Tuesday 30 April 2024

The Dame - II (2024)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 20 Apr 2024
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Into the Wastelands starts out with a fuzzy guitar that made me think this might be stoner rock, even if it came labelled as prog. But then the lead vocal of vocalist Marian van Charante kicks in and prog suddenly appears to be a fair description. She's a charismatic vocalist who sings with relish. I now understand why so many other singers seem to missing out on intonation because she has all of it. Her delivery is theatrical and feels like it comes from jazz and musical theatre, but she has power that's straight out of rock and it makes for a heady combination.

I should add that this is the second album from the Dame, but it's their last with van Charante. It's been years in the making so, even though she's left the band and new singer Elianne Ernst has stepped in to replace her, it's still van Charante on this album, as it was on the Dame's debut, Losing Sight of What You Want, six years ago. I don't know what Ernst sounds like, but it feels like van Charante has stamped her personality onto this band, who are a varied bunch, I'm guessing, given where the music behind her goes.

Into the Wastelands is an ambitious opener, nudging past twelve minutes and it travels through a lot of musical territory in that time: playful pop rock, imaginative prog rock, a trippy psychedelic midsection and even a couple of heavier parts at points where the guitars flirt with metal crunch. There's a patient guitar solo seven and a half minutes in and a far more ambitious one either side of nine. This piece does a heck of a lot in those twelve minutes. And then All in Good Reason does something completely different.

In fact, the constant here is change, because, while some of these songs share sonic components and some actively lead into others, none of the six tracks on offer really sound like each other. It's consistent in tone, so nothing ever seems jarring, except the fact that van Charante often sounds as if she wandered into the studio from a smoky jazz club and wants to take a stab at rock music, especially on All in Good Reason and Momentary Inn. However, that's really a one time problem. Either you don't get it, in which case this isn't for you, or you're on board immediately and firmly open to the potential of what it might do. I'm in the latter camp.

Even though All in Good Reason sounds like dark jazz, I kept catching a Black Sabbath influence in the structure. Ozzy could sing this. Sure, it would sound completely different but it would fit what he does too, at least until it gets overtly musical theatre. Momentary Inn wouldn't. Two thirds of the way in, All in Good Reason turns into prog metal and van Charante, who I presume is Dutch, is suddenly very English. Momentary Inn shifts between delicate jazz piano and overt prog song. All that Rumbles opens with similarly delicate piano but there's also a driving electronic beat pulsing at us and that totally changes the feel.

That leaves Overwhelming Silence and Disentangling, which initially seem to be connected but go to very different places. The former is the quietest song on offer in one sense, being entirely voice and piano, but it's also the most vehement, because van Charante seems to be unburdening and there's a lot to dump. It's a subtly powerful piece. The latter initially continues that but it's nine minutes of growth and it builds substantially over that time. My favourite guitar solo comes during the finalé of this one, though I'm also rather fond of the one midway through Momentary Inn. Disentangling is also the epic of the album, even if it's shorter than Into the Wastelands.

And, given that I've only mentioned van Charante thus far, naturally so as the most unusual element but a single piece in a puzzle nonetheless, I should cover who else made this. Those solos are courtesy of Stephen de Ruijter, who handles the lead guitars here, with van Charante handling rhythm, acoustic and electric. The delicate piano (and indeed other forms of piano, given where else it goes late on Momentary Inn) is the work of Thijs de Ruijter, including a late section of All that Rumbles that moves into New Order territory. And that leaves Michel Krempel on bass, who may be most obvious on heavier sections but is also a key part of All That Rumbles, which relies on him even when everyone else steps back.

I like most of my new music to sound original but that's tripled for prog rock. It's supposed to be a progressive genre that explores new sounds and new combinations of existing ones. What I hear from the Dame is something I haven't heard anywhere else, so they're doing this right. I'd love to hear their next album to see where they're going to take this sound with Elianne Ernst.

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