Monday 19 June 2023

Liv Kristine - River of Diamonds (2023)

Country: Norway
Style: Gothic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Apr 2023
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Following very much in the vein of her 2021 EP, Have Courage Dear Heart, this is Liv Kristine in her gothic rock mode, approaching and sometimes embracing pop at one end of the spectrum but also thinking a little about crunching up into metal at the other. While we might expect a lot of Theatre of Tragedy here, the gothic metal band she co-fronted for a decade, given that every original song here was written by Tommy Olsson, who spent three of those years as a guitarist in that band, it's only really approached in a couple of tracks, like Our Immortal Day and Maligna, and never with a real intention to go there.

Oddly, the first words we hear aren't Liv's. There's a male voice on the opener, Our Immortal Day, that functions less as a duet partner and more as an introduction. It belongs to Østen Bergøy, the clean voice in Tristania for a decade who's now with Long Night, also Olsson's current band. He's a perfect presence in this opener, setting us up for what Liv has to bring and supporting her with his velvet voice. My favourite duet partner here is Fernando Ribeiro of Moonspell, who lends a deeply Andrew Eldritch-esque voice to the title track. Liv's husband and sister also show up, the former a tender partner on Pictured Within and the latter less obvious on Love Me High.

The album starts off well with Our Immortal Day but escalates to No Makeup and Maligna, which I would call out as the two standout tracks on the album. The former plays like a waltz, a wonderful groove that's slower than the songs either side of it but contains so much detail to keep it skipping forward elegantly. The latter is a strong song, with symphonic metal in the vocals but goth rock all over the music, upbeat and driving like the Sisters of Mercy, and with tough lyrics about an abusive relationship. It's almost surprising to hear Liv drop an F bomb but it's perfectly placed here.

I've mentioned the Sisters a couple of times now and that's appropriate but there's another name I should throw out too, because this takes a few journeys into pop music, of the progressive sort we might associate with Kate Bush. When the songs are up tempo, we tend to hear the eternal beat of Doktor Avalanche behind them, even if Liv's isn't far off what we'd get if we inverted Eldritch's, the light to his dark. However, when the songs slow down and get playful or introspective, Kate Bush is the influence we hear. She's there on Maligna but she's unmistakable on Gravity and especially on the closing cover of Cyndi Lauper's True Colours.

Liv has always had a crystal clear quality to her voice, as if it's made of air and ice. Gravity is such a tailored song to that crystal aspect, turning her ethereal, as if she's indeed "flying with gravity", as the lyrics suggest. It does heavy up a little late in the song for emphasis, but True Colours is her voice solo with only piano accompaniment. These are songs painted in shades of white, beautifully rendered, and they're a far cry from the gothic metal I first heard her sing but just as worthy.

If you've been paying attention, you'll realise that the majority of the songs I've mentioned so far arrive early in the album and that's because it is a little top heavy. The first four songs are close to being the best four songs, the only one matching them in my mind being the title track, which still sits on the first side, wrapping it up before the tender ballad Pictured Within kicks off the second. That doesn't mean that the remaining songs are poor but the best of them can't match the worst of the first half, which I guess means In Your Blue Eyes because it's the only other song there.

Pictured Within is very well done but it doesn't grab me. True Colours is a stellar cover but it's just Kate Bush singing Cyndi Lauper without any further depth to it. If you twisted my arm, I might call out Shaolin Me as the best second half song. It sounds like a Shaw Brothers movie as it begins with a synth note building the way Pink Floyd might do it. The song grows and somehow floats, as if Liv has found the zone in a kata and nothing else exists but movement. I could imagine her singing in a blindfold for this one.

And so this is another 7/10, the same rating I gave Have Courage Dear Heart. However, there's far more of it, being a full length album, Liv's sixth solo effort and it certainly flies higher. I could have easily stretched to an 8/10 for the first half but it can't sustain that level in he second so that 8/10 surely drops to a 7/10, but I wouldn't go further. Even the least song here is still enjoyable even on a third or fourth listen, even if I'm tempted every time through to cut Pictured Within short to leap back to the beginning.

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