Tag Archives: Symphonic Metal

Aghast Afterglow – Imaging

Aghast Afterglow ImagingThe genre of symphonic goth-metal featuring classically-trained female vocalists is getting increasingly crowded these days. The latest addition to the scene is Italy’s Aghast Afterglow, who started as a duo comprising multi-instrumentalist Denny Di Motta and vocalist Lisa Lee, but have now expanded to become a full band.

The opening few numbers set the tone; first the musical box chimes leading into the brief power-metal instrumental “Fearless”, then the swirling kaleidoscopic “You’re Killing Me From Inside” and the full-on Goth of “Angels Can’t Love”. Like others without access to major label budgets for recording they manage without the massed choirs, orchestras and kitchen sinks, instead relying on layers of keys and a bigger role for the lead guitar. Lisa Lee’s lower-register vocals are reminiscent of Winter in Eden’s Vicky Johnson, and Denny Di Motta neo-classical guitar flourishes sound like a version of Yngwie Malmsteen with a sense of taste and restraint.

This is an album where the emphasis is on straightforward songwriting rather than overblown arrangements, and they stick to four or five minute songs rather than attempting any longer epics. “When Will Winter Come Back” is one standout that sounds like a potential single, the chorus of “There Is No Time” gets stuck in the head after a few plays. The soaring ballad “Stream of Awareness” is another highlight. There is the odd moment that doesn’t quite work, most notably the irruption of a few bars of Bach’s double violin concerto as the instrumental break of “Muto Inconscio” in a manner parodied by Spinal Tap way back in 1982. But most of the time it’s solid piece of work.

The album ends with a wonderful piece of silliness, a rocked-up cover of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”, which is yet another example of how well 70s disco standards work when re-inagined as guitar-shredding metal numbers.

While Aghast Afterglow do wear their influences on their sleeves, most notably Nightwish, there is a lot to like about this record, and they sound more than capable of giving some higher profile acts a good run for their money.

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Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels

Italy’s Rhapsody of Fire (formerly called Rhapsody) were one of the first symphonic metal bands when they emerged in the late 1990s.. Their style of “epic fantasy metal” is part operatic metal, part Hollywood film score, with Dungeons and Dragons lyrics and song titles like “The Ancient Forest of Elves”. I’ve half-jokingly described them as musically making Queen sound like XTC, and lyrically making Dio sound like The Arctic Monkeys. U2 fans have even been known to run away screaming in terror. But at their best their music can be gloriously over the top, and hugely entertaining provided you aren’t allergic to a little bit of cheese.

Their latest album “The Frozen Tears of Angels” has been out a few months now. It’s got most the traditional Rhapsody elements, such as choirs and spoken word parts by Sir Christopher Lee among others. The lyrics are another fantasy saga, rather more David Eddings than Tolkien (Seriously, a villain called “Necron”?  Come on guys, surely you can do better than that?).

While by no means a bad album, doesn’t quite seem to have the same spark as previous offerings. Perhaps it’s down to the fact they’ve not used an orchestra this time, with the symphonic parts played on layered keyboards instead. Yes, there are still some great moments, like the monstrous opening track with pseudo-orchestration backing Christopher Lee’s ominous-sounding narration – about as epic as something less than three minutes long can possibly be. And we stll have some huge soaring Carl Orff-style choral moments.  But there are also times when they fall back to some very generic Euro power-metal, which I find far less interesting than their more cinematic moments.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that they aren’t really breaking any new ground with this release. They’re largely repeating what they’ve already done before, at a time when other bands in the symphonic metal scene are still moving the genre forward. A dozen years after their debut, the likes of Epica, Nightwish and especially Therion leave Rhapsody of Fire sounding a little dated by comparison.

If you’re a fan of the band, you’ve almost certainly got this album already by now.  But if you want an introduction to Rhapsody of Fire’s gloriously over the top music, you’re probably better off starting with one of their earlier albums such as “Symphony of Enchanted Lands” or “Triumph or Agony” rather than with this one.

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Therion, Shepherds Bush Empire, 31 October 2010

I blame my parents for this. Before I discovered rock’n'roll in my teens I was exposed to a lot of classical music, including many, many choral concerts at an age when I was probably too young to really appreciate them. Some of this must have rubbed off, because decades later I find myself listening to Scandinavian operatic metal bands while finding most mainstream indie music to shallow and tuneless to hold much interest.

So when Swedish symphonic metal band Therion came to Shepherd’s Bush Empire for a rare UK appearance. the chance to see them live on Halloween night was too good to miss. I’ve only heard a couple of their albums, the recent double album “Gothic Kaballah” and a superb earlier live album “Live in Midgard”. The albums are huge in scope, with multiple singers, choirs, and many guest musicians. I wondered how music of this complexity would translate live.

Before Therion there was not one but two supports. I always make a point of getting there in time to see the support; you never know when you’re going to see a great band you might otherwise never have heard of, and you can always retreat to the bar if they turn out to be rubbish. Tonight both supports were good. Openers Loch Vostok were an entertaining progressive-tinged metal band with a hairy frontman I could imagine crewing a Viking longship ready to loot and pillage some innocent Northumbrian village. Second support was Norway’s “Leprous”. With a name like that I expected grunty death metal – in fact the band, fronted by a dreadlocked keyboard player, were nothing of the sort, fairly melodic, a bit bonkers but great fun. Both bands are well worth checking out.

Having never seen Therion live before, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. The show began with just four instrumentalists on stage, progressively joined by two male and two female vocalists, both opera-trained sopranos, until there were eight people on stage.

The music they played can only be described as epic, and hugely melodic. While they’re not touring with the full choir that sing on the most recent album, the combination of four powerful lead vocalists still made for a immensely rich sound, whether it was alternating leads or four-part harmonies. While the focus was on the elaborate vocal arrangements, with the twin guitars of Christofer Johnsson and Christian Vidal the metal side of things wasn’t neglected either. One guitar solo in particular was simply jaw-dropping. The only thing I didn’t like was their reliance on programmed keys; I’d much rather they’d employed a flesh-and-blood keyboard player alongside the guitars and vocals. Saying that, one of the female singers did play keys for a couple of songs. We also had vocalist Thomas Vikström playing flute on a couple of songs. I really wasn’t expecting to hear any flute at this gig.

I recognised relatively few of the songs they played, I’m guessing songs from the new album Sitra Ahra, which I’m yet to hear, featured very heavily. But it didn’t seem to matter. Their whole two-hour set was hugely enjoyable, and I can see this is going to be band I’ll be seeing again next time they come to these shores.

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