When I asked the Melodic Rock Merchant himself, Chris Franklin of the Raised on Rock radio show, to pick a blatant omission from my reviews in 2022, he gave me a couple of albums to choose from: Manic Sinners as his rock pick and Ardours as a metal pick and, as always, he chose well, because I thoroughly enjoyed both. However, while Ardours do have some serious metal credentials, given who put it together and who they've played with, I wouldn't call this particular band metal.
They were founded in 2015 by a couple of Italians, Mariangela Demurtas and Laurent Kris. She's a vocalist, most recently for Norwegian gothic metal band Tristania, though she didn't join till 2007 so isn't on my favourite album by them, World of Glass. Of course, they sadly split up last year, but there are a couple of Tristania albums out with her voice leading them. Kris is a guitarist, who put almost a decade into Italian black/gothic metal band Cadaveria as the Lynchian pseudonym, Dick Laurent, with a couple of albums and a whole string of singles to his name. They both have other bands, but this is a fascinating side project for both with this their second album.
I'm calling this alternative, partly because it's genre-fluid, moving from new wave to straight rock and back, but always with at least a tinge of the gothic, and partly because it avoids committing to one side of the ever-flexible rock/metal boundary. This is far more rock than metal and sometimes more pop than rock, but Kris's guitar especially ventures over to the metal side on occasion with a rpiping solo now and again to keep the door open to their collective roots, like on Identified and Chasing Whispers. It's a tasty mix. Would I have liked it to be a little heavier? Sure. Do I care that much? No. This is already good stuff.
I've only mentioned two people thus far, as they're the core of the band, but I believe that Tarald Lie, the drummer in Tristania, is involved here too, presumably playing drums. However, I have to wonder how many songs he's on, because these drums often sound like they've been programmed rather than played. That's most obvious on the title track and early in Dead Weight, as the album shifts into clear electronic mode. Dead Weight begins with programmed drums but then seems to move onto a regular drumkit and there are points where both seem to be happening at once.
Someone's certainly playing keyboards too, because they're the first thing we hear when Epitaph for a Spark opens up the album, but I don't know if that's Demurtas, Kris, Lie or someone else. It's done very well though, enough so that this would work if the guitars and whatever drums are real were removed entirely and this became goth-tinged electronic pop music. It's the keyboards that provide the melodies here to underpin Demurtas's voice and this album is at its best when they're doing that incredibly well. I do like Epitaph for a Spark, but Insomniac is the song that has stuck in my head the most, with Identified not far behind it.
The elegant Secret Worlds, which wraps up a killer opening quartet with patient melody and some lovely vocal runs, is another highlight but then we shift into less immediate material. That's not to say that the rest of the album isn't good, because it is, but it's more subtle and worthy of deeper exploration.
Initially, I wasn't particularly fond of that approach, hitting us with three catchy gems straight off the bat and a more elegent gem, then asking us to dig deeper, but over multiple listens, I think it's a pretty good approach. It merely relies on us not quitting when the hooks calm down after Secret Worlds. If we keep listening, we'll be rewarded, especially once we've cycled through the album a time or three. Unannounced eventually joined my highlight list, though I didn't really notice it on a first time through. And that's why this album keeps getting better for me. Thanks, Chris!