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Imperanon embodies nearly everything that is both good and bad regarding the Finnish melodic metal scene. Stained is a highly technical, spirited album that features an excess of classical melodies and audacious synth arrangements. As such, it can be enjoyable on a superficial level, but has little lasting power or deeper meaning on the whole. As most of this lineup moved on to bigger and better things, Stained can at the very least be viewed as a requisite stepping stone and time capsule of the scene in which it was released.
What needs to be dealt with right away is Sihvonen's vocals. His parched croaks are inert and forceless. He sucked in Norther and he sucks here, sapping some of the primal delivery out of some of these tracks. "Memories to Dust" suffers the most in this regard, as it actually features a very potent gallop and churning riffs. Regardless, with Sihvonen heading the assault a gaping wound remains that never fully heals, no matter how animated the rest of the performance is. Rantanen from Thunderstone delivers some solid crooning during "Hollow Man", which while effective on its own, ends up accentuating the lack of vocal potency elsewhere on the album and comes off as a distraction. There are also female vocals on "Shadowsouls" for some reason, but they are nearly as painful as Sihvonen so skip that one.
The rest is naturally hit-or-miss. Most of these songs live or die by the potency of their main melody. "Memories to Dust" is clearly the highlight in this regard, as it is absolutely dripping in Virta's twinkling synths and singeing arpeggio patterns. The verses have some meat to them as well, featuring a decent gallop that accentuates the normally-buried rhythm guitar. It it wasn't for Sihvonen's lame vocals obfuscating the performance, this would be a winner by any band. Opener "Blade" is also decent for what it is, featuring some ethereal choir arrangements and some sticky leads. The title track is just passable, busting out of the gates in verbose fashion and settling into a mid-paced niche later on with a good solo section. Where Stained falls flat is during it's second half. This is in part due to the guest vocalist appearances, but even "Vein (I Bleed)" falls flat by virtue of it's "been there, done that" aesthetics. The one possible exception in this regard is the supposed-closer, inventively titled "The End". It features a groovier disposition and more carefully-delivered leadwork. It doesn't feature the shred-excess evident on most of the other songs, but it is memorable all the same.
Stained would have a greater appeal if it didn't sound so thin and wafting. The leads are naturally the highlight, but the rhythm guitar doesn't deserve to be as buried as it is. There are actually some decent rhythm passages that end up flying under the radar as the guitar and keyboard leads hog the spotlight. Alternatively, Nurmikari's bass is actually quite potent and upfront, which makes up for some of the rhythm's lack of bite. It's effort is in vain, however, as Stained's sonic approach is flawed at it's core. The constant shoehorning of Virta's brash synths into some of these tracks comes off as very insincere. While there are a lot of keyboard solos and synthetic choir backings, the atmosphere evoked isn't as esoteric or potent as one would think. I'm not sure if it has to do with Virta's plastic-sounding keyboard or the production, although it is likely a combination of the two.
Stained is hardly amazing, but it has some endearing individual moments that are easy to enjoy. Track down the first three tracks and "The End", avoid the rest.
There are always those nagging questions that just never seem to get answered when it comes to music. What if Jari hadn’t taken 8 years to finally get the 2nd Wintersun album completed? What if Ronnie James Dio had survived and gotten to complete the “Magica” trilogy? But I think one question that has plagued me to a somewhat lesser extent than those two has been answered, namely: What if Children Of Bodom had decided not to jump on the innovation bandwagon after “Follow The Reaper”. The answer to that question is found, with maybe a couple of mild variations here and there, in Imperanon’s lone offering “Stained”.
Perhaps it is just me, but Nuclear Blast seems to have made it a habit of dumping decent bands after a mere single release in order to stay up to date with current trends. Imperanon’s style could largely be seen as abrogated in light of its release, as just about every major power metal infused melodeath band proceeded to either strip down the technical aspects of their music, or incorporate some of the same modern rock and metalcore influences that In Flames had brought to the table just a couple years before this came out. Indeed, while this album does take the route of brevity and catchiness to the extreme, it’s so littered with impressive lead guitar and keyboard solos that one might suspect that Stratovarius had fired Koltipelto and replaced him with Alexi Laiho on vocals.
The name of the game being played on “Stained” is formulaic, and Imperanon play it almost to a fault. Echoes of the same 3 or 4 chord clichés that typified the mid 80s transitional era from the NWOBHM to early power/speed metal that typified “Hatebreeder” and “Follow The Reaper” are all over every single album, as Iron Maiden and Helloween oriented riffing, sprinkled over with Malmsteen inspired lead passages, are painted over with dense keyboard textures, raucous sounding drums and toneless yet highly intelligible shrieks. Complementing the obvious early Children Of Bodom worship going on here are two guest clean vocal slots on “Hollow Man” and “Shadowsouls” that bring a further power metal bent to the equation, literally to the point where the former sounds like it could have been a sped up b-side from Sonata Arctica’s “Silence”.
The biggest flaws on this album are basically what most fans of this style would consider its greatest strength, and that is that it is a purely Finnish take on the genre. The keyboards are heavily present, literally to the point of fighting the guitars for prominence, the vocals are a one-dimensional sepulchral bark in the same mold as heard out of Ancient about 10 years prior, and the songs are so formulaic and methodical that any era trained in power metal will be able to predict each chord change. This is one-dimensional, no song even attempts at mirroring the epic grandeur that often accompanies a more ambitious power metal album such as the “Keepers” albums or latter day Blind Guardian for a song or two. Nevertheless, a couple of songs such as “The End” and “Sold” manage to entice the ears and impress despite not even breaking the 4 minute barrier.
