Album review: INSATIA – Phoenix Aflame

INSATIA – Phoenix Aflame

Pitch Black Records. [Release date 23.06.17]

This is a very accessible, well produced power/symphonic metal follow up to Insatia’s debut album ‘Asylum Denied’ in 2014.

The band is based around vocalist and founder member Zoë Federoff.  The album has been recorded with a shifting cast of session and guest musicians from across the Pond, with a stable band to promote the album only put together in the later stages of production. Aside from Federoff, it now comprises Dave Ablaze on bass, Kaelen Sarakinis on guitars  and Daniel Millan on drums. To be honest, it’s not obvious how much these guys actually feature on the tracks here.

But maybe that doesn’t matter. This is a Federoff project, together with production gurus Fabio D’Amore and Ivan Moni Bidin. That Italian production axis is surely responsible for the album’s very European-sounding arrangement and style.  This would be in the ballpark of bands like Serenity or – particularly because of the female vocals – Epica.

Federoff’s vocals are very distinctive, cutting an impressive mid-to-top range clarity and tone. The compositions are very much of the fantasy/fiction theme and as befits the genre, the overall sound is complex. The kitchen sink is thrown at all the compositions: acoustic segments, sweeping synth strings, keyboard parps, rhythm loops, layered vocals and power guitars in various grades of density.

The best of the material here is packed with strong vocal hooks and catchy melodies ripping along on chugging riffage. ‘Act of Mercy’ and ‘Memory of Sapphire’ stand out in the first half of the album, emphasising the interplay between darker guitar/drums and airy symphonic light. Album closer ‘My Healer of Hatred’ pulls myriad strings in the same enjoyable way.

The vocal drive on ‘Captor and the Captive’, powered on a great guitar lick, is a standout.  Heavier tracks like ‘Sacred’ and ‘Phoenix Aflame’ work well, where the temptation to flood the arrangements with electronic treacle has been resisted.

Sometimes, the temptation is simply too much. For instance, ‘We Are The Gray’ is a fluffy composition at best, not helped by overpowering keyboard syrup. ‘Not My God’ is a grating ballad duet that even these high-end production values cannot save. The less said about the maudlin ‘The Velvet Road’ the better.

Overall, there’s a slight inclination towards the ‘symphonic’ rather than the ‘power’ end of the spectrum.  In part that is a product of Federoff’s vocal. Impressive though it is, there’s an absence of grit and spittle, which means a certain saccharine sweetness prevails.

Pretty good stuff though, on the whole. Enthusiasts of the genre will find plenty to enjoy here.  ***½

Review by Dave Atkinson


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