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After a long period of waiting, and with great anticipation, I finally received my copy of Dark Moor’s Autumnal.
First off, I should begin by saying that this sounds different than older Dark Moor albums. If possible, it is even more symphonic. Alfred Romero’s voice is doubled by soprano Itea Benedicto’s (if not a small choir) half of the time, and in almost every chorus. This album contains many grand choral and orchestral arrangements, as well as traditional metal instrumentation that includes some beautiful guitar work. Worry not, this is still a metal album, just highly ornamented and bombastic, though the chugging guitars often take a back seat to other material.
I had very high expectations of this album after Tarot, and I’m only slightly disappointed, partially because I was hoping for a harder track or two (Tarot’s “Death” was a favorite of mine), and partially because I wish that Dark Moor would stop inserting their silly "Cookie Monster" vocals into their music, as they are among the worst death vocals that I’ve ever heard (Listen to Phantom Queen, right after the first full run of the chorus and you'll see what I mean) . Mercifully, there’s very little, and only in a couple of tracks. The only other complaint I have of this album is that the instruments don’t seem to be quite in sync at a few different points. Most noticeably the guitar and drums are occasionally very slightly off in relation to each other.
Despite these misgivings, there’s a lot to be praised on this album, and I think it's an even better effort than its predecessor “Tarot”, which was Dark Moor’s comeback release after a few years of trying to find their sound again. “Autumnal” is loaded with neo-classical influences, and they’re all done right. “Swan Lake” is based on a Tchaikovsky ballet, “Faustus” is based upon Goethe’s epic novel, and “Fallen Leaves Waltz” is a completely orchestral waltz. The choruses are all broad, sweeping affairs that whisk the listener along. While some tracks are more powerful than others, every song is worth listening to (unless you’re purely a metalhead and don’t appreciate the final instrumental).
After the interesting minor/major relationships of “Swan Lake”, which I’d heard prior to my acquisition of the album, I found my self particularly blown away by the ridiculously catchy chorus of “Phantom Queen”. To me, “An End So Cold” sounded very reminiscent of “The Lovers” off of their previous album. “Faustus” surprised me with its rapid intro and chorus lines, it is very catchy and sounded a bit like something early-era Nightwish might undertake. The middle of the album is undoubtedly the best section. “Don’t Look Back” and “When the Sun is Gone” are both beautifully crafted songs, but the real gem here is “For Her”. After examining the lyrics and discovering that it is based on the life of Greek hero Odysseus, I became quite taken with it (myself having a mild interest in Greek mythology). I can’t choose between it and “Phantom Queen” for my favorite track on the album.
On the whole, it’s not exactly what I had suspected. Dark Moor has gone back to a more straight up neo-classical approach, but better than they did prior to “Tarot”. You can have your Rhapsody (no offense), but this seems to me the epitome of symphonic power metal. No collection or listing of the genre should be without a track or two off of this album. Occasionally, I need something heavier, but for what it is, "Autumnal" is an exceptional piece of work, and I feel that Dark Moor have now set the bar for symphonic metal with this, their latest release.
Amongst Power Metal's most notable bands, Dark Moor are one of those that I have always liked, yet never truly been set on fire by. They seem to have a relatively solid fanbase, with The Hall of Olden Dreams and The Gates of Oblivion being universally hailed as their best, and I can see that; they're certainly very good and well written albums on their own, but I also like Tarot quite a bit, for its peppy vigor, and this new album of theirs is good, too. People seem to be relatively polarized about this newer stuff, with vocalist Alfred Romero getting flak just for the crime of not being a girl or being named Elisa Martin, but I don't see too huge of a drop in quality - they've just substituted the flashy, adventurous grandeur of the old days for a more cinematic, Kamelot-esque pomposity that isn't really that much better or worse, just different.
So here we have Autumnal, the band's seventh full length and fourth without the pristine Miss Martin on vocals, and how good is it, really? Well, it certainly does lack the massive hook capability of Tarot, but that is replaced here with a heightened ambitiousness and a smidgen more originality - this album features a total count of zero songs that borrow passages from classical pieces, for your information. The songs here are not nearly as catchy as the ones on the previous outing, but somehow they're just addictive anyway, with a subtle, frosty charm that will pull you back for more each time. The mood is very similar to the one I mentioned in my review of Sonata Arctica's Winterheart's Guild, where the songs have a very personal, heartfelt way about them, an interesting sort of personal touch that adds a special nuance to them that I just dig. And for further clarity, Alfred Romero is a damn fine vocalist and he is doing a very good job for this band. Elisa Martin was superior, but they're really not able to be compared too much, they're too different in style.