Most who discover this band will probably do so due to its links to Wintersun, Norther, and Finntroll, and all whom do should be careful not to expect much more in the variety department than what defined a typical Norther release (with a more competent guitar performance). It’s definitely an entertaining listen, but also one that may wear thin after repeated listens when compared with the much more varied and aggressive assault found on “Hatebreeder”, let alone the ambitious majesty heard out of Jari’s respective projects.
I checked out this band because I am a huge fan of Wintersun (it has Teemu in it), besides being a pretty big melodeath fan in general. I didn’t expect Imperanon to be anywhere near the quality of Wintersun’s music (everyone knows it’s all Jari), but I did expect above average, tasteful, catchy, perhaps epic melodic death metal. The fact that “neoclassical” was listed in their genre raised my hopes. What I ended up getting was the first album ever to have noodley lead guitar that actually pissed me off. I listen to Yngwie, folks. This is far less tasteful.
Once you’ve heard the opening track, you’ve heard them all. Noodle, noodle, noodle. It sounds like the lead guitarist is just practicing his scales over a very typical and mediocre Finnish melodeath rhythm section and cheesy synth. The bass is, of course, nothing to speak of. Neither are the drums. There are no particularly memorable riffs, or leads for that matter. All of the leads tend to be catchy at first, before they repeat a million times, and others simply sound like a bored shredder going up and down the minor scale. The vocals are extremely typical of Finnish melodeath as well. Not that I particularly hate Norther, but if you played this alongside them I may not be able to tell the difference.
The only standout tracks are the ones with the guest vocalists, and even those aren’t that amazing. It’s really sad that this band has to rely on guests to make songs that are worth anything because they can’t do it themselves. Hollow Man was good at first, but there are too many choruses. The clean vox are good, but in the end all they did for me was differentiate this song from the rest of Stained, the song is not really anything particularly special. Neither is Shadowsoul. The female vocals make it unlike the rest of Stained, but not much better. It is still rather repetitive, and the girl’s voice is actually a bit annoying at times. It wasn’t painful for me to get through this album, but I probably won’t go back. I feel very indifferent towards it. Stay away from it unless you really like Norther-type Finnish melodeath. Don’t expect anything great.
I found out about Imperanon a few years back by looking for new bands to get into. While searching a website I found Blade and downloaded the sample. I was immediately hooked and ran out to buy Stained that week. Was I disappointed by it, HELL NO! Stained quickly rose to one of my favorite albums, and probably is still in the top 10. Now many people say they are too much like Children of Bodom, and I’m not saying there is nothing similar about the albums, but in my opinion, they aren’t as similar as people say. It seems like you can’t look at any melodic death metal cd without it being compared to COB.
Stained has a lot of catchy songs to it and whenever I listen to a song, I immediately wanted to listen to the rest of the album, it’s that good. The album has a lot of great musicianship in it (the guitarist/vocalist had only been playing electric guitar for 3 years) and the rest of the band just does a great job of playing their instruments, especially for the level of difficulty of this album. The guest vocalists in Hollow Man and Shadowsouls makes the album more interesting, because not every song sounds exactly the same, which I have found that a lot of other melodic death metal bands have done, I can’t listen to the whole album because I get tired of it, whereas I never really get tired of Stained.
It’s too bad that Imperanon changed their style. I think they could’ve made some really great songs. And I don’t see why people say they are SO much like Children of Bodom, because they really aren’t as similar as people say. Yes they use some of the same elements, but it’s a different style of musicianship, and that’s what sets them apart from some of the other bands now-a-days.
Overall, if you like any type of melodic death metal, definitely pick up Stained, and don’t let the idea of everybody saying they are an exact clone of COB turn you away from them. You will not regret buying this cd.
I'll be honest. I heard someone praise this band and call them "power metal with brutal vocals", and felt an immediate need to acquire the album for the sole purpose of tearing into it.
Yes, I was correct in my preemptive summation of "melodeath with annoying synths"... but only to an extent. Musically, this band is quite a bit catchier than some of their competition. Guitarwork sounds heavily inspired by (read: stolen from) Children of Bodom, Helloween and, occasionally, Billy Idol. The Helloween influence does seem to make this a tad more upbeat and "metal" than the majority, with the occasional almost soaring guitar lead. Yes, the generic solos abound, and as seems to always be the case with bands like these, are mirrored by synths. The synths, though not riding the pitch bender constantly, are still pretty annoying at times. The obviously triggered drums are another thing I take issue with. If you can't play the part, don't try.
For the most part, the first half of the album was pretty much straightforward Bodom worship. I was unimpressed and about ready to disregard this band as being yet another crappy clone. The song "Hollow Man" broke the monotony of the album with both a much slower riff and clean vocals reminiscent of Axenstar. I found that this song was a pretty decent... and a needed moment of respite. A couple tracks later, the one titled "Shadowsouls", almost the entire song was done by some woman that sounds like she's putting forth no effort whatsoever, akin to Cruachan. The music had almost a folky power metal sound to it and sort of reminded me of Tuatha de Danann or Elvenking... and I genuinely enjoyed it. If the entire album was of the style exhibited in these two songs, I would order it, a pack of stickers and a shirt right now. It seriously kicks that much ass. Sadly, it went back to the Bodom fluffing after that.
Is the album overall good? No, not really. Does it suck as bad as the rest of the garbage in the genre? No... it doesn't. The few moments that break the monotony and the glaring Helloween influence aren't quite enough to redeem this album, but they do hint at what this band's capable of if they can escape the Children of Bodom mold.