Monday 8 May 2023

Lumnia - Humanity Despair (2023)

Country: Brazil
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 3 Mar 2023
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I've been fascinated by what's coming out of South America lately and symphonic metal seems to be one of their genres of choice, with this debut album from Rio de Janeiro-based Lumnia another good example of how they're merging and shifting genres down there to create new hybrids.

Fundamentally, this is symphonic metal, but the metal behind it is a fascinating mix of old school, like the doom riffs on Breathing Space, and new school, like the more modern flavour evident on Embrace Darkness. There's a clear gothic metal influence too, right from the outset on Breathing Space, but it's in the general approach rather than any specific element, even if there's violin and piano here and there and the band employ the use of beauty and the beast vocal contrasts.

The lead vocalist here is Odete Salgado, who mostly sings clean soprano, though she does dip down to a much deeper voice on Madness Interude and, if my ears aren't misleading me, even tackles a harsh style very briefly. Someone provides what sounds to me like a male harsh voice, but nobody is credited in that backing singer role. As male as it sounds, there are points where I wondered if it could also be Salgado, who demonstrates quite the range here, from soaring soprano to whispered texture and many points in between, including a much more nasal witchy tone that she puts on at points for a very specific effect.

Now, I don't believe she is doing the harsh voice, and it's clear in the video for Queen of Night that it's not her, but the thought persists. I think it's because she has an occasional habit of mirroring the male vocal but behind, so that she shows from the sides like a halo of light around an eclipse. It's not every time, but it's there on more than one song and it provides a little touch of class that resonates with further listens. I was a little jarred on my first listen by elements I didn't expect, so it took a few songs for me to get what Lumnia were doing. Once on board, this is worthy and varied.

Breathing Space is a good opener because it sets the stage for what's to come. Hugo Carvalho and Marcel Gil generate a very tasty churning riff to open up and then Salgado soars in. As soon as she arrives though, the male voice shows up behind her, as a dark echo. She's left alone to sing solo on most of the album, but the backing vocal is prominent on Breathing Space and it's interesting for being almost negative space, like a black hole swallowing the fabric of reality. It isn't quite trying to be a portfolio song, a band sampler in five minutes, but it almost works that way.

Humanity Despair is a more focused song and it's a good one. There's a nice use of bells during one transition and Salgado's nasal approach shows up here. Broken Glass adds some pace and I do like this band a little faster than their typical tempo. It does slow down again, later on, of course, and churns gloriously while Salgado returns to her nasal witch voice. These are all good songs and they help flesh out what Breathing Space suggested might be coming. With Madness Interlude adding different vocal textures, it's clear that the band thought carefully about how to order the songs.

As the album runs on, those songs only get more interesting though and I started to take the high level sweep of the band as a given while focusing on little details. There's a violin on Bitter Earth, adding texture behind an acoustic guitar. Pedro Mello gets a spotlight moment as Queen of Night kicks off to showcase his bass. There are unusual rhythms on Embrace Darkness, so giving Matheus Moura plenty of attention. Many of these are at the beginning and/or end of songs, but some are midway, like the neat guitarwork in the midsection of Bitter Earth, extending into the second half.

My favourite song for both intro and outro has to be Violet. The former is elegant, with piano and acoustic guitar setting the scene and Salgado's clear voice joining them. The crunch arrives soon enough, after only thirty seconds or so, and we're into the song proper. The ending is even quicker, with Salgado reaching a crescendo above the general build of the song and the male harsh voice showing up for a moment of neat contrast, only for both to drop away entirely to a minimal piano that sounds like drops of water. It's very tasty. The song in between isn't bad either.

The song I'd have expected to be my least favourite is Constellations, because it's clearly a ballad, but I had no problems with it. It starts off like, with angels singing far above Salgado, and it keeps on like a ballad too, with the male backing voice going clean for a change, almost a folk grounding behind Salgado's vocalisations. The melodies are strong and it moves along pleasantly enough. It does heavy up a little, a couple of minutes in, but it drops back down out of that soon enough, with little interest in doing anything that's been done elsewhere.

I haven't heard a killer symphonic metal album from South America yet, but I'm increasingly sure that there's one out there that I haven't found yet. In the meantime, this is another worthy entry to the genre from Brazil.

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