Amberian Dawn release their eighth studio album and the accompanying marketing material has quoted that it promises to be “brilliant in its epic keyboard symphonies, its marching Melodic Death Metal-guitars and breezes of 80s Pop”. Given that the band do flirt with the lighter elements of pop in their compositions and I enjoy numerous styles outside of the darker, heavier genres, I’m intrigued as to what they have in store with this brand new offering.
‘I’m The One’ kicks things off with typically uplifting Symphonic Metal, packed with classical & operatic characteristics. There are moments where I’m hearing the likes of Therion, mainly within the call-and-response vocals during the chorus. With such a bombastic opener, it’s a promising start.
… and then second song ‘Sky Is Falling’ begins. To be brutally honest, this is perhaps the most ghastly song I’ve come across in the band’s history. What I can only describe as a cheesy, 70s/80s Euro-pop track, that can only be differentiated by an accompaniment of overdriven rhythm guitars. It has the sound and structural characteristics of an ABBA song to the point you would be forgiven for believing this could be a cover of one of the Swedish icons’ lesser known songs. I appreciate that Tuomas is influenced by classic 80s European pop music, but this track is so far removed from the Rock/Metal foundations they have built their compositions around to date, that the song seems not so much like a duck out of water, but more like a fish floundering in a desert, it really is that out of place.
Like waking from a bad dream, ‘Dragonflies’ brings me back from the brink with something a little more familiar. Thundering drums, rapid-fire guitar chugs and enchanting vocal passages. The orchestral section mid-way through adds a grandiose, cinematic quality. During the slow moments in the song, there is an icy synth-line that takes me back to those wonderful childhood fantasy films of the 80s, such as The Neverending Story. This is my stand-out track of the album.
‘Maybe’ is another lighter 80s pop/disco music style song. Not quite to the extremes of ‘Sky Is Falling’ but it’s definitely leaning more in favour of European Pop than it is to Rock or Metal. I’ve endured through to the end, but it’s just far too pop-centric, so I won’t be returning to this track again any time soon.
Again, moving into more familiar territory again, ’Golden Coins’ is another perfectly listenable track with a hooky chorus at its core. My only criticism is that it’s a fairly generic composition, leaving me feeling as though I’ve already heard it before by other bands, which results in it not quite being as memorable or impactful as ‘Dragonflies’.
‘Luna My Darling’ suffers the same fate as ‘Golden Coins’ for generic song-writing and structure. The chorus sounds very familiar to me – if I didn’t know this was Amberian Dawn I’d have given you a host of possible bands this song could have been performed by. However, all is not lost as the following track, entitled ‘Abyss’, is another of the stronger songs on the album. The refrains are skilfully constructed, with a level of prowess expected of musicians as experienced as Amberian Dawn. The compositional work on this song are up there with the likes of Sonata Arctica – this is my second pick for stand-out song of the album.
I wish my ears were deceiving me, but I’m definitely not going mad, as I listen to potentially the oddest songs Amberian Dawn have written. ‘Ghostwoman’ features harmonic scales I have rarely heard before in Metal (and it would seem for good reason too!), which dominate the arrangement, complete with a bizarre stereotypical ‘Oriental’ melody that offsets the style completely, making for a directionless and very awkward listening experience.
‘Breathe Again’ begins with a piano and string arrangement, accompanied by a vocal part that would be suited to Celine Dion or some (insert title here) Disney movie song. It’s distinctly average and I’m feeling a little weary of the material by this point… that said, the end is in sight.
Finishing on ‘Symphony Nr. 1 part 2 – Darkness Of Eternity’ I’m expecting something orchestral, but instead I’m met with an ugly, muddy 80s synth much like you’d hear in one of those cheaply-produced 80s horror movies like Maniac Cop (I never thought I’d be writing that in a review of a Symphonic Metal album). I have no idea why that was chosen to kick off this track, but as quickly as it enters, it soon gives way to an actual symphonic arrangement and I’m impressed by it. Starting gently with fragile strings, twinkling piano arpeggios and delicate vocals, complete with a darkly gothic arrangement that could be forgiven for a Danny Elfman movie composition, the piece continues to build to a dramatic crescendo before falling into one last gentle refrain to bring the album to its close.
It’s a shame that amongst a couple of gems, this album ultimately feels misguided. I’ve come away feeling as though I’m unsure of the audience for which the material is intended to appeal. I find some of the harmonics of different instruments jarring, whilst the overly pop-centric style simply does not gel with the heavier accompaniment. Additionally, there is no sense of musical journey resulting in an incoherent, disjointed experience – it feels as though random songs with various stylistic ideas have been practically shoved together.
At one point I returned to their earlier album, ‘Innuendo’, just to ensure that I wasn’t being overly critical, but this only reaffirmed my opinion that the over-experimentation with the classic pop genre on their latest offering only further alienates long-time listeners. If the pairing of Metal and Euro-pop was executed more tactfully it may have been a successful marriage of genres, but on this occasion it didn’t work for me and I felt uncomfortable during the majority of the play-through.
VIDEO: Amberian Dawn – Dragonflies (Official Lyric Video)