Monday 20 February 2023

Godiva - Hubris (2023)

Country: Portugal
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 Feb 2023
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Ironically, I wrapped up last week with what I expected to be a melodic death metal but turned out to be something else, In Flames having shifted into metalcore and alternative metal, but this is an excellent example of melodic death metal that came to me as gothic metal instead. The vast bulk of Godiva's sound is melodeath, from the heavy, downtuned guitars to the snarling growl of Pedro Faria, though there are plenty of sections that approach a black metal wall of sound. For the most part, I'm not hearing any of the typical elements of gothic metal, but there are the contributions of André Matos that aren't rhythm guitar and we simply cannot ignore those.

It's these that set Godiva aside from every other melodic death metal band I've ever heard—and I've heard a lot of them. His other credit here is for orchestrations and they show up in a few ways. Initially, they're layers of keyboards, which serve as an atmospheric texture behind the usual rock instruments. There are also moments like the breakdown midway through the opener, Media God, which is keyboards mimicking a string section. The most obvious touch is the piano underpinnings that don't remotely take the approach you're thinking from that. They don't mirror the song as it is or add a new melody; they tinkle in runs like a waterfall.

And, quite frankly, how you respond to that piano may be the pivotal factor tipping you between a yay or a nay on this album. I found it delightful and wanted it to happen more. It's certainly not on every track, though it spices up the opener and returns on Hubris and emphatically on Godspell. I can perhaps see people interpreting these as gothic, but they feel more classical to me, adding a minor level of symphonic to the metal, something the guitars also play into at points. The same is true for Black Mirror, which begins in a symphonic fashion and features punctuation points that I presume are keyboards mimicking a brass section, and the pizzicato strings over violins that start off The All Seeing Eye.

However, I could buy into some people being acutely annoyed by the tinkling piano, like when your neighbours put up Christmas lights with built-in sound and you can't not hear them, even after you fall asleep. I hate those but I loved this, so it's entirely subjective. In a way, they serve as a counter to Faria's voice, because it's the only one here, excluding some choral moments on Black Mirror. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a soprano singing on these songs, but there isn't one, nor any backing vocals either. That means that it's all Faria and, while he has a very capable growl, it's a consistent growl throughout, so it takes other elements to play off it, like the tinkling piano or the guitars in Godspell which layer on a separate and vaguely middle eastern melody.

It's fair to say that, just as Faria's voice is the same throughout, the guitar tone follows suit, so all these songs start from the same fundamental place, whether they're bouncy like Godspell or pick a chug to build on like Dawn or Hubris, and it's down to the songwriting to impose variety. The vast majority of that delineation comes through Matos's orchestrations, but Ricardo Ribeiro often has interesting things to do with his guitar, having it almost dance around a song like Dawn pointing a finger at the lack of spontaneity and inviting the rest of the band to join the dance.

If it sounds like I'm being negative here, I should emphasise just how much I enjoyed this. Maybe I came in a little disappointed at not hearing the gothic metal I'd been led to believe would be here, but I quickly found a satisfaction in melodic death metal that sounds right only a day after finding frustration in the latest In Flames album. I have no idea if that affected how long I left this playing on repeat, but it kept on growing on me. I can see a lot of reasons why people might not like this. I don't subscribe to any of them. It's good stuff, especially for a debut—2007's Spiral, released as by The Godiva, appears to be a thirty-four minute EP—even if the band has been around in some form or other since the previous millennium.

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