Monday, November 18, 2013

Tears Of Martyr - Tales (2013)

When the new album by Tears of Martyr was released in April of this year, it somehow made it past our ever vigilant eyes and fingers. Our collective minds had been flooded with symphonic metal albums, power metal albums, doom metal albums, and the entire laundry list of other generally specific genres. It wasn't that we weren't switched on; we just had a full plate and managed to overlook it. After all, how good could the album be to make us regret missing it's initial release? Now, nearly eight months later, that question is ready to answer. Having listened to and reviewed upwards of 300 albums this year, roughly 25% of which would fall into the same or similar musical classification, Tears of Martyr's latest album, "Tales," has made it back inside our periphery. And this time, we have room on our plate for a heaping helping of symphonic strings, enchanting vocal strains, and just the right mix of seasonings to make it a meal we won't soon forget. 

It's no surprise that a symphony of dulcet tones opens the album, a building crescendo or synths and strings. But as "The Scent No. 13th" begins in earnest, there is a far different sound to the mix. The vocals are operatic, laid down gently over a high speed set of guitars and drums that lack the clarity that the orchestral elements possess. Frontwoman and soprano Berenice Musa has a voice, however, that needs little accompaniment. It begins with acrobatic verses, as on "Golem," but changes drastically in the soaring choruses. There is an immediate recognition of her talents, as she lights up the room with her range and charisma, but it isn't until guitarist Miguel Angel Marqués adds his coarse growls that you fully appreciate her depth as an artist. This track also showcases the ability to combine orchestral and symphonic elements with heavy guitars, as they do so flawlessly in the bridge section. The first two tracks, though, pale in comparison to the third, "Mermaid And Loneliness." Musa has the starring role here unlike any other track on the album, an enchanting vocal line cascading down from the heavens. And while the keyboard orchestra may be right behind her, it is bassist Adrián Miranda who adds the most depth to the mix. It takes them out of the realm of the ordinary, and into the next stratosphere.

Unfortunately, the biggest misstep of the album comes next, as "Vampires Of The Sunset Street" fails to deliver on the same level. This isn't to say it is a failure; there are highlights scattered throughout. But it is the chorus that drags this one down, a combined grunt and chug exchange. The melodies are there and intact, but they don't break through with the power you've come to expect. But a music box ending sets a stunning mood for what follows, the emotionally delivered "Ancient Pine Awaits." Having stripped away the layers of distortion and feedback, Musa and Marques sing a breathtaking duet that rivals any folk ballad you've heard on a metal album. Two voices and a clean guitar are a recipe Tears Of  Martyr execute to perfection. It is no coincidence, then, that the full assault of "Lost Boys" should follow closely on its heels, a rousing assertion of symphonic metal of the highest order. It's when Musa soars over the top of the backing band that your eyebrows raise, something she does numerous times in this five minute titan. There is a balance to the instrumental that wasn't there before, allowing bass, guitar, and drums to share equal space in the mix. It may have been the last piece to fall into place.

Multifaceted, the band launches into "Fallen Heroes," a track that is smooth, with a tough of fluttering flamenco style guitars in the verse. Tracks like this one rely heavily on the symphonic aspect of the music, which is not a bad thing in any way. Whether it be strings or horns that occupy that space, it does wonders for the depth of sound the band achieves. It allows for the rest of the band to explore their own range, be it through a blazing solo, or a soothing vocal melody. Marques takes the lead on "Of A Raven Born," first through a deep spoken word, then providing support for the startling range of Musa. It has a romantic tinge to it, albeit it in a strange way. The chorus is transcendent, a symphonic metal overture that could bring crowds to their feet. With the album nearing it's conclusion, the tempo is turned up to a new level, resulting in one of the most energetic and charged tracks on the album. And thanks to that temporary tempo shift, "Wolves And A Witch" cements not only itself, but the entire disc as a successful endeavor. All of the parts are working together here, with balance being found between each and every member and movement. With the outro, "Ran Into The Forest," you get a somber, delicate ending to the journey, with strings and piano playing you out.

Over the course of the year, we've been treated to more than a few great symphonic metal albums. But, as Brian has postulated on numerous occasions, there are a lot more mediocre ones than great. Setting yourself apart in this scene is not only a challenge, but it can seem hopeless. The bands that do achieve that next level sort of sound are still not guaranteed success. What other genre of metal is even nearly as competitive? But Tears of Martyr have done enough on this album to make waves in the arena, if not more. With few stumbles - only one, really - they have shown a command over their art that is lacking in so many other acts. They don't have it all perfected just yer; the male vocals will need to find a more refined role down the line. But what they have perfected is a group dynamic that shines brightly through each and every song. They allow Musa to be the guiding light of the album, but never dump the weight of it's success or failure on her shoulders. That recognition alone of the whole over the parts is a large reason "Tales" will be given a series of sequels to work with.


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