Friday 23 August 2019

Frantic Amber - Bellatrix (2019)

Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 23 Aug 2019
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As I've mentioned here before, melodeath is the easiest genre to get lost in the crowd because it's easy to sound like everyone else. I treasure melodic death that stands out and that leads me to Frantic Amber, a Swedish band on their second album. I've enjoyed the pair of singles that preceded it and I was eager to check out the album once released.

They're another female led melodic death band, which I tend to enjoy. I've found that, once I got used to the idea of harsh female vocals almost two decades ago now, I started to recognise them when I heard them. There's an interesting component that I'm not sure I can describe. I wouldn't call it softness, but it's something that adds a melodic nature to the vocals to go above the melodic nature of the band behind them. Frankly, I prefer it now. Elizabeth Andrews is very good at what she does which makes her a welcome addition to the ranks of female led melodic death bands.

In fact, this band is eighty per cent female, I believe, but you can't tell that by listening to it! I like the sound too, because the vocals and drums don't overpower everything else and I can actually hear Madeleine Gullberg Husberg's bass. It's especially obvious in the midsection of Lagertha, but it's there throughout.

This is a concept album, very much like something Sabaton might do if they were women. Each of the eight tracks proper here are about warriors of note who just happened to be women. As Frantic Amber are very good at flavouring their songs with appropriate samples and ethnic instrumentation, we realise that these warriors are from all over the globe. This means that there are flutes on Lagertha; woodblocks on Joshitai; Jews harps, eastern strings and Mongol chants on Khutulun; and a host of other varied flavours that elevate the album.

As with the Sabaton album about the First World War, I highly recommend that you treat these songs as rabbit holes to discover some amazing stories. Just start with Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the Soviet sniper focus of The Ghost That Kills, and you won't be able to stop. She was known as Lady Death or simply "the Russian bitch from Hell", because she finished the Second World War at 309 confirmed kills of Nazi soldiers, which is insanely high, even before a pondering on how many more were unconfirmed.

This is melodic death rather than power metal, so it can't hold a candle to Sabaton on catchy choruses and earworm hooks, but this is a deeper, far more varied and more interesting album that outstrips Sabaton on textures. And I have to add that it's certainly not without solid riffs and hooks, whatever instrument they happen to be played on.

It's another of those albums that I was going to rate 7/10 until I realised just how many tracks I'd noted down as highlights. I enjoyed Lagertha a lot, Joshitai even more. The Ghost That Kills was my favourite until the pirate yarn Crimson Seas took over. That has everything: strong riffs, solid hooks and some great vocal phrasing, not to forget swords clashing in time behind the music. And The Black Knight wraps things up in style at a longer length, almost seven and a half minutes.

Given that there are only eight tracks proper (there's a short instrumental intro too), four of them are real highlights and the other four are hardly slackers, this clearly deserves an 8/10. Word on the street is that this is a step up from its predecessor, 2015's Burning Insight, but I'm now eager to check that out to see for myself.

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