So, really, this album is just packed full of quality Power Metal that drives to inspire and to invoke feeling, and that is what it does. The mammoth "Swan Lake" might catch your attention first, with its humongous choirs and elaborate songwriting, but this album is more middle-heavy than anything, with a run of absolutely brilliant songs starting with the alluring "An End So Cold," with its foreboding arrangements and graceful melodic hooks, and going through the bombastic "Faustus," the scorching "Don't Look Back" (which is a stylistic gem; the sort of restatement of the genre we need these days) and the epic, grooving "When the Sun is Gone," which could almost pass for a Tad Morose song off of Undead - and that's not something I say every day! With complex riff structures and ravishing build-ups, this song is a winner all the way through.
After that entourage of songwriting brilliance, it is natural to assume that the band would drop a bit in quality. While I would love to tell you that they do not, and that they continue to sparkle and dazzle the listener with artistic finesse, it wouldn't be true, and Dark Moor do indeed fail to live up to those amazing four tracks again, but that isn't a whole lot to dock them for. The last couple of songs are still good, solid Power Metal corkers, with "For Her" being especially heartwarming in its blizzard-like romantic leanings. Dark Moor still have a way to go before they can truly be called masters of their genre, but this album is certainly very good, and one of the better Power Metal albums out right now. With a bit of tweaking, though, I think these guys can put out something truly astounding...
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Dark Moor can be counted among many power metal bands who, in the course of the past couple decades, have had to reinvent themselves upon losing some or most of their original lineup. Unlike Gamma Ray, however, this reinvention was not necessarily for the better, though it was an interesting direction for the band, much in the same way as Nocturnal Rites’ brief stint with a more thrashing brand of speed metal on “Afterlife”. Since this band’s more aggressive comeback album in “Beyond The Sea”, the band started a sort of gradual process back towards their roots, thus coming to where they now find themselves, in a sound that is once again symphonic in character, though not quite the same as the band’s high period.
“Autumnal” is what can be described as a seasonal album, or an album that has a common mood reflecting the feeling that one gets with certain scenery. The imagery is something along the lines of the coldness of a forest in late November, where trees are half bare, all remaining leaves are either a deep red or brown, and the breath of a soon coming winter is drawing near. The songs possess the typical trappings of the style the band has generally exhibited, consisting of driving speed metal riffs that mimic the stationary muted power chord style that would further accentuate the double bass drumming, high operatic vocals, and a large backdrop of orchestral sounds. But in the case of this particular album, the older sound of Dark Moor has merged with a sound that flirts with a Finnish power metal aesthetic, namely that of Nightwish circa “Wishmaster”.
In comparison to past efforts such as “The Hall Of Olden Dreams” and “Gates Of Oblivion”, the technical aspects of the music are much simpler and cater more towards catchy and singular melodically driven symphonies, rather than the complex neo-Baroque counterpoint exhibited in the guitars and keyboards in the two aforementioned albums. There is a strong tendency towards a Danny Elfman sound in the orchestral surroundings to varying degrees, exhibiting their most overt influence during the symphonic instrumental at the end of the album “Fallen Leaves Waltz”. It literally sounds like music for a scene of a group of fantasy beings waltzing in the forest with falling leaves of gold all around.
In many respects this album is somewhat reminiscent of Anastasia’s “The Metal Opera - Part 2”, in that the only glaring flaw in the album is that they put their strongest and most ambitious song “Swan Lake” right at the beginning of the album. This ill-advised approach of climaxing at the beginning of an album has the effect of dwarfing almost everything else that follows it, regardless of how good it is, and gives a sense of the album fading as it goes along rather than getting more interesting. The song is quite well done, going through a fairly standard set of neo-classically tinged Helloween oriented speed riffs and Rhapsody-like lead passages, with vocalist Alfred Romero and an angelic female vocal counterpart dueling each other for prominence.
