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My secret passion does not involve wretching - 53%

Liquid_Braino, September 8th, 2013

I'm not sure what it is about Secret Passion, but I've never been able to finish the whole shebang in one go without feeling nauseous. I don't mean this in any metaphorical sense. I actually feel physically queasy by about the halfway mark every time I try to digest this release. To be honest, it doesn't necessarily taste like shit at all, but it's akin to the time I woofed down an Outback Steakhouse cheeseburger with all the dressings, in which, thanks to all the condiments, I was halfway finished eating it before I realized that the damn patty wasn't even remotely cooked. I later spent that night on the shitter regretting life in general. I also regret the number of times I gave this record a chance to change my perceptions. It's got lots of dressings and embellishments, but this collection of tracks feels undercooked, especially towards the middle.

This is why I can't listen to this album again...something about it just accosts my chemical balance. At first I assumed it was due to sheer burnout of the symphonic gothic metal genre in which I've been subjecting myself to listening-wise for quite some time. I'm now realizing that it gets old after awhile, and this album rests cleanly at the center of that kind of music.

Secret Passion is certainly not devoid of diversity within that style structurally though, with a fair share of upbeat metal tunes, mid-tempo poppier numbers still incorporating loud guitars, and melodramatic power ballads. The first track actually flirts with power metal, while on the other end of the spectrum "My Sleeping Angel" is an uncomfortably earnest lullaby to the singer's baby girl consisting solely of a piano and dual male & female vocals. I'm willing to believe that the infant's eventual first batch of words could be translated as "NO MORE SING SHITTY SONG!"

Which leads me to a more probable cause for the persistent qualmish reaction that taunts me whenever I give this album another go. The mixing job regarding Helena's vocals jacks up the treble to irritating levels. Combine that with her often overwrought 'emotional' delivery that would make even Kate Bush smirk, and I feel like my skull just shrank a notch, applying pressure to my brain. There's also her sudden bursts of full-blown accent-drenched operatics, most noteworthy during the chorus of "Fragile", that repulses as much as it enthralls. She's a hell of a talented vocalist, in fact more technically sound than most I would guess, but her tone and the effects adorning her delivery quash my general appreciation regarding her skills. As a comparison, I certainly would give credit to and respect the world's greatest living accordion player, but I would never be able to listen that music without ultimately going bezerk. Shit, I'd even rather put up with an hour of Helena at her most ludicrously histrionic than brilliantly executed accordion morass, and that's saying a lot.

As for the songs, despite the aforementioned irritating qualities, the first three tunes are actually pretty decent or at least memorable, particularly the title track with its mean sounding guitar anchoring the symphonic keyboards pounding out stock melodies ubiquitously heard during silly adventure films when the setting shifts to Cairo. After those three, the predictable chord changes, competent yet simplistic guitar solos and banal choruses bog everything down, like trudging through clove-scented slush until "Suicide" kicks in with its faster pace and Helena completely losing her wig. Her wacko harpy voice is only utilized here, which is a shame since its sheer weirdness overcomes the obnoxious piercing production, resulting in one of the more entertaining tracks. "Hold On", with its "don't kill yourself" message aptly follows, which is fitting since the song's meaning is unquestionably important, especially for many of us who have listened to the entire album up to this point, including that otherwise bland tune.

It took me far more listens than I had hoped for to realize that my general distaste for Secret Passion was not due to burnout of the genre. I still dig numerous gothic metal acts, although I'll always prefer the more atmospheric gloomy representations of that tag than the more flamboyant 'vampiric' acts, which this release veers towards. I've never actually cared for the culture surrounding goth metal or goth full-stop, which became well known in my circle when the last time I was dragged to a goth club (for the cool black billiard tables), I was eventually thrown out for consistently hollering at the DJ to play CCR, as I was told by my friends the next day. I was a bit of an ass then (if it's true, I don't remember), but in general I still enjoy the music, including some of the more garish groups, but not this album. It's not the worst of the dreck out there for sure, but the fact that, for reasons I'm still pin-pointing, I still get ill in the non-hip-hop sense whenever I'm foolish enough to give this fucker another spin clearly tells me that I should just stop playing it forever. Unlike the rest of my vices, this should be easy to achieve.

Surprisingly good symphonic gothic metal - 78%

dweeb, June 30th, 2011

Imperia is a symphonic gothic power metal band from Netherlands and this is their third studio CD. The songs feature a nice mix of mid-paced symphonic gothic metal, fast power metal and dramatic ballads. The predominate style is symphonic gothic metal, and these songs are generally heavy and crunchy with huge pervasive keys along with extremely catchy choruses; the arrangements are dense and epic, usually with an upbeat feel. Although no song is relentlessly fast, several songs significantly pick up speed in places, transitioning into quite bombastic and exciting symphonic power metal with occasional lead guitar runs. There are also several power ballads, a few of which are really pretty, though a bit sad and poignant. This is all something of a departure from their earlier CDs, and a departure for the better for my tastes. ‘The Ancient Dance of Qetesh’ was epic and symphonic albeit sometimes monotonous, but it lacked heaviness and guitar-crunch, while ‘Queen of Light’ had heaviness and crunch but its speediness made too many of the songs sort of blur together. With ‘Secret Passion’ they seem to have found the perfect blend of these various styles.

Their female vocalist is the well-known Helena Iren Michaelsen, who has been singing in various metal bands since the late 90s. She has always been known for her passion and amazing variety of singing styles, and she certainly does not disappoint here. Although she is not quite as adventurous as she was when she sang for Trail of Tears, she is more ambitious than she was on the earlier Imperia CDs. Like those CDs, she primarily sings with a strong, confident, expressive operatic soprano style, but it is a noticeably more mature and nuanced soprano style; she expresses so many different emotions with extraordinary earnestness and sincerity. Sadly, however, she has only a few excursions into her distinctive “wicked witch” style.

The obvious band comparisons are older Nightwish and Within Temptation, before these bands made the switch to poppier symphonic metal. This is indeed a familiar style, which makes it all the more amazing that Imperia could make a significant contribution to it, especially given the relative mediocrity of their first two CDs. The difference this time is the stellar song-writing: put simply, it is unusually engaging and memorable with much more variety in styles than is typical for the genre; combine this with an awesomely heavy production and one of Helena’s best vocal performances of her career, and you have a CD worth spending a lot of time with.

Originally reviewed at http://www.metalcdratings.com/