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‘Songs For The Sinners’ (top marks there for a start, a fantastic album title to pick) is Charon at both their best and their most typical simultaneously. For those who are new to the charms of the Finnish goth metal quintet they will, like any gothic act around today, divide people – deep dark streaks of maudlin angst coat the album at every turn, negotiating deftly with a powerful, dynamic, heavy edge.
The hardcore Charon fan, on the other hand, can of course come to this record secure in the foreknowledge that it contains nothing that will shock them – no foreign spices have been thrown into the songwriter’s pot, no random tangents are embarked upon. ‘Songs For The Sinners’ is pure Charon – as morose as it is consistently straightforward, and all the more enjoyable because of that.
Many metal fans will of course be repelled en masse by Charon’s approach because (there’s no way to get around this, frankly) they can be summed up in a single, simple sentence: “H.I.M, with balls.” Which is true enough indeed. ‘Songs For The Sinners’ shares many an element with their mainstream Finnish cousins, not least the lovelorn, poetic lyricism and an uncomplicated and extremely clear-cut songwriting approach to the goth metal archetype.
But where H.I.M. are derided daily for falling prey to poppier, unfortified trappings, Charon sound like how their country mates should sound if they were to beef themselves up by about 100% or so. Nowhere is this more obvious than in frontman Juha-Pekka Leppaluoto’s extraordinary voice box – the man belts out epic, sustained notes with the kind of voice that, with its deep, seductive charm, is impossibly well suited to the dark romanticism of the words he sings.
Charon don’t make the mistake of relying upon their frontman to carry them either. While no-one in the band is a master on their instrument (Antii Karihtala’s mostly uninspired but undoubtedly solid drumming highlighting this strongly), they possess an extraordinary adeptness for the art of song craft – every song on the record is loaded to bursting point with hook upon hook (the extraordinary chorus to ‘Ride On Tears’ and the sorrowful violin strains opening ‘Bullet’ just two examples), and the very riffs themselves have been meticulously cultivated to stick in the mind whilst retaining an edge and bite.
The band have an excellent ear for dynamics as well, merging the slow and introspective with the quick and aggressive deftly and consummately well – no element ever seems to have been merely thrown together for the hell of it, and no element is ever overused either, with the seemingly obligatory female backing vocals for example being used both sparingly and appropriately, a tactic that benefits the record tremendously. While theirs is not an experimental take on the genre, Charon do themselves credit for adding adequate depth and variety to proceedings.
While this should be enough to convince those who doubt Charon’s ability to keep pace with other goth metal luminaries, all this of course is par for the course with the average Charon fan. The band have neatly avoided any tedious repetition, however, with that consummate talent for writing good and very memorable songs; it may be more of the same but it’s pulled off with such a degree of skill that the material remains fresh and distinctive up against all that has come before.
Faithful enough to their established sound to satisfy long-standing listeners, suitably powerful and heavy enough to dispel many of the doubts of those after more headbangable fare, ‘Songs For The Sinners’ remains happily unhampered by its technical limitations and lack of experimentation (a factor that will put some off) – ultimately it is a good solid blast of gothic melancholy, executed with assurance and utmost poise. It’s not for everyone, but for those whom it is for it’s more than rewarding to discover.