Tuesday 27 August 2019

Astralium - Land of Eternal Dreams (2019)

Country: Italy
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 23 Aug 2019
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I've listened to Astralium's debut album a couple of times now and it hasn't thrilled me, even though it sounds like it ought to.

For a start, it's clearly capable stuff made by a set of musicians who just as clearly know exactly what they're doing and that's insanely important for a symphonic metal album. It's ambitious stuff, with each song trying to do a lot of different things. It's never boring, even at a touch over an hour, an especially long time for a debut. The songs are admirably varied, within the boundaries of the band's chosen style.

And lead vocalist Roberta Pappalardo has a truly glorious voice. She stood out for me even in a genre that's frankly full of truly glorious voices. Is she another Floor Jansen? Maybe not, but it's not unfair to ask the question and that's a serious compliment all on its own.

But... I don't love this. I love a few tracks on it, three of them in a row in fact, but overall it falls short and it took that second listen to figure out quite why: it's so close to textbook that it becomes generic. I wouldn't call anything here filler, but a bunch of songs that initially sound wildly impressive, start to falter as we pay closer attention.

For instance, there isn't a single component part of Hope is Gone that I can call out as wrong. There's nothing wrong with it at all. However, if someone took the entire combined outputs of Nightwish, Epica and After Forever, then poured it all into a clever database and had an accomplished AI generate an original song in that style, this is exactly what it would create. I enjoyed it while it was playing, but I forgot it the moment it ended.

Fortunately, not everything falls into that bucket and I should explore the three in a row I mentioned earlier.

Rising Waves from the Ocean is a gem of a song. It's catchy from moment one and gets catchier. This is how to write a symphonic metal chorus! The vocal performance is spectacular; Roberta has that rare ability to be powerful one moment and teasing the next. She challenges and soars and whispers and does whatever else the song needs, depending on the moment. She's on grand form here, but the band don't lag behind her. This isn't merely a singer's song, because it's also about the riffs and the drums and the orchestration.

My Life is My Eternity starts out the same way, teasing with guitar, soaring with orchestration and then finding power and emphasis. Roberta shifts from sultry to powerful on the turn of a dime. There's a great guitar part in the middle and the choral section is strong. It's not Rising Waves but it's good nonetheless. Whisper in the Silence is the one song that might match it here with its fast begining and memorable drumming. Salvo Grasso is fine playing slowly, but he seems to relish the up tempo stuff. And Roberta reaches some fantastic notes, while Emanuele Alessandro gets a strong solo.

So, three great tracks. The problem is that rest of the album consistently fails to match them, even though it tries for longer than most albums run. I think the male singer epitomises their problem in a microcosm. He's capable and he does exactly what he should, but that's his biggest problem. He has no individuality, so he becomes just like every other capable male voice in a symphonic metal band. And Astralium sadly follow suit.

If the whole album, all sixty plus minutes of it, was up to Whisper in the Silence and Rising Waves from the Ocean, this would be a gimme at 9/10. I'm almost disappointed that I have to only give it a 7/10. It's decent but I'm unable to get past the feeling that it should be much more.

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