The rest of the songs that follow are pretty standard, but very fun regardless of the problems with album pacing. “Phantom Queen” has a really fun folk-like violin intro followed by a rather well realized blend of symphonic sections reminiscent of middle era Nightwish with a few harsh vocal sections place in strategic spots. “An End So Cold” goes in more of a Sonata Arctica direction, almost to the point of sounding like a b-side from a song single from “Silence”, albeit with a large backup choir and a much softer sounding lead vocalist. “Faustus” and “The Enchanted Forest” also invoke some heavy Nightwish commonalities, drawing a tiny bit from both the “Oceanborn” era as well as the more recent and slightly modern sounding “Once” here and there.
Although the band seems to be borrow a few ideas here and there, “Autumnal” proves to be a fun listen and a massive step above the crop of power core nonsense that has been polluting the pristine gardens of power metal. Sure, it’s not “Gates Of Oblivion”, but anyone expecting an album of that caliber to spontaneously pop out of a band missing 3 of the people who made that album happen, in a time when that approach to power metal has long been abandoned by many of its original proponents, is not being realistic. If you like your melodic majesty with a touch of late autumn and perhaps an early trace of winter, but still with massive fanfare choruses and big arrangements, this has it all.
You know the feeling you get when listening to an early album by a band, thinking, “Hey man, this is good shit!” but then, years later, you listen to a much newer album by the same band, but think, “Fuck, this is terrible! This sounds nothing like the guys who did that earlier album I really liked, and yet this is the same band!” You know, that feeling? That's how one can sum up Dark Moor's career. Anybody versed in power metal at all has heard the masterpiece that was “The Gate of Oblivion” and the earlier “The Hall of the Olden Dream,” but perhaps less known (for good reason) is how Dark Moor evolved their sound after Gates'. Funnily enough, or perhaps saddest of all, the band retained their original lineup until their singer left, and thus began what looks like a revolving-door of members. Dark Moor currently contains not a single member of the original lineup, so perhaps it isn't a surprise that Autumnal offers absolutely nothing in terms of value or enjoyment to even the most basic power metal listener.
Each of the album's 10 tracks (I'm not counting the useless outro) breaks down like this: Swan Lake contains all the 'parts' that make up the remaining 9 songs. That's right, you'll hear the same melodies, 'riffs,' 'solos,' and overall structure at least once, but not always all at once, as the album goes on. Worse yet, there isn't a definitive way in which Dark Moor chooses to plaster each song together; for all I know they could have thrown darts and drew straws to determine which part follows the next. The end result here are 10 tracks with varying lyrics and perfectly identical sound.
Not that there's a whole lot of sound worth hearing in the first place. Dark Moor's most recent round of musicians have the aptitude of a bunch of high schoolers; those recycled pieces I mentioned earlier are about as well-crafted as a sophomore getting his first instrument. They aren't catchy, cheesy, complex, beautiful, captivating – no adjective of positive meaning can work with this music. Its the equivalent of somebody swapping the catch of a typical pop tune for beginner's guitar work and slightly-more-than-basic drum beats.
I'd be willing to attempt to forgive the absolute shitty and self-copying song structures if the lyrics and vocals were worth a damn, but they aren't. This guy certainly couldn't sing his way out of a concert hall six years ago, and even after six years of practice time he still has a voice that would make high school choir instructors cover their ears in sheer agony. But don't take my word for it; go search for Swan Lake on Youtube if you want audible proof, just don't say I didn't warn you. The lyrics only add to the problem; generic quasi-medieval-romantic verses and stupid, meaningless choruses are about as common as the vocalist's annoyance; I'll leave it up to your imagination to divine how often that actually is.
I regret listening to this album. I can forgive a band that's been around for 25-odd years for going downhill, but there's no fucking excuse for making such drivel when you've been around for almost 10 years. I'll never be able to grasp how the band that brought us Gates' and Hall' managed to fall so far down the pits of mediocrity that they shattered the barrier and went straight into the shit-hole in so little time. Don't make the same mistake I did – don't pick up Autumnal. May these 672 words serve as enough of a deterrent, if you indeed needed one.
As a final note, its worth mentioning that it only took a year to figure out how to make worse music than that present on Eternal Empire by Human Fortress. Congrats Dark Moor, I hope you enjoy reaching a newfound musical low in the genre of power metal; one that I don't expect will be broken for a long, long time.