Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lapis Lazuli - A Justified Loss (2011)

Swedish six piece Lapis Lazuli have followed the recipe for symphonic metal success. You start with a keyboard virtuoso, in the form of Timo Hautamaki. Surround yourself with like minded individuals, all looking to create music that is both sublime and satisfying. Add the prowess of a dynamic vocalist, such as Frida Eurenius, and you have all the makings of a classic. Combining each of those ingredients, Hautamaki and company release a new album, titled "A Justified Loss," to the world.

Blaring horns and pounding drums leave you no escape as the opening track, "Facing Demons," launches you into another world. With all of the power and finesse of a great movie score, it would be difficult to find your mind wandering to far off places. Each delicate keystroke furthers the daydream. The first distorted guitar chords appear in the opening moments of "Leaving Scars," a track that holds all of the weight of a Nightwish concerto. The keyboards and their accompanying symphonic elements are clearly the star, creating flowing soundscapes behind singer Frida Eurenius. Her voice is rich, with a very real sense of depth and emotion. Flurries of double kicks and rattling snares are offset by airy synthesizers and darting guitar notes. The male vocals, provided by Hautamaki himself, hold their own in the mix, providing a bit of contrast. It cruises to the end, vocals coming together in harmony.

The symphonic nature of the album is never felt more strongly than on "High," complete with the beautiful chanting vocals. Hautamaki adds a touch of grit to the mix, with a more ominous growling portion. The guitar work becomes more noticeable, coming to the forefront rather than simply lying in wait behind the wall of orchestral instruments. During the heavier chunks, rapid bass pedaling and dense chugging become the norm, all paired with devilish growls. Eurenius remains sublime, her voice providing the light to Hautamaki's dark. A dazzling piece of string and piano work will be sure to stick with you long after "Angel Without Wings" has ended. The lead vocal is powerful, bringing to mind the more current work of Within Temptation. The orchestral arrangements are perfect, with horns and strings locked in step with a relentless drum beat. But what manages to set this apart from other symphonic oriented bands is the use of harsh growls throughout, becoming more frightening with each moment. This is true symphonic harmony, captured in a seven minute cross section.

The more uptempo "Burning Bridges" picks up where its predecessor left off, fluttery strings and all. The keyboard element is so expertly positioned in the mix, leading without dominating. Eurenius sees her voice take the starring role, providing a vocal melody that will echo in your mind for days. The breakdown portion, heavy on the strings and keys, leads into a layered vocal attack, with numerous voices backing the main delivery. The pounding drum and cymbal outro will ensure that your fist has made it fully into the air. A somber string leads into "Alive," joined soon after by an equally melancholy piano melody. It has all the makings of a traditional metal ballad, complete with male and female vocal harmonies and lighter inducing tempo. Yes, there is certainly an almost cheesy feel to it all, but it is hard to argue with a near flawless instrumental and vocal performance. The guitar solo is the first real sign of life from the team of Karlsson and Rhodin. All things considered, this is a success, both individually and the flow of the album itself.

The electronic opening beat on "Lies" may frighten some, but it disintegrates quickly. Piano keys and darting guitar riffs immediately take over, allowing for Hautamaki to reemerge as a vocal force, first clean, then screaming. And while there isn't much variation to this effort, it is on the shorter end of the spectrum, not quite breaking the four minute mark. Its strength may well be the simplicity with which it is crafted. Even the breakdown has little lateral movement, but is played to the utmost effectiveness. Eurenius takes sole control of the vocals on "Faith Forgotten," her voice commanding the power of an army of horns and strings. The guitars have grown in their contributions, with distorted chords shaking through your speakers. Afterall, it can't always be light symphonics and keyboard. Though the finale, "Leave It All Behind" certainly begs to differ. The piano and strings are at their best, combining in a solemn show of emotion and despair. This could become the soundtrack to a walk on a rainy day.

While the world of symphonic metal is a crowded one, that hasn't stopped many a band from trying their hand at it. Lapis Lazuli do a more than adequate job of forging an identity, without rewriting the book. Their influences are worn on their sleeves, but this isn't a carbon copy of any Nightwish album. Rather, "A Justified Loss" is a step out of the shadows, looking for a moment of their own. For a band named after a semi-precious stone, this is equal to both the beauty and staying power of their namesake.


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- Hell22

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