Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Nightingale's 'Retribution' - Album Review

Nightingale are a band that I have been aware of for ages but never really bothered to check out. For one, their albums always seem to be very expensive to buy (I assume they are out of print) and you hear so little about them that they are easy to forget about. Frontman Dan Swanö is a well respected, but unassuming member of the metal community - and has popped up in various projects throughout the years. His contributions to death metal band Bloodbath and progressive metal project Star One's albums, as well as guest spots on albums by bands like Threshold, show how diverse of a musician he is. Nightingale has always been his 'main' band however and has been sporadically putting out albums with them since 1995. Retribution is the band's seventh studio album and the first since 2007's White Darkness. To release this album, the band have signed with the long-standing progressive music label InsideOut Music which will probably ensure that this album reaches the biggest possible audience. As I said earlier, their albums are not always easy to get hold of so hopefully this one will be available much easier for much longer. I cannot compare this album to any of their previous work, as I know very little about Nightingale beyond what I have already said, so this is my first real foray into their work. On the surface, this is a really enjoyable piece of work. It is a hard album to pigeonhole because there are many different sounds at work here. Progressive metal is a big part of this album's sound, but so is AOR/melodic rock. In fact, this album is almost a perfect mesh of those two genres, and creates something which is pretty accessible while still being musically interesting. This is not a classic album by any means however, but there are a few stand out tracks that will really make any metal fan sit up and take notice - it is just a shame that this quality could not be sustained throughout the whole disc. Swanö's vocals on this album are really good. Despite his versatility, he only uses clean vocals here and ends up sounding like a mix between Kelly Hansen (Hurricane; Foreigner) and Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth; Bloodbath; Storm Corrosion) - which works surprisingly well. His voice is so smooth and melodic that it just flows over the music so well. He is a really underrated vocalist, but it is no wonder why people like Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon; Star One; Stream of Passion) hold him in such high regard!

The album opens with Stolen Wings which is easily the best track on the album. It is such a smooth, polished piece of metal that you cannot help but love it. Swanö's vocals have a little more grit to them in the verses, but the choruses flow well with a more pure delivery. The riffing between him and his brother Dag Swanö is tight, as keyboards add the icing on the cake without ever dominating the sound. There is definitely a slight poppy overtone to this song (and the rest of the album), but there is a short breakdown moment with acoustic guitars and prominent bass guitar work that brings the prog element back into the sound. Lucifer's Lament follows and is a much moodier piece. It opens with some sultry clean guitars and Swanö's perfect Kelly Hansen impression - it is amazing how much he sounds like him sometimes! Despite the moodier overtones, the song is still very catchy with it's very 1980s inspired chorus with chiming guitar lines. It is a very enjoyable song that really opens up with repeated listens. Chasing the Storm Away takes the AOR vibe much further and ends up sounding like mid-period Foreigner (think 1987's Inside Information) with it's semi-ballad feeling, big keyboards and melodic chorus. This is not a heavy song at all, but it still manages to rock to a certain extend with a really strong guitar solo and some excellent vocals from Swanö. Warriors of the Dawn is more of a metal song with a crunching riff and a tight groove that the whole song is built around. The chorus is a bit darker too, but the lush keyboards remain to help retain that polished sound. I feel that they were attempting the prog metal thing here, and it has worked to a certain extent. The guitar solo is pretty technical, but there is still enough here to hook those in who are more into the melodic rock end of things. Forevermore carries on that sound and lays emphasis on the heavy guitar riff that drives the song. In a way though, this is the song that mixes the AOR and the prog metal sounds together the best. The chorus is an AOR treat, but the instrumental sections that match guitars up against keyboards has more of the technicality seen in prog. It is another highlight of the album, and is definitely one that metal fans should listen to!

It is on the second half of the album that the quality seems to dip slightly though. Divided I Fall is an acoustic-led ballad that sees Swanö channel his inner Mikael Åkerfeldt to create something that is pretty organic but unremarkable. It does have something about the mellower end of Opeth's output though, with big piano chords and subtle vocal harmonies. It is a nice little melodic piece, but it does not really stand up to the previous songs here. The Voyage of Endurance is another rockier song. The verses sit on a plodding riff that chugs along at a nice mid-pace, but the song never really gets going. Some of the chorus melodies are memorable, but the song never really changes much throughout, making it hard to tell which section of the song you are listening to. It is not really a bad song at all, but it is nowhere near as interesting as the material found in the album's first half. 27 (Curse or Coincidence?) is somewhat similar. Again, there are some really memorable melodies, but the song never seems to get going. While the chorus is quite enjoyable, the melodies seem a little clunky and forced into the patterns they are in. They keyboard work is really strong here though, with lots of really melodic lines and riffs that help to make sections of the song stand out. A piano-led section mid-way through the song is easily the best moment and saves the song from being truly mediocre. The Maze is probably the album's weakest song. It has a nice guitar riff, but it lacks any real memorable sections. I can see what the band was trying to achieve with it, but I feel that they did not quite hit upon the right notes or melodies to fully execute it. Fortunately, the album ends with another really strong song in Echoes of a Dream. This brings the prog and AOR sounds together really well with plenty of strong, memorable vocal lines. The chorus here really soars with lots of shimmering keyboards and Swanö's full-bodied vocals. This song is more like the songs found earlier in the album, which is good. There is even a flashy keyboard solo which morphs into a shredding guitar moment - which is easily one of the best instrumental sections on the album. This song ensures the album ends on a high after a few less interesting numbers. Overall, this is a pretty good piece of work from a band that seem to come and go on a regular basis. A few poorer songs towards the end let it down somewhat, but there is enough here to make it worth a listen.

The album was released on 11th November 2014 via InsideOut Music.

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