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I have first heard Gardenian's "Soulburner" shortly after discovering the Gothenburg sound that we all know and love to this day, and to this day, the album is one of my favorite moments from the sub-genre. Having never gotten the attention it deserved, it is truly a pity, because it still sounds fresh even in 2007, when many of the more unique elements of "Soulburner" found its way into the sound of much lesser bands.
Let's start with the basics. If you have to have your melodic death metal more on a death metal side of things, and clean vocals are an abomination to your nekro kvlt grim aesthetic, there is very little for you here, and you might be served better by one of the lesser Dissection or Naglfar imitators out there. Gardenian, while always reasonably heavy, were never the most extreme of the extreme bands. What has always set them apart was the strong sense of songwriting, and "Soulburner" possesses that in abundance.
While "As A True King" is a pretty standard heavy melodic death number opening things up, by the time "Powertool" comes about first hints that this band is up to something different begin to surface. Female vocals in melodic death metal are nothing new - but combined with a rhythm pattern almost associated with more commercial styles of metal without sounding like the song is at any risk to be played on your local corporate rock radio station shows that Gardenian is not afraid to experiment. But the biggest surprise of the album is yet to come.
Semi-melodic clean vocals are also nothing new in melodic death metal, going back to the originators of the genre. The vocals that borrow more from Bruce Dickinson than James Hetfield are, however, are another thing. And in blistering, almost power metal-ish "Deserted", this is exactly what we get, thanks to the guest contributions of ex-Artch vocalist Erik Hawk. It is strange to hear "Deserted" in 2007, considering that the idea of combining melodic clean vocal choruses with harsh vocals on the verses appears to be all the rage now with a thousand lesser bands. If there was any justice in the world, Gardenian would be getting big fat royalty checks from those lesser bands.
Erik Hawk makes an appearance on numerous other tracks - in fact, he provides clean vocals on the remainder of the album sans the strange interlude of "Loss" and death metal vocal-only "Ecstasy Of Life", and takes spotlight as the sole vocalist on slow, dark "Small Electric Space". It should be mentioned that the music on the remaining tracks runs the gamut from heavy thrash to hard rock and who knows what else (industrial touches on "Loss", and for some reason the beginning of "Tell The World I'm Sorry" has a distinctive late 90s hard rock feel to it), held together by excellent songwriting. The members of Gardenian really know how to put a song together, resulting in a very enjoyable listening experience.
All in all, "Soulburner" and its follow-up "Sindustries" are two of the better albums to have emerged from the Gothenburg sound. The worst irony of it all is, the sound developed thereon would have fit right at home with the modern wave of bands influenced by melodic death metal. Ah, the dubious trials of being long before one's time... If you have any interest at all in melodic death metal, both the original sound and its modern mutation, you owe it to yourself to track down Gardenian albums. They are well worth it.