Wednesday 8 May 2019

Oxymorya - Save Your Mind (2019)

Country: France
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 7 May 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

Oxymorya hail from Dannemarie, which is so far east in France that it isn't far off either Germany or Switzerland. Perhaps that's why their influences are obviously primarily European, not just other symphonic metal bands like Epica, Nightwish and Delain, but bands with more extreme elements like Mors Principium Est and Sirenia. All these are cited on their Facebook page and aren't remotely surprising.

Initially, Oxymorya sound just like your personal favourite symphonic metal band, but it doesn't take long for other elements to show up to deepen what they do. The harsh vocals of Soizic Desbois (I presume that's what 'chant saturé' translates to), combined with the clean vocals of Aurélia Mouth, hint at the versatile sound we know from Tristania and Sirenia, while the intricate drum patterns of Cédric Mouth are only the most overt progressive element. Were Aurélia not present, Oxymorya could be easily classified as prog metal.

They start strongly on Welcome to Earth, with these two different singers adding their own textures to the song not verse by verse but line by line. They're so connected throughout the album that on one track, In the Long Run... We are All Dead, they share the very song title in the chorus, each tackling half of it in their own individual and wildly different style.

The guitars are surprisingly low in the mix, especially given the presence of two guitarists and a bassist, but the drums are not, so that we tend to find ourselves listening to symphonic, prog and melodic death metal all at the same time. There's certainly a lot of melodeath in The Cave, but there is also a lot of beautiful symphonic vocal work from Aurélia and a glorious bass run midway from Vincent Rigoni.

What I should mention is that Cedric Mouth isn't only the prominent drummer ('batterie' in French!), he's also responsible for the orchestration, which is handled very differently to anything I've heard from the bands mentioned above. He's not trying to add a virtual orchestra, at least I don't believe he is; he's adding odd little textures here and there from a whole variety of instruments. The Cave alone features brass and a heck of a lot of piano, while other songs benefit from other hints and accents.

It's also worth mentioning that his role here appears to vary depending on what his contribution is. As a drummer, he's the heart of the prog metal drive of the album: crisp, technical and deliberate. However, when wearing his orchestrator hat, he's much more like a pixie, very playful and wildly unpredictable. I'd even suggest that songs like This is the End would sound completely different if we merely removed his layer of orchestration.

I find this fascinating because the band, who only formed last year and for whom this is their debut release, clearly have a sound of their own, which is admirable in the world of symphonic metal, where many bands are almost indistinguishable from each other. I wouldn't mistake Oxymorya for any of them, even if Aurélia is traditional enough in her contribution.

The point is that she's singing in her style while her counterpart sings in her completely different style (except when she doesn't, on the fantastic The Great Apocalypse), Cedric plays prog and, frankly everyone in the band plays whatever they want, given their own influences. How this all doesn't fall horribly apart on every track, I have no idea, but somehow it all gels wonderfully into something very specifically Oxymorya.

Case in point: Divina Machina. Each time I hear it, it seems to belong to a different genre. Initially, it's a melodic death song, even if Cedric adds electronic fringes around it, on which Aurélia feels like a guest vocalist; all the vocals that count are Soizic. But then I hear it again as symphonic metal because Aurélia gets the verses and Soizic brings texture. And then I focus on the groove metal vibe. Or the jazzy guitar. Or...

Behind the Door does the same thing, because Cedric goes all vaudevillian with his orchestrations. It's another melodic death song, except it isn't. And the whole struggle begins again.

At the end of the day, of course, it doesn't matter what genre these songs are. They're simply good and that's all that matters.

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