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It doesn't take more than a moment of Demonized to realize that Astarte was shifting gears into a more 'modernized' context. Where their past albums offered a polished and dynamic brew of traditional Scandinavian black metal high on melodies, clean guitar sequences and other rounded techniques, this is basically a transformation into the melodic death metal you'd expect out of Swedish newcomers. That's not to say it's terrible, because surely Tristessa and crew remain competent musicians and writers, and there are still a few leaps back into the blacker climes of their backlog, but it seems quite inconsistent, with a few hyper-energetic, head-smashing features and then a lot of forgettable filler strewn about.
When I say 'melodic death', I'm not necessarily talking about the Slaughter of the Soul, Jester Race style but the more contemporary bands who used that as a base. Lots of escalating axe patterns affixed to bludgeoning, chugging material, with the vocals slightly less black than on the prior albums. The drums hammer along furiously, and there's a clear undercurrent of thrash which often feels like a 'prettier' alternative to the 21st century releases by Holy Moses. Maybe Holy Moses, Hypocrisy and Soilwork in a blender. A few of these tracks, like "Mutter" and "God Among Men", are literally exploding with energy, with almost no means of escaping the frenzied, constantly morphing patterns. They do occasionally blast off into their old turf with tracks like "God I Hate Them All", but the instances are few and far between enough that it's more of a dynamic coincidence than an acknowledgment. There are also a number of tracks with the clean guitars and pianos they used to use for atmosphere (the "Everlast" tracks), but in all honesty they feel too 'inserted 'here.
The cover of Accept's "Princess of the Dawn" isn't so bad, basically a melodic death/thrash translation, though Tristressa runs out of vocal charisma long before Udo would, and it says a lot that this oldie feels instantly more memorable than a number of Astarte's originals. I enjoy the thick, choppy guitar tone used through the rhythms of the album, a good launching point for the various leads and melodies, and the drums are likewise resilient. I suppose those into Marloes' voice from Izegrim, or Angela from Arch Enemy might find themselves in comfortable ground here, but the overall direction seems to me a little trendy, not to mention the songwriting is not the sort that dwells in the memory for long. This wasn't the first departure for the Greeks, as Quod Superius Sicut Inferius and Sirens were also more domesticated than their first two albums, but both of those are superior in retrospect, and though Demonized is not a bad spin for its style, it's the least interesting album they've yet produced, with watered down lyrics and a marginal mall appeal.
Let me start off by saying, that this album is completely different from their other albums!
Why? Because when the first song hit my ears, it was not black metal, but melodic death metal. Astarte seems to be going for a more mainstream-but-still-underground approach. The music is more listenable, and there are lots of guest appearances, as well as the Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow, which is certainly well known for being "The woman who can growl like a man". With just her being on here, should help the album to reach a wider audience.
There is still a black metal sound here, but there are many other styles implemented this time around. One definetly being the melodic death metal sound, with guitar harmonies reminiscent of the Amott brothers, (though not quite as good) and there are some orchestral symphonics used in one of the songs.
Every guest used actually gives the songs a certain feel, and it feels that some of the songs were actually molded for some of the guests. All of the guest performances are very well done, except for Angela Gossow's. It seemed that the song didn't really fit her, and that she maybe should stick to death metal, sometimes her vocals were drowned out in the heavy blasting.
The beauty of this album is in it's uniqueness. There are alot of changes and complexity in these songs. They try a few new things as well, like putting melodic guitar parts where they wouldn't be expected. "Princess Of The Dawn" is one of the biggest surprises here, in the fact that they used a beautiful and happy guitar melody. This is odd in black metal, but not uncommon.
Indeed, one of the biggest shockers is the final song. While this album isn't laden with acoustics or even spoken parts like with "Sirens", it does contain an entirely acoustic closer. "Everlast II (Phoenix Rising)" is a beautfiul and calm way to end an album with so much thrash, and it is definetly unexpected.
I expect great things from this band in the future, and there is a possibility that this album will see them gain popularity in the media. I see them getting as much popularity as Dimmu Borgir or Arch Enemy with this one.
Though, as much as some may hate it - this is mainstream Astarte. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it. It is full of surprises.