Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nemesea - The Quiet Resistance (2011)

Dutch female fronted metallers Nemesea have a habit of being honest. Whether it be a frank, open take on their humble beginnings, or simply a straightforward lyric, there is no sugar coating when it comes to lead singer Manda Ophuis. After becoming the most successful band in the now defunct Sellaband system, this five piece have worn their hearts on their sleeves for the release of their newest album, "The Quiet Resistance." Honest and powerful, this is not the cookie cutter fairy tale you may expect from a symphonic metal album.

Don't let the intro track's whispering fool you into thinking this is going to fall into a nu metal, metalcore funk. "Caught In The Middle" quickly dispels any worry, as frontwoman Manda Ophuis leads the electro-symphonic charge with a voice that could part the seas. Sharing a common trait with Sharon den Adel of Within Temptation fame, she commands a room with a mix of range and raw talent. The instrumentation is exactly what you would expect, with a blitz of high speed guitars and pulsing drums setting the pace. The use of synthesizers only heightens the experience, creating a atmospheric background layer. The honesty in the lyrics is never more evident than on "Afterlife." And while the rhyme scheme may seem as basic as can be, every element that surrounds it is done to perfection. From the density of the guitars to the strength of the drum beat, and the use of keyboards, all of the pieces fall effortlessly into place. Backing vocals provided by guitarist HJ de Jong compliment the main melody, creating a harmony that rivals the best in the business.

The comparisons to the aforementioned Within Temptation will surely be made, especially on "Whenever." By no means is this an insult, but rather an honest assessment of where Nemesea stands. The guitar work is spot on, backed by a keyboard melody that will certainly catch your ear. Ophuis is stellar once again, her voice hitting all the right notes with an outpouring of emotion. She sees a softer approach on "If You Could," pairing her voice in the early stages with nothing more than acoustic guitars and a delicate piano. The presence of a distinct sadness helps to endear this track to the listener, allowing you inside the heart and the mind of the protagonist. Orchestrated strings complete the track, with light notes played over the soft crooning. Those symphonic elements see a larger role on "High Enough," a track that takes the male/female vocal dynamic into account. While the structure and flow may seem basic, it doesn't diminish the quality of the music presented. Every band member fulfills their role, from the guitars to the keys, to the near surgical rhythm section. It is hard to find fault in a song that is so emotionally charged, yet so well constructed.

There is a darker, almost gothic, feel to "Say," which also sees de Jong sharing the vocal spotlight. For better or worse, this track could fit in to this years "The Unforgiving." However, there is a unique instrumental choice in play here, with the first sounds of scratching turntables cutting through the mix. It may sound like a poor decision, but for one reason or another, it just seems to work. The breakdown is heavy, with some downtuned chugging and higher register guitar work coming together. The electronics see fair use on "It's Over" as well, a track that is a true vocal highlight on the album. Both de Jong and Ophuis show off their respective ranges, carving out a harmony that could win over the more skeptical of fans. Again, the scratching is present. Embrace it or ignore it, it is not something you will hear in metal every day. This is all in preparation for the ballad of the album, titled "I Live." Ophuis takes on a sultry quality to her voice, with her lower octave shining through. Joined by de Jong, they present you with a stirring duet of love. The guitars come through in a surprisingly heavy manner, with distortion taking the entire chorus for a ride. A repeated piano melody lies in the background, behind a sea of vocals and building drums.

The more heavy handed use of symphonics comes at the perfect time, with "Stay With Me" striking the darker chord. Orchestrated strings run head on into booming kicks and crushing guitar work. Screeching electronics trade blows with smooth bass lines, all the while topped with a voice that is equal parts enchanting and empowering. A calculated beat is the norm on "Rush," walking a dangerous line between electro and metal. But in a flash, an explosion of guitars, percussion and synthesizers reminds you that this is no house album. Each down beat will put your sub-woofer to good use, each snare echoing for moments after the stick lands. This is a testament to the power that Manda Ophuis possesses, as she refuses to be drown out by the heavier portions. There is an odd feel to the verse sections of "Release Me," utilizing an electronic beat that could be furnished by an 80's Casio keyboard. The soft whisper in the vocals isn't long for the world, for when the tapping beat exits, the vocals erupt in a show of strength. A welcomed guitar solo walks you out with darting notes and classic fret work.

The album begins to draw to a close with the track "2012" which is exactly what you might expect it to be. An ominous combination of beats and sounds, rumbling along at a grinding pace, this is little more than a break before the finale, "Allein." Quite possibly the most bizarre track on the album, it is fitting that it ends the effort. With an electronic melody that will certainly remind fans of the hayday of the X-Files, this one features a guest vocal spot from Rammstein frontman Heli Reissenweber. With his signature German delivery, he puts an entirely new spin on the formula, whether it be in melodic form or whisper. But the key to making a track like this work is keeping the music true to form, rather than catering it to his sound alone. This remains a heavy symphonic metal song, keys, chords and all. The three headed vocal monster formed by Ophuis, de Jong and Reissenweber may be too strong to be stopped.

When a band is so dedicated to honesty, lyrically and personally, it is the least we can do to provide them the same courtesy. With that in mind, it must be said that Nemesea are masters at what they do. The musical approach is refreshing, albeit common. They haven't reinvented the wheel, nor will they change the direction of modern metal. The comparisons to their countrymen will come fast and furious. But on "The Quiet Resistance," they offer a lesson to any symphonic metal band, waiting in the wings for success: work hard, carry the weight on your shoulders, and stay true to yourself. Sound cliche? Perhaps. But the proof is in the proverbial pudding.


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