Friday, July 12, 2013

Cardiant - Verge (2013)

Who would have thought there would be such a distinct relationship between metal and math. No, we aren't talking about the subgenre known as math metal, but rather the similarities between the way an album flows, and the graphing function of your newest calculator. Straight lines, ones that follow a consistent slope upward or downward, are hard to come by, thanks to the mandatory ballad on most power metal themed albums. As a result, your album is usually an ebb and flow, rising and falling with each song, hoping to find the right combination. But for Finland's Cardiant, a now six piece band from Hämeenlinna, the graph that results from their latest album may look more like a bell curve than a mountain range. Whether it stands as an indictment of the ordering of soungs, or if there is just too much filler for their own good, "Verge" does not get the straight line, jagged results you would expect or hope for. After a small rise and a big dip, it would take a lot to get this album back above the X axis.

Explosiveness may be the key ingredient early, as the band wastes no time delivering a gut punch on "Justice Turns Into Revenge." As beneficial as it may be to sound the alarm so early, it can also be a moving too fast, too soon. Lyrical content not withstanding, the vocals of Erik Karhatsu are polished enough to command the room, with a touch of grit hidden in his delivery. But along with the breakneck speeds, you have a focus on drumming, thanks to the nimble hands and feet of Lauri Hänninen, that pushes the limits of the mix early and often. Even in the slowed down moments, like the opening of "Thought's Inception," the tone of the drums is enough to elicit a few head nods or tapping of feet. There is something tame about the accompanying instrumental, though, as the guitars fail to fully match the booming efficiency of the rhythm section. It isn't until the vocals drop out in the bridge that guitarist Antti Hänninen finds his stroke. Luckily, once it is found, he keeps his grip tighter, just in time for the boisterous power metal shredding of "Heaven's Calling." With a high energy verse and a soothing harmony in the chorus, thanks to the addition of Outi Jokinen's female vocal, you start to see a transformation in the sound and tone of the album.

Unfortunately, this isn't a smooth transition. The rules of ballads are unclear, at best, but there are certain guidelines that shouldn't be tampered with. Musically, "Ever Since" is interesting, bringing a different bluesy sort of feel to the mix. But at a staggering seven minutes, it simply doesn't have the legs to carry on so long. And try as he must to save it, keyboardist Marko Lindroos falls short. Rather than make a complete reversal, in hopes of gaining momentum or contrast, Cardiant takes a single step back to the harder edged side. It isn't quiet enough to regain the fire of the early half of the album, but "Believe" does boast some of the most intricate instrumental work. When allowed to play freely, Hänninen adds a bright layer to the track, but he is far too often handcuffed by the structure and flow. His lead on "Beat Of Heart" may be the most memorable riff on the record. Add in a blazing solo in the latter stages, and you finally get something to hang your hat on. The most unfortunate twist is that as Hänninen gets better, the rest of the band lags behind, churning out cookie cutter efforts. For as soulful as songs like "Love's Not On My Way" can be, they do little for the arc of the album. Lindroos benefits here, as his piano melodies are all that keeps the track afloat. By the time the hammer is finally dropped, there is little balance to be found.

Eight tracks in, buried in a mound of mediocre efforts, is "Stranger In Me." It seems as though the entire instrumental has come together for the first time since the opening track, resulting in a strong, if not predictable offering. The rhythm section of Hänninen and bassist Mikko Mänttäri are in perfect sync with one another, two pillars on either side of the guitar and keyboard fueled orchestral melodies. Much like before, the lyrics are a throwaway, despite a strong performance from Karhatsu. That same theme runs like a vein into "Break Your Mind," a booming kick drum becoming the glue that holds it all together. I'm not sure if it has become relative at this point, but when incorporated into the parabolic flow of the album on the whole, this stands as one of the best tracks on the album, chocked full of thunderous drums and wild, if not out of control solos. After nine tracks of twists, turns, and confusion, it only makes sense that "While The Ice Is Cold" be the final conundrum. Jokinen takes the lead on the track, her first major contribution coming in the final three and a half minutes. The true shame of it, really, is that her voice suits the music so well. Hidden in backup roles, relegated to chorus hooks, she is barely noticeable. But as she steps out here, it makes you wonder why she isn't being featured more often.

Very rarely do albums provide more questions than answers. Unfortunately for Cardiant, they've they''ve left many of the spaces blank, and it leaves the album feeling lopsided, at best. The brighter moments, condensed into the first three and last three tracks, become bookends for ones that have no business sharing the same digital file or disc of plastic. The good news, as disconnected as it is from the album itself, is that there is seemingly infinite potential in this conglomerate of musicians; the bright spots are there, even if it takes a little squinting to find them. All that remains to be seen is whether they take the successes of "Verge" and build on them, or if they follow the failures toward a more generic, more run of the mill follow up. With a stronger presence from Jokinen, a longer leash on the guitar work of Hänninen, and a stronger focus on lyrical content and delivery, you might see this caterpillar turn into a butterfly. But unless they go back to the drawing board, the ten tracks on "Verge" might be the best the band will ever offer.


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