Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kells - Anachromie (2012)

Living in the United States poses problems for the avid metal listener. We often miss out on some of the best and brightest new acts, who seem confined to touring and releasing albums in Europe, thanks to our crumbling recording industry. Case in point, France's Kells. This female fronted band has already gained notoriety across the pond, touring with and opening for the likes of Tarja and Apocalyptica. Led by Virginie Goncalves, whose vocal talents have all the grace of Simone Simons, with all of the grit of Angela Gossow, this French four piece has us curious. "Anachromie" is waiting, and we are ready.

The sound of a music box opens "Bleu," a sound so delicate that you feel as though breathing might disturb it. But before long, distorted guitars chug into frame, and drums pound ahead. Goncalves' voice, singing in French, hits you on a such a profound level, with an outpouring of emotion. The light sound of bells echos through the background, creating a stark beauty and beast contrast. This approach finds a home anywhere and everywhere on the album, as you find in "Se Taire." This time, however, it is Goncalves herself that provides the differing styles. In one breath, she is screeching in an evil tone. In the next, she is serenading you with all the beauty and grace you could ever expect in a metal track. The musical approach is standard, but not watered down. There is no shortage of riffs, no lack of destructive fills. The only downside becomes evident in tracks like "Illusion d'une Aire," where the nu-metal influence in the guitars becomes a little cumbersome. And while the vocal performance is enough to lift up the instrumental, it can be a tricky balance. A ethnic inspired interlude breaks up the density, with Goncalves chanting softly over the top, before the music explodes anew.

Some more intense and inspired guitar work inhabits "L'heure Que Le Temps Va Figer," a track that embraces the light vs. dark intricacies that make this style so effective. A sliding bass line takes the spotlight in the verse, giving way to some deft chord work and vocal patterns in the chorus. The blood curdling scream that Goncalves lets out leading into the second verse is enough to elicit chills. A short break comes in the form of "L'asphalte," a simple guitar melody, drum beat and vocal track. Enjoy the chance to relax, because "Emmures" is prepared to squeeze the breath out of you. A dynamic burst of riffs and rolls, the track is the most complete offering on the album, including some keyboard action to round out the mix. Each scream is unexpected, even when you seemingly know it is coming. The beauty in the verse leaves you with a false sense of security, only to have it torn away. And while "Quelque Part" may seem like a safer track, one that is easily accessible to fans of female fronted rock and metal alike, that is not to say it doesn't have its moments. It is stripped down, a bit more simplistic.

The unfortunate return of nu-metal comes with "Le Manege Dechante," boasting an opening riff that could have come straight from a Korn song in the last five years. And while Goncalves' voice is as enchanting as ever, even she can't be a crutch for the unfortunate backing music. Aside from some interesting piano work, there isn't much else to celebrate here. The moshing guitar breakdown and scream fest that follows can't save it. It is too far gone. Immediately taking a more melodic approach, "Cristal" hopes to redeem the prior track, and does so with some success. It scales back some of the band performance, and allows the vocals to shine through more clearly in key spots. Some of that unnecessary riffing remains, cluttering parts of the chorus, unfortunately. But Goncalves manages to salvage the track with a vocal melody. Cloudy and convoluted, "Addictions" is only as successful as the vocals can make it. With a guitar lead that is one dimensional and oddly timed drum patterns, there isn't much left to talk about here.

A surprising use of strings catches your ear, only to be dashed to bits by more nonsensical chugging. "L'Autre Rive" has the lateral movement you have been waiting for, with keys and strings sharing time in the mix. But the monotone guitars simply don't do their cohorts justice. The riffs sound recycled, as if you have heard them before on songs past. This becomes the story of the latter trio of songs on the album. Even the deep, rich screams that begin "Nuances" seem lost at this point. There is just no change in the action, no reason to keep listening outside of the desire to hear Goncalves do her best to carry the band. Her scat rap into scream in the breakdown hear might be enough to hit the stop button. But, if you do press forward, the closing track, "L'Echo" may give you reason to try again. From the more delicate, melodic opening to the more aggressive later sections, there is something inherently moving to be had, especially given the emotionless performance of the previous tracks. The string accompaniment is well placed, and helps to hammer home the movement.

A band's worst nightmare is when their music becomes predictable. And Kells has fallen victim to that very fear, with track after track of the same old thing. And while some bands have built an entire career over the power of a single, charismatic frontwoman (see Lacuna Coil, Evanescence), they actually do themselves a disservice by covering her talents with an overflow of distortion and dysfunction. If there is a lesson to be learned from the now defunct Luna Mortis, it's that you need to build around your star, not try to build under her. And while "Anachromie" isn't a complete failure, it needs a breath of fresh air.


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