momentum shift. But as closers go, "The Dream (I'm Only Happy When I'm Sleeping)" is a winner. Erickson takes any restraints off her voice, and belts out line after line in a powerful, dynamic way. Even with no backing instrumental of any note for most of the track, she shines bright and flexes her vocal muscle.

It would be too close to taking the easy way out if I were to just close with a laundry list of female vocalists whose sound and influence you can hear on the EP. The truth is, we depersonalize our favorite bands, simply by saying "they sound like ____," or "they remind me of ____." If someone's voice sounds like a combination of two, three, or even four other singers, doesn't that make them unique in their own way? And so it goes for Upon Wings and Erickson, who embodies so many different traits in her vocal lines, that it becomes worthless to try to compare her to the four, six, or eight singers she's bested. The fact is, this is a solo debut for a rising start in the genre; an album that will be remembered for the outstanding achievements in vocal dynamics. It stands to reason, then, that Erickson must take the next step to further herself in the genre. Goodbye to "contributors" and session musicians. Now is the time to build a true, bonafide band and make a lasting mark. Otherwise, "Afterlife" might not be the beautiful awakening it was intended to be.


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