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Eikind should have long been kicked out by this point. My main complaint is how he derails everything on this album, turning songs that otherwise could be enhanced by the riffs and leads of Saukkonen and Räihä into derivative, chorus-fueled pieces of junk. There’s energy and some kind of inspiration – you can hear it in those guitar leads seething with emotion like on “Winter Within”. What’s the purpose in songs like “Sanctuary” with soaring leads if it gets diced by melodramatic, accented clean vocals? Rise Of The Phoenix is the band’s best album because it took what Deathstar Rising already had – incredible leads, substantial riffs, weighty rhythms – and omitted the clean singing. There was more to it than that, like honing the songwriting, but at the end of the day that album kills and this one bombs.
“Wraith”, “Remembrance,” “Unbroken,” and “The Wake” emit that same radiant epicness that a band like Insomnium displays. Before The Dawn attempted to keep the similarities subtle on the last album, but it’s full-force on this one. Hearing Deathstar Rising reminds me of Across The Dark by Insomnium, where harmonies are exhilarating, spirited riffs are profuse, harsh vocals are profane, and drumming is tumultuous. This album speaks in the same way that one did on a lesser scale, which is fine, but those fucking clean vocals too often derail all of that into a different direction – I’ll call it all-purpose melodic death. It becomes the type of melodic death that’s form fitting, where the matter of the songs is contrived in order for the chorus to win over the listener. It’s ill-fitting, and this is with the most polished production job this band had up to that point.
Eikind’s cleans are one thing, but take the instrumentation out of context and it, too, ends up failing. Thankfully the album is mostly able to keep itself together when Saukkonen is fronting, but when the formula’s already dry in creativity like on the hook-less “Judgement,” then it all becomes a waste. Talk about a song with no presence or fervor in the riffs. Others like “Winter Within” are baffling in how they contain some sharp, rigid riffs and pummeling aggression before losing itself to silliness in the form of meandering choruses. Stuff like that goes beyond the chorus, too, so it’s a compositional problem altogether.
It’s strange how much I can’t stand this album despite the fact that, like Rise Of The Phoenix, this contains some really cool songs (leads are what I’m mostly talking about here). Each song on here does what it can to capture the listener with loudness (good), zealous leads (good), and those muddying choruses (bad). Saukkonen revamps the line-up and keeps the only sidekick worth a damn to create the band’s final, and greatest, body of work following this, so you might as well just skip this if you’re looking for an entire album worth keeping.
Before the Dawn has always been a fairly diverse entity, strafing the genres of melodic death, doom and Gothic metal, but it's also this diversity which can lean towards some irritation with their writing. For all intensive purposes, Deathstar Rising, their sixth full-length, is such an exercise in frustration. There are moments on this album that are simply breathtaking, but then there are others in which it becomes such a generic and futile course in mediocrity that I found it difficult to believe I was listening to the same band. These generally occur in some of the cleaner chorus sequences or the vapid, chugged breakdowns that one would expect out of a second rate metalcore act. Thankfully, the beautiful moments do outnumber the atrocities, but not enough to save it from the cutout bin.
When this album works, it works with the evocative flair of fellow Finnish melodic death metal acts like Insomnium, Noumena and Kalmah. For example, the acoustic passage "The First Snow" leads into an eruption of solemn, swaying majesty in "Winter Within", a track in which even the clean, soaring Lars Eric Si stand to the memory. "Unbroken", "Remembrance" and "Wraith" are all swathed in resonant emotions that recount Insomnium's latest album, while "Judgment" has a very catchy melodic context in the swaggering chords that drive its rock-like visage. But these are balanced off by the less interesting fare like "Butterfly Effect" which is nothing but a half-decent chorus wrapped up in mediocre melodeath riffing, or "Deathstar" which is bisected by a fairly cheesy breakdown segment. Even some of the better tracks suffer from such misfires. As for the ballad "Sanctuary", it's probably the closest to their more purely Gothic metal material, but not so effective.
The production is of course top notch, this is being put out through Nuclear Blast, and thus you can hear everything clearly, almost too clearly. The album I keep coming back to when I listen to this is Across the Dark, except not remotely as good as that, but if you find yourself obsessed with that sound, or really any of the post-Sentenced, mid 90s or later Amorphis sound then you might develop a fonder reaction to Deathstar Rising than I did. Clean and brutal vocals mixed with glimmering, friendly melodies that are once in a while memorable. It's not a bad album in the end, but maybe some further consideration in the writing and track list could have rendered it a marvel instead of a few great ideas mired by filler. I definitely favor a few of their older records to this.