Country: The Netherlands
Style: Symphonic Metal
Release Date: 22 Feb 2019
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Given that I'm virtually wandering through the Netherlands today, I thought I should wrap up with the new Imperia album, given that they're major enough to have a Wikipedia page (even if it's skimpy), four prior albums over a decade and a half with a pretty stable line up (the only changes have been the loss of a guitarist and keyboard player in 2010) and connections to Epica (singer Helena Iren Michael and drummer Steve Wolz used to be in Sahara Dust before it renamed to Epica in 2003).
Of course, while the band is based in the Netherlands, the individual members are from everywhere else, so I'm kind of cheating. Michael is Norwegian and Wolz is German. Guitarist Jan "Örkki" Yrlund is a Finn and bass player Gerry Verstreken hails from Belgium. So, nobody here is Dutch but hey.
I found that I want to like this a lot more than I did, given that it checks off most of my wants list.
It slams right into action from the outset with serious bombast on The Scarred Soul. Every single instrument wants to be big and they manage it, with orchestration behind them to make them even bigger still. None of this is remotely subtle (by the time the Spanish guitar shows up, the band have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the song), but it's effective. I like it.
And there are another eleven songs to go, because this is a long album, just under an hour's running time. They keep mixing it up too, not least through an array of styles that Michael is able to perform. The reason that Fear is an Illusion is notably heavier is partly due to her harsh death growls, but just two songs later, she's lifting her voice to operatic levels on Book of Love. She's versatile and talented.
So are the musicians behind her. They bulk up to crunch Fear is an Illusion, speed up to blister through Blinded and soften up for ballads like Beauty Within or the piano version of Mother that closes the album. Many songs are able to move from one style to another, Invisible Tears starting out as like a ballad as could be comfortably imagined, with airy orchestration, Spanish guitar and swelling keyboards, but getting progressively heavier and more emotional until the midpoint, after which it starts to soften back up again.
Imperia call themselves a symphonic gothic metal band, but there's certainly a lot more symphonic than there is gothic here. In fact, many tracks, especially during the second half, move into folk territory. Otherside kicks off with jaunty flutes and there's a solid violin solo in the middle. Beauty Within gets so folky that I wonder if a Renaissance Festival band was in the next door studio and popped in to jam. The Ocean's flutes aim at middle eastern flavours and that's emphasised when the belly dancing music kicks in.
While I do want a lot more gothic from my gothic metal bands, symphonic or otherwise, I'm fond of folk metal too. That's fine. So what went wrong? I think the problem is that a lot of these songs, while they're different in details and instruments and melodies, somehow feel very similar, especially in tone. These aren't bad songs, though the vocal rhythms on Beauty Within are oddly awkward; they're just doing the same sort of thing and that blurs.
There's nothing wrong with a song like Unspoken Words, for instance, and I liked its brief piano ending, but it feels better as it happens three songs into the album than it does in hindsight once we've got past twelve. I can't say I didn't like Flames of Eternity but I didn't miss it when it was done and that's telling for me. Usually there's a song or a texture or a melody I want to immediately return to. Here, I was fine with the silence, even if I wasn't upset at anything that came before it.
I don't think this is going to generate flames of eternity as much as it'll be consumed by them.