Style: Symphonic Metal
Release Date: 13 Jan 2023
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Here's a fifth album for Beyond the Black, even though they haven't been in existence for a decade yet. They're certainly not hanging around, though it's been three years since its predecessor with COVID the likely cause for the delay. This feels exactly like the sort of album that might erupt from a band who have been restrained for too long and are aching to get back into the studio. They hail from a small German town close to the French border called Sankt Wendel and they play a form of symphonic metal that's built around the lead vocals of Jennifer Haben.
It's a relatively consistent and unadventurous symphonic metal sound, which may be a positive or negative depending on your tastes. These songs all tend to feature an urgent beat from drummer Kai Tschierschky, solid riffs from guitarists Tobi Lodes and Chris Hermsdörfer, with a warm tone to their guitars and a strong lead melodic vocal from Haben that seems effortlessly powerful but has little interest in stretching her abilities. I have no doubt that she can do more than she does here, but she didn't feel the need on these songs. I have no idea who contributes bass or keyboards but they must be session musicians.
The early songs are all consistently strong and set the stage well. Is There Anybody Out There? has all the elements listed above and a solid hook to stick in our brains. Reincarnation is better yet, as it builds from an ethnic atmosphere to a folky guitar and a playfully teasing vocal. However, there is also a surprising use of male backing vocals. They remind of the unneeded rap vocal that echoes Amy Lee's lead on Evanescence's Bring Me to Life, not because it's rap because it's guttural as we might expect from melodic death metal, but because it does exactly the same job and it's equally as unneeded. Free Me is more theatrical with some Nightwish-esque emphasis on the guitars but it plays in the same ballpark as the others, with another strong hook to sing along with.
The problem the album has isn't that it isn't good, because it continues to do what it does for half an hour more, but because it keeps doing it in much the same way and it drags at points. Winter is Coming is better than it might feel, as the fourth song in a consistent opening set, but it starts to fade a little from there. Into the Light can't bring anything new to the table so, even though it's a decent song, it fails to catch a hold. Dancing with the Dark starts out well with a nearly industrial vibe and a throat singing drone but it can't maintain that originality, even it remains a good song with a good solo. Raise Your Head adds some tasty wavering to Haben's voice but the song is lost in the mix too, even though it's another good one. And so it goes.
The only song that really tries to do anything different is Wide Awake, which starts out as a ballad and grows into something more. Hagen's voice is the highlight yet again, bringing musical theatre into the mix. That surprised me because I knew about her pop background as a member of Saphir, a girl band built around four separate winners of a German talent show for children. She certainly brings some of her pop training to this band but it's mostly there in the way she's able to let loose her voice to soar in ways that make talent show judges melt. That's a useful talent in a symphonic metal band too. I wasn't expecting musical theatre.
I appreciate that this is Beyond the Black rather than the Jennifer Haben solo project, but I'd like to hear the rest of the band step into the spotlight at points. These ten songs all wrap up within a minute of each other as if four minutes is too short but four and a half is too long. I'd like to hear a lot more intros, solos, interesting changes, moments for these clearly capable musicians to shine alongside Haben, who gets all the opportunities. Five minutes isn't unreasonable, maybe five and a half. That doesn't prompt sprawling epics that change who the band are. It just deepens it.
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