Tuesday 10 November 2020

Afterpain - The Endless Cycle (2020)

Country: Argentina
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Aug 2020
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Here's another submission for review, this time from a symphonic metal band from Buenos Aires. The band appear to be a trio, with Fernando Rey (no, not that one) on most of the instruments, including guitar, bass and drums, though there are three guests providing guitar solos and, on a pair of songs, rhythm too. Mauro Fallico adds keyboards, while Vanina Coletti handles vocal duties. They've been a band for six years now but this is their debut album.

My initial impression was that their sound was decent but nothing out of the ordinary. If I threw out "symphonic metal" at a random point in conversation, this is exactly what would immediately come to mind. The drums are patient but versatile, the guitars are elegant and classy, the keyboards are an ever-present texture and occasional lead. Coletti's vocals are perhaps the only element not precisely as we might expect, though she's really close; the difference is that it sounds like she has a rock voice that's taking on the symphonic style rather than the usual classical voice that's rocking it up a bit.

I should emphasise that all of this is done well (and further listens underline that). It merely doesn't get surprising. At this point, I was mostly impressed at how solid the musicianship was, given that it was mostly the work of one man. I hoped, as the album ran on, that it would depart a little from the standard genre template and I can happily say that it does, if not particularly often. It gets better in time not because of anything particularly innovative but because it's just performed so well and in a way that takes us deeper into the songs with each listen.

The most ambitious song is clearly Despair of the Brave. The other ten songs on offer all run between four and six minutes, but this one's a long blink shy of ten. It doesn't mix things up much but it does add a dramatic spoken section in the middle and there's a particularly nice transition right after it. It isn't the imaginative epic I hoped it might be, but it's engaging and lively and it never drags, even at this length.

It's worth mentioning that the album never drags either, even though it's a generous hour in length. I think that's more to do with the sound being consistently upbeat than any innovative songwriting, but a second listen showed that these songs are deeper than I thought initially. There's a lot of to and fro between Rey and Fallico, epitomised by the midsection of Enemy, as if to underline that there are two musicians here: one on keyboards and one on everything else.

In particular, the band really know how to grab our attention and they do that rather a lot and often in deceptively simple ways that don't stand out at the time but turn out to be really clever. I enjoyed the opener, Flying Dreams, but it didn't wow me until the keyboards, guitar and voice merge in a glorious crescendo and I grinned at how simple but highly effective that was.

The standout track for me is Rage, which has a fantastic intro and some real attitude. Everyone seems to be performing harder and with more edge and it works on every level. It's fair to say that I wanted more of this across the other songs but the band didn't want to deliver that elsewhere. Enemy does it early but then calms down to allow Coletti's voice to take the lead. This one highlights her rock voice as well as anything else here, except perhaps parts of Monster or especially the end of Lights Out, as she sustains a long note with a heck of a lot of power.

Oddly right after the angrier Rage is the exact opposite: Forgive Us is the power ballad on the album. I'm discovering that I like power ballads less and less as the years go by but this one succeeded by not annoying me and that's becoming a real compliment from me. I kinda liked this power ballad and that was my biggest surprise here. It's a really good song.

Well, there was one other surprise, beyond how much songs like Misery and Eternal Prisoner build on a second listen, and that's the closer. I liked the old timey radio bit to kick off Bye Bye Bye, which is another upbeat song that pulls back to let Coletti's voice in. The surprise is that it sounds so utterly like a pop cover that I looked it up and was shocked to find that it's an *NSYNC song. I really wasn't expecting that.

In summary, this is another grower. I've been reviewing a few of those lately, albums that I enjoyed on a first listen but enjoyed a lot more on a second. Now I need to hear someone play Rage as the second half of a double play with Memoira's Snowglobe to set it up. That would be a great radio pairing. And so, I think, would Snowglobe and Forgive Us.

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