Hell Fury Records [Release date 21.11.19]
There is always so much to explore in music, as you explore every sub-genre of a sub-genre. Modern Symphonic Metal is a good case in point and, what was once just purely the domain of some of the fantastic Northern European acts who kicked off the mainstream excitement, has gone beyond an icily epic mix of power metal and suitably heroic classical music. Two UK bands have forged their own way in an ever-evolving landscape, both releasing very different, but equally striking albums.
London based quintet Serpentyne formed in 2010 and initially started off as a folk band before mixing in heavier elements by their second album and ‘Angels of the Night’, their fourth, is their heaviest and most accomplished yet. Fronted by the classically trained Maggiebeth Sand, their sound is very much a mix of the usual elements of Symphonic Rock but shot through with folk and medieval flavour. It’s an intriguing blend and you can be instantly transported back to the times of King Arthur or Robin Hood, such is the musical tapestry it conjures, imbued with the smell of chainmail armour, the sound battle and the mysticism of the forest.
Sand has a wonderfully unaffected and natural voice, much more folk orientated than her operatic soprano would lead you to believe. It’s a very characterful instrument and, matched with the bagpipe playing of bandmate Vaughan Grandin it gives Serpentyne a certain edge that makes fascinating listening. ‘Away in the World’ shows their ancient and modern mix perfectly and ‘Angel of the Night’ is introduced with the humming drone of voices before pipes skirl and brass assaults the senses in a mystical world punctuated by the thunder and punch of the guitar. Themes from history, literature and mythology feature throughout and the choral and orchestral ‘Lady Serpentyne’ is a fascinating exploration of the Medusa legend, ‘Boudicca’ takes a look at the Iceni Queen and ‘Lady Macbeth’ uses both spoken and sung phrases from the Bard of Avon’s infamously dark and treacherous play.
There is some truly excellent playing here and some of the guitar solos by Lee Wilmer are exceptionally fine and fiery, especially on ‘Follow Me’ and ‘Bring on the Storm’. Joining Sand on lead vocals for two tracks is bass player Nigel Middleton and thankfully he too goes for the more natural approach as opposed to the usual smooth/rough style adopted by a band with shared female and male singers. There continues to be a nice juxtaposition of music stylistically beyond the obvious as ‘Aphrodite’ opens with a really futuristic scattergun and rapid fire keys and, at the other end of the scale, ‘The Call of the Banshee’ is a multi-tracked world music piece that sounds like Gregorian Chant spliced to African tribal rhythms. If you want to try something new and different you can’t go wrong with ‘Angels of the Night’.
Lion Muisc [Release date 07.02.20]
Operose have gone their own route and in sophomore release ‘Oceans Of Starlight’ have released one of finest collisions between metal and opera since Wagner wrote ‘Ride of the Valkyrie’. In fact, this album is the natural progression to that very track as, if you ever wondered what the sound of a mass attack by the Valkyrie would be like, look no further. Taking things to another level entirely, Operose seem to have struck the perfect balance between bombast and beauty, each track being a titanic essay in the burgeoning subgenre.
Whilst opera generally starts with an overture, there is no such preamble with Operose as they kick straight into the dramatic and epic ‘Battle Swan’, guitars with the power of a tank, drums spitting out fast and furious and choral stabs that act as a base for the glorious voice of Jennifer Coleman. The frantic ‘Oceans of Starlight’ follows in a similar vein and this maritime tale certain has way more class than the wonderfully unhinged sea shanties of Alestorm but is definitely as entertaining. There is a real understanding of storytelling inherent in opera and this translates really well on the release as the pounding and visceral instrumentation heightens the drama.
Things slow slightly with the majestic ‘Lost Horizon’, all huge vocals from Coleman float deliriously across the gentle but powerful playing of guitarist Joe McGurk, drummer Steve Hauxwell and bass player Mike Bridge. Each plays to their own strength and what would potentially seem be an odd pairing of styles somehow works beautifully as each part of the jigsaw slots into place for the extraordinary picture. ‘This Life of Mine’ is another less kinetic track that focusses on the songwriting above all and follows a more traditional path that turns down some of the heightened elements.
‘Nothing Left’ also focusses on melody above the all-out attack and ‘On Sleeping Tides’ is full of string effects on the keys, piano and choral vocals that build up the atmosphere that is speaks of beauty with a hidden and very faint otherworldliness. Things ramp up again with the prog metal stylings of ‘Octavian’, a galloping and constantly changing feast of moods before the album closes with the epic (in all senses of the word) ‘The Actium Suite’. A rush of baroque keys leads to a flurry of flying digits up and down the fretboard and the two instruments dual throughout before the glorious and triumphant finish. You don’t need to like opera to enjoy this release, although it would certainly be a bonus, all you need to have is an appreciation of some incredible and groundbreaking music that will beguile, intrigue and thrill you. Music to get lost in. ****
Review by Paul Monkhouse
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