Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Feridea - Reborn In Time (EP) (2014)

There are times when an entire genre of music starts to sound all too familiar. Symphonic metal, unfortunately, hasn't seen a burst of growth in some time, leaving new bands to rely on the same old tenets to try to make a name for themselves. The result? An overcrowded, stagnant pool of bands, all vying for the same time in the spotlight. Rather than innovate, they stay safe, true to the music that has been churned out, en masse, over the last decade. Feridea have stuck to the same formula, founded by keyboard virtuoso Henrik Airaksinen two years ago. Female lead, male backing vocal, instrumental centered around fluttering orchestral melodies and symphonic touches. Done with grace and precision, it can still be a life affirming experience. But too often, as we see here, it doesn't make an impact that allows it replay value. Their new EP, the four track "Reborn In Time" has the look and feel of a symphonic metal breath of fresh air, but ends up smelling stale and familiar.

With the opening track, the band sets a tone that would be hard to shake. A four minute, sweeping symphonic overture, "Wanderer" stays in the safe spot, yet doesn't skimp on beauty and majesty. It's orchestral roots and influences are clear, a refreshing opening to what sets itself up to be a rich work of symphony. The title track, "Reborn In Time," builds off of that sense of might and magic, beginning softly before introducing heavy drums beats to the mix. Keyboardist Henrik Airaksinen sets the stage so deftly that it feels as though you have slipped into the orchestra pit. There is a conflicting set of tones int he vocal area, though, with female lead Heidi Mankinen used for mood and the airy beauty of her voice. But backing vocalist and guitarist Aleksander Viitanen seems to take the lead storytelling role, his raspy voice not quite matching the instrumental behind him. It highlights what becomes the central issue with the album, that being a mix and production that feels flat, despite inspired lyrics and execution. Quiet moments, like those around the halfway mark, and purely symphonic ones ring clearly through the mix, while the addition of guitars and drums seems too much for it, sounding muffled and unbalanced.

This isn't to say that it is a constant issue, but merely a recurring one. As you move into "With Fire And Frost," Mankinen seems to find her footing atop the instrumental, which in turn finds a balance beneath her. It isn't a perfect match, but a step in the right direction. It is only Airaksinen that fills his role to exceptional levels, his fusion of woodwinds, flutes and strings always floating through the air with the delicate precision it requires. But without a strong surrounding cast, it lacks a true uniqueness or power. In saving the best for last, "Of Magic And Music" sees the band take a turn for the better, in both sound and direction. There are missteps here, as well, with Viitanen's voice clashing with the instrumental at times. He does, however, let his guitar work shine through for the first real time on the album. A glimpse into the true strength of the band comes just shy of the seven minute mark, where, for the first time, they find true even ground between all of the instruments at once. Guitar, bass, drums, and symphony all share a space that not only holds them all, but allows them to lift each other, rather than jockey for position.

The sad truth about much of the symphonic metal that comes out now is that you have a good idea of what you're going to get; the formula itself has gotten somewhat stale. By no means is this the death of the genre, but it is need of something to restart the fires that once burned so brightly. Feridea aren't doing anything wrong, musically, but they are relying too heavily on elements that have been used and reused to the point of exhaustion. And when you try to measure up to the groups that helped to push the genre to where it is today, you set yourself for a fall. The male/female dynamic doesn't work as well as it could, again partly due to the lofty expectations created by Nightwish or Epica, and the production takes much of the energy out o the music. The bright spots are there, but there are few and far between. It would be impossible to say that "Reborn In Time" is a complete throwaway, but it lacks staying power in a crowded and suffocating market of female fronted symphonic metal bands.


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