This is Kimaera's fourth album, but it's the first for me so I haven't followed their sound through a variety of evolutionary steps. It seems that they started out as a heavy metal band called Chimera that featured entirely clean vocals, changed name to play atmospheric doom/death metal and, in time, moved into symphonic death metal. I presume those changes weren't instant and they grew from one genre to another, which might explain why so many of them are still rattling around in a genre-hopping sound.
The symphonic aspect is there first, along with the most prominent ethnic music. The latter isn't a priority for the band, so what little of it shows up is generally confined to the background, but it's discernible at a few points in the opener, De Amare et Bellvm. I wanted more of it. The symphonic side of things is keyboard generated and a clear priority so continues throughout the album as an omnipresent default texture. The death metal joins in next, present in the chugging guitars and a deep harsh lead voice.
I believe that deep voice belongs to the band's founder, J. P. Haddad, who died of asphyxiation in a gas leak only a fortnight after this album was completed. If so, he must be a serious loss to the metal community in Lebanon, where they're from, because the Middle East isn't the most typical place to find metal bands, yet he was able to create one that obtained international acclaim and reached their fourth album. He sounds good too, the primary voice here being deep and rich and warm. Further male voices appear at points, one thinner but harsh and another clean. I presume both are also him. Certainly he also provided the rhythm guitarwork and the concept behind this album, which is centred on the Roman Empire. R.I.P., sir.
That subject matter may well have framed their use of genre here. It starts out bombastic, with a rampant and confident army at war, but it goes to other places too. The decadence of the empire surely manifests through gothic sections. I believe there are violins, or their synth equivalents, on the opener, but they're more obvious on The Die is Cast and VVV, with a melancholy piano joining them on the latter. Most of all, there's a turbulence in this music, which shifts style often in minor ways, as if the various musicians in the band represent constantly shifting different factions in an ever-changing empire. Certainly, there's a song here exploring The Ides of March. It really fits.
That turbulence is arguably the best and worst thing about the band. If you're someone who likes genre-hopping music, you may really dig this, with all its varied performance elements shifting to mirror where the lyrics or mood takes a particular song. The Grammys give out different awards for Best Song and Best Performance and I still don't really understand the difference, but I would call what Kimaera put on this album as a set of performances more than a set of songs. They don't flow like songs but they present like art, where everything has meaning. And, of course, if you're not a fan of anything I just said, you may have problems with this album.
I certainly like it but I'm not sure yet how much. I'm not usually a fan of musical theatre but this is only halfway to that because, sure, it's about the story but it's about the music even more. There are still riffs and hooks, even though the songs are too patchwork in nature to adhere to the usual structures, and they're often good riffs and hooks, albeit a lot more of the former than the latter. It's just that, as you get used to one, they shift onto another. The truest song here isn't theirs; it's Ya Beirut, a memorable version of Majida el Roumi's Beirut Set El Donya with Cheryl Khayrallah on guest operatic vocals.
I don't know what the future holds for Kimaera, given the tragic loss of J. P. Haddad. He's led this band for over two decades and, while nobody else in the line-up appears to be brand new, nobody has been there anywhere near as long as he has. There are no other founder members here and I don't know if any of them are ready or able to carry the torch. Only time will tell, but this does, at least, stand as a testimony to what Haddad and his compatriots achieved. When they're on point, they're really on point and you only have to check out Capvt Mvndi, surely the best song here and the album's epic, to discover that.