Friday, March 9, 2012

Diabulus In Musica - The Wanderer (2012)

While it is easy to throw around the term "symphonic metal," as we do so often, it isn't always enough to describe the output of the band in question. For Diabulus In Musica, one of Spain's most recent musical wonders, the focus on classical composition pushes their music far past the boundaries of what we know as "symphonic." After the release of their debut album, "Secrets," they gained a worldwide following not only for their breathtaking song structure and style, but also for the often surreal vocal talent of Zuberoa Aznárez. Two years and countless shows later, this five piece looks to, once again, redefine metal with "The Wanderer."

Fittingly, the album begins with "The Journey's End," an intro track that is rich with the sound of rolling thunder and orchestrated instruments. Fluttering woodwinds dart in and out of strings and percussion, all layered atop the crashing waves. Without hesitation, you are greeted by "Ex Nihilo," which is a representation of everything the classical metal sect could be. Keyboards lock together with guitars, complimented by choral vocals. Aznárez takes the metal female vocal to new heights, with both operatic and sensual vocals. But unlike other female fronted acts, the music isn't softened in any way, choosing to keep a hard edge to play up the contrasting sounds. Even as a harsh male vocal enters, it is hard to shake the overwhelming beauty contained here. The thrashing at the hands of drummer Xabi Jareño will leave you craving more abuse, as he shifts back and forth between complimentary fills and brutal double kick segments.

The album's first single, "Sceneries Of Hope," is as unique as the band itself. The space age keyboard melody that opens the track is quickly drown in a sea of blistering drums and dense guitar riffs. And while this is easily the most accessible track on the album, it is far from watered down. The drums continue to impress, with deft and precision, while the keyboards provide an atmospheric element. But their role doesn't end there, supplying a myriad of instruments and sounds to boost the mix. Aznárez is the proverbial icing on the cake, adding her signature vocal style to each passage. The flow from one track to the next is often unnoticed, but as you move into "Blazing A Trail," it will be evident that each track is setup for the next. Once again, a growling male vocal comes into offset the powerful crooning. The guitar riffs are catchy, but also effective. There isn't a need for filler, with each note and chord finding a home in the layers. The large, hollow sound of the kick drum echos through the booming choral arrangement. The production work is stellar, allowing each subtle touch to shine through brilliantly. A short interlude track, titled "Call From A Rising Memory," soothes the savage beast, both in simplicity and scope.

The tempo and tone change for "Hidden Reality," with things slowing down in favor of blaring horns and the more crooning style vocals. For the first time, the bass sees the spotlight, adding a smooth layer amidst the pounding drums. Operatic vocals emerge, with an almost staggering beauty and clarity. The track plays out like an act in a play, with contrasting voices and emotions trading blows. The choral arrangement takes things to an entirely new level, creating a sound that is both huge and crisp. This is the perfect transition into "Shadow Of The Throne," a track that is operatic in its conception, but devastating in its delivery. The sheer weight of the rhythm section is nearly deadly. As the vocals enter, you are sure to be taken back by their power and grit. The beast has awoken, and evil is afoot. The guitars have erupted in distortion, the drums are unleashed, and the chanting that backs the main vocal is haunting. There are no subtleties to be had, this is an all out attack on your senses. Even a devilish acoustic guitar interlude is masked by whispers of unspeakable evil. Fear not, for "Allegory Of Faith, Innocence And Future" is a return for Aznárez and her angelic voice. But the multiple layers are the star here, with keyboards and orchestrated instruments controlling the ebb and flow of the track. The vocals trade off, with Aznárez providing the beauty to Mark Jansen's beast. Each new passage creates another layer of sound to partake in.

And while the delicate piano that begins "Sentenced To Life" may seem like a lullaby of sorts, it is so much deeper. Aznárez sings softly over the top, welcoming guest vocalist John Kelly, of Elfenthal, to the mix. The vocal duet is enchanting and ethereal, with each breath bringing you further into the song. As the band joins, they only strengthen the emotional bond being formed, taking the idea of a metal ballad to breathtaking new places. But with each dose of sweet comes a spoonful of sour, this time in the form of the growling "Oihuka Bihotzetik." Jansen plows ahead with his guttural vocals, accompanied by a choir of angels, soaring over the top of the thunderous drums. The sound of the chorus is so rich, so deep, that it brings to mind an image of thousands of people standing together. Each single voice stands apart in subtle ways, each one having a personality. The same can be said for the drum and keyboard breakdown, which shakes through your speakers from left to right.

The longest, and most ambitious, track on the album, "No Time For Repentance (Lamentatio)," is a masterpiece of writing, of concept, and of execution. From the initial buildup of strings and horns, partnered only with a lonely snare, to the first eruption of monstrous guitar riffs, this is one you won't soon forget. There are several distinct movements here, each one giving reason for applause. The verse provides the brutal, with a screaming male vocal that shakes you to your core. The chorus sees Aznárez soothing your open wounds. Her voice is delicate, yet so powerful. The guitar work is exceptional, never giving in to the idea of "filler" or generic riffs. The rhythm section does the dirty work, pounding away at the low end. An eight minute track that only feels like four minutes is a victory by any stretch, but one that concludes with a chorus of male and female voices, sans instrumental, is a delight. The album concludes with the title track, "The Wanderer." An acoustic guitar, Aznárez, and a heavy dose of melody greet you. This may be a means to an end, or it may simply be a new beginning, cleaning the slate for the next effort.

Female fronted symphonic metal. Yes, that set of words can be used to describe what Diabulus In Musica produce. But those four words, together, in that order, also describe a million other bands that are not in the same echelon. It would be so easy to dismiss them because of that careless label. But here, on their sophomore album, you have all of that and so much more. Throw out everything you think you know about "symphonic metal," because "The Wanderer" is the New Testament. With a new partnership with Napalm Records, it is not a stretch to think that it could be mentioned alongside other "Album Of The Year" contenders.


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