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Since I got this album a couple of days ago I have literally not stopped listening to it. There's no point in beating around the bush here and really, this is an absolute masterpiece. Blackened melodic death metal is a bit of an unusual genre, but Astarte manage to pull it off extremely well and create a very unusual album. It's almost impossible to believe that I rated one of their previous albums at just over fifty per cent when you hear this.
One major thing I should point out first of all though: this album is very Arch Enemy-esque. By that I mean that they've clearly taken a more noob-friendly approach to their music, with very melodic sections find a way into nearly every song. But that's something that I've never minded and I can honestly say that I wouldn't like this album as much without them there. Of course this is going to put off the fans of the band that are after some pure and simple black metal, but I personally find that style of music very captivating. And as I've stated already though they don't sound like a boring old melodeath band that just follows what everyone else does, they've clearly put a lot of effort into creating an original sounding album.
Something that I noticed immediately is that there are quite a few tracks featuring guests from other bands. Having listened to them all though, I don't feel that they actually really add much to the album overall, and although they do add a little bit of variety it also feels a little unnecessary. The only track that I felt was better due to the guest was Black at Heart, which featured Angela Gossow. Anyone who has read my reviews will no doubt know that I am a big fan of Angela's, and it would have to have been pretty poor from her in order to make the song feel worse. Having her perform with Tristessa gives a good comparison in terms of their vocal abilities, and to be frank her voice out-powers Tristessa's and just generally steals the show. The music to accompany them isn't the greatest moment on the album on that track, and I do feel that perhaps they would have been better served having her on another track. Then again though they want to showcase their own abilities and not the guests, so maybe that's for the best.
Overall the music is very good, but if I was comparing the musicianship to other bands then I might say they fall short. Let's take Arch Enemy as an example since I've already compared them to Astarte. The vocals aren't quite as good as previously mentioned (although I find they do grow on you), and the other parts of the band fall into the same zone. The guitars are good, quite technical at points and playing neat harmonies with each other while at others playing heavy riffs that make the music slightly harder than most melodeath bands. But the lack of wild hooks and solos make me lean towards the Amott brothers more. Then the drums, well, they're pretty much just fast. They play very well, don't get me wrong, but they seem to lack the same rhythm that I would find in AE. So in a way the musicianship isn't as good as with some similar bands.
However, having said all of that they make up for it with originality. Every single song follows the same kind of idea of blending together extremely heavy riffs and more melodic sections that really bring the song to life. And yet even when they mostly follow this pattern, no two songs sound the same. There are delicate songs like Everlast and songs that lean towards an approach without melodic parts such as the title track. There's just a wonderful mix of everything you could want from a record like this.
It's difficult to pick best tracks when the quality is so good right across the whole board, but I'd probably lean towards Mutter Astarte and Heart of Flames (burn) as being the ones I enjoyed most. There are great moments in other songs that I think could be considered just as good (such as the chorus in Black Star and the beautifully haunting keyboard in Everlast), but as complete packages those two stand out slightly more.
Everlast II (Phoenix Rising) is a nice way to round off the album, a peaceful acoustic piece that nicely sums up everything this album has to offer. If it hadn't been for the track Everlast earlier on in the album then I probably wouldn't have seen it coming, but this one lacks any elements of metal at all. Once again it showcases the unique take that Astarte have on the genre as not many other bands would put an acoustic instrumental as their closing track.
To be honest, the massive improvement that this band have made (in my eyes) is actually quite a sad thing. This turned out to be their last release, which is disappointing because they clearly had so much more to give. The saddest bit about it is the fact that it was due to the death of Tristessa, who lost a battle with cancer that so many people can relate to. At least she can rest in peace knowing that she's given the world something as great as Demonized, but it's still a very sad situation and it's heartbreaking to know that she's leaving behind her husband and her son. I really don't cry often, but that makes me want to. R.I.P. Tristessa, and R.I.P. Astarte.
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.