Country: United Arab Emirates
Style: Melodic Metalcore
Release Date: 20 Mar 2020
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Once again I'm dipping into a -core genre even though you know by now that I don't dig shouty vocals, but I just had to discover what a melodic metalcore outfit from the United Arab Emirates sound like. Well, they're sort of from the UAE. Svengali are indeed based in Dubai, but the four members are each from different countries: Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and India. I don't know what usually populates the Virgin Megastore chart in th UAE but Svengali's debut album reached the number two spot.
And they sound pretty good, whatever style they're plucking from their ample playbook. Their core sound is roughly what you might expect: fast and heavy guitars with the bass prominent in the mix and deep shouty vocals from what I presume is Adnan Mryhij. The only line-up I can find has five members so I would think that someone has left the band and I have no idea who.
If you're into Killswitch Engage, you should dig this, even though they're a bit slower at full tilt and feature less guitar solos. The closest they get to Killswitch here is certainly Freight Train, which kicks off with a guitar sound right out of Iron Maiden's Back in the Village but then launches into the chuggy metalcore sound that the rest of the song thrives on.
If that's the hardest song here, the softest is surely Better Off, which is half a ballad, with melodies reminiscent of Marlene on the Wall by Suzanne Vega, of all things, and half an alt rock song with a decent solo. Whoever provides the clean voice brings a real warmth to the album and he's either layering his voice or someone else is backing him in a similar vein.
The best song to my mind is the one that mixes these two different styles in the most effective way. That's Labyrinth, which wraps up the album. It kicks off quintessentially for metalcore but the shouty vocalist hands over to the clean one before the halfway mark so that he can introduce strong hooks that take the song in a different direction.
I like this song a lot and would call it the most definitive song here, even if it refuses to be just one thing. There's a proggy section midway through that feels like post-rock but, just as we're getting into the soundscape, it hands over to a powerful chugging riff backed by distant floating synths and then we're back to the hooks. It's heavy and it's soft without either aspect conflicting.
An album of songs with the contrasts of Labyrinth would be fantastic, but it isn't this one. Other songs tend to focus on the traditional metalcore sound without getting too much into embellishments from other genres, or don't bother with them at all. And that's fine. Svengali not presenting themselves as anything but metalcore and, as much as I prefer every other vocal style in the entire rock/metal spectrum, Myrhij is as enjoyable a shouter as I've heard lately.
In fact, if there's a genre they hint at most, it's not prog or post-rock at all, but groove metal because there are moments here that reminded me a lot of latter day Sepultura, albeit coming to that shared sound from an opposite direction. Sepultura are a metal band who like punking it up, while Svengali are clearly a punk band who like metal. I wonder how far they'll go on that scale on future albums. It's not like Sepultura haven't developed massively over their career and it's comparatively early for Svengali.
Oh, and by the way, the typographer in me adores the simple but highly effective logo!