Friday 12 February 2021

Sirenia - Riddles, Ruins & Revelations (2021)

Country: Norway
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 12 Feb 2021
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I've mentioned a few times how I drifted away from rock and metal in the early nineties after a decade of deep immersion. I did come back at points and one of them was around the time Sirenia came to be in the early noughties. I was part of a vibrant community at EMusic and there had discovered Napalm Records in Austria through an album that's still one of my favourites today, Tristania's World of Glass in 2001. For a while, I was devouring everything on Napalm, and that inevitably led me to Sirenia, who were formed by Tristania guitarist Morten Veland.

In fact, the Sirenia debut, At Sixes and Sevens is, in large part, material that he'd written for Tristania before leaving that band, shortly before World of Glass. I liked it a lot and its follow-up too, An Elixir for Existence, but, like many fans, was disappointed with Nine Destinies and a Downfall. I'm happy to see that Veland, the heart of the band and often technically its only member, kept Sirenia going, with this being its tenth album. The other permanent member is female vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan, who has held that role since 2016 but had sung with the band's studio choir since 2003 and also performed on the 2010 album produced by Veland's side project, Mortemia.

The sound here is symphonic metal, led by Zoldan as Veland's contrasting male vocals, whether clean or harsh, have mostly vanished. However, Zoldan doesn't show off that much. Her voice is a rich treat, one I appreciated more and more as the album ran on, especially when she sang in her native French, but there's little here to test her range. She shows some serious power on Towards an Early Grave, an interesting track vocally because it also features her whispering and a harsh verse from Veland, but it isn't enough to prompt people to highlight it on a vocal reaction video.

The gothic feel is still evident, though decreased considerably, with the violin and choirs gone and, in large part replaced by electronica. The bulk of the album is guitar driven, of course but it feels like all of it is performed in front of electronic textures, with a few songs, such as Towards an Early Grave and Passing Seasons, opening like Enigma tracks, a sound that continues to show up throughout, notably late in December Snow. The electronic grooves also expand to an industrial aspect at points and, in a few moments, even a theremin sound.

It took me a couple of songs to get used to this change, but I like it. The riffing is decently heavy and often industrial-tinged, but the solos are bubbly shred, the backing vocals are often poppy and that perky electronic backdrop is always there. Just check out Addiction No. 1, the opening track, which is able to do all of that in a single song. It's a good one, but I think the best are still to come, like Into Infinity, December Snow and Passing Seasons.

What's telling is that it's difficult to call out the heaviest track or the poppiest, because the two are so fundamentally linked. The Timeless Waning may feature the most harsh vocals, while We Come to Ruins may have the heaviest riffs, but they both feature bubbly elements and the bubbliest and most melodic songs, like December Snow, feature heavy ones. And that's kind of the point. This isn't heavy music trying to be accessible or poppy music trying to be heavy. It's a mature combination of the two. It's a distance from what I remember Tristania being, but I like it a lot. In fact, after a couple more listens, I upped my rating.

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