Thursday, 4 June 2015

Sirenia's 'The Seventh Life Path' - Album Review

While Nightwish's Endless Forms Most Beautiful will dominate symphonic metal in 2015 - and quite rightly so, it's fantastic! - Sirenia have done their best to make their voices heard amongst the rabble! The Seventh Life Path is (appropriately) Sirenia's seventh album, and one that follows on well from the excellent Perils of the Deep Blue from 2013. Band leader Morten Veland has always crafted a very distinguishable sound for Sirenia, and this album is no different. Cutting his teeth with gothic metal legends Tristania, Veland has established himself as a leading light in that genre. Sirenia has been his focus since forming the band in 2001 and he has poured all of himself into the band's seven albums. Despite having assembled a band for live performances, in the studio Veland is a one-man band. He has written and produced everything the band has ever recorded, and he performs all of the instruments in the studio. Sirenia is clearly a labour of love for Veland, but it also demonstrates what a great musician he is. Bands like Sirenia do not have the same budget or resources as Nightwish, so are never going to be able to compete sonically. This does not stop Veland from trying though, and he has done a great job again here. The Seventh Life Path is a huge sounding record. From the walls of gothic choirs, to the slabs of powerful metal guitars - this album has it all. Vocally, this album could be the band's strongest yet. Frontwoman Ailyn, now on her fourth album with the band, delivers her best performance yet. She seemed to really perfect her craft on the band's last album, but this time she seems to have improved even more. She is becoming ever more comfortable in the role, and her angelic voice is a good contrast to the gothic metal going on around her. Veland also contributes harsh vocals as usual. The 'beauty and the beast' vocal combination has been done to death now, but it still excites when done well. These two have always worked well together, and this album is no exception. Production-wise, this album sounds pretty good. The programmed drums still annoy me somewhat (why hire a great drummer for live shows and not use him on record?), and sometimes the mix is a little muddy - but mostly this album sounds huge. The harshness from the edges of the last album are gone, which makes more a much cleaner and easier listen

After the rather generic orchestral intro track Seti, the album gets underway with the blistering Serpent. The song builds from the preceding orchestral track, and explodes into a powerful gothic riff that Ailyn sings delicately over the top of. She has never had the most powerful of voices, but her unique tone makes her a great singer for Sirenia. The contrast between her thin voice and the powerful musical backing is always a good one. Veland also joins in during the choruses with his strong harsh vocals. There are stronger vocalists out there, but he has a good snarl to his voice that makes him enjoyable to listen to. This song is rather standard fare for Sirenia, but does feature a nice guitar solo mid way through - something which is not used a whole lot in their music. The symphonic elements are in the background here too, with the big guitar riffs leading the way. Once My Light was the song released as a video prior to the album's release, and it is clear to see why. It is a very vocally-focused song, and showcases what Ailyn can do with her voice. The verses really give her space to breathe, with a simple drum beat and bass-lead synths accompanying her. The guitars tend to grind away in the background here, without ever jumping out with a memorable lead or riff. The orchestral-lead mid-section is also good, with some great orchestral arrangements and drumming. There is a melodic, slow guitar solo later on however, giving the guitars a rare chance to shine on this song. Elixir features clean vocals from Joakim Næs, a regular Sirenia collaborator, and he does a good job here as usual. This is one song however that could have done with some more attention at the mixing stage. Veland's harsh vocals really are lost in the mush of guitars and as a result do not have the power that they should. Næs and Veland handle all of the vocals on this song (apart from a short section from Ailyn towards the end), which gives the song a cool, old-school gothic vibe, but the mushy production makes this song hard to listen to. Sons of the North is a big improvement, and could be the best song on the album. The song's main riff is a powerful one, backed up by some dramatic strings and a solid drum groove. All the stops have been pulled out here, and this song shows what Veland can do when he is at his best. He handles the verses here, and Ailyn takes the lead on the choruses which have a real dreamy quality to them after the metal assault of the rest of the song. There is a section of this song that reminds me quite a lot of Dimmu Borgir with some excellent piano work and some creepy spoken word parts that lead into a slow, heavy section with Veland's powerful vocals and a wall of gothic strings.

Earendel is another enjoyable track. After the longer, heavier Sons of the North, this seems a little lighter. The song's main riff is pretty catchy, with plenty of strings and choral parts to back it up. Despite the fact Veland again sings the verses, they still have a very melodic quality. Keyboards makes themselves heard throughout, which makes a break from the thick, distorted guitars; and the chorus is at a much slower pace which really highlights Ailyn's vocals. There is a lovely folky section too, with playful orchestrations and Ailyn's vocals taking centre stage. This part reminds me a little of Leaves' Eyes. There is a good, fast guitar solo here too. Concealed Disdain is a song that really focuses on the orchestral side of the band's sound. A very basic guitar riff is totally swamped by strings in the song's intro, and the huge gothic choirs fill the gaps between the vocals. It is another good song that highlights the best of the band's sound. Ailyn uses lots of different vocal styles throughout too. There is one section where she unleashes some high notes that are nearly operatic in their execution - something that fits well with the orchestral nature of the song. After the rather average Insania, which flies by without ever really making an impact, we reach Contemptuous Quietus. This is quite a slow-burning epic metal song, with lots of snaking, groovy riffs and melodic vocals from Ailyn. There is a lot going on throughout this song, and sees every element of the band's sound emphasised at some point or another. While Ailyn sings the majority of the song, Veland takes the lead towards the end for a heavy section that also sees lots of excellent, powerful choirs used. The Silver Eye is another epic, heavy song that really packs a punch. The opening section has a real black metal vibe with some fast blast beat drumming and Veland's raspy vocals. The whole song has a slightly discordant feel to it, with lots of strange guitar and eerie strings. The chorus is possibly the strongest on the whole album however with a really excellent performance from Ailyn. It is a song that takes quite a few listens to really appreciate, but when you do it really stands out. The album's final song is the ballad Tragedienne - which actually starts out sounding a little like Karnataka's Forbidden Dreams - which works well to close the album after what has mostly been a fairly heavy experience. The song is piano driven, but does get a little heavier occasionally when guitar and drums come in for effect. Ailyn sounds fantastic here, and leaves you with a memory of her lovely voice long after the album is over. Despite a couple of filler songs, and a dodgy mix in places, The Seventh Life Path is another enjoyable album from Sirenia. Veland does what he does well, and this is no different. If you listen to this expecting a modern Sirenia album, then you will not be disappointed.

The album was released on 11th May 2015 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Once My Light.

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