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Undoubtedly their best album to date - 80%

TrooperOfSteel, April 10th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2011, CD, Massacre Records

Female fronted metal bands have quite a large following in the world, particularly the ones that fall into the gothic and symphonic power metal genres. We can all think of a few off the top of our heads, but one that may escape you is Dutch symphonic gothic/power metal band called Imperia. Created by vocalist Helena Iren Michaelsen (ex-Trail of Tears) and drummer Steve Woltz in 2003, after the pair pulled out of Sahara Dust (now known as Epica), the remaining original members of Imperia include keyboardist Audun Gronnestad, bassist Gerry Verstreken and guitarists John Stam and Jan Yrlund.

The debut album was released in 2004, entitled ‘The Ancient Dance of Qetesh’, followed by their sophomore effort ‘Queen of Light’ in 2007, which was released through Massacre Records. The members from Imperia also formed a side project back in 2005 called Angel, with again Michaelsen performing lead vocals. To date there has been just the one CD under the Angel name, with the band choosing to dedicate their time more to Imperia.

To those reading up on Imperia for the first time, sound-wise the band falls into the same vein of other female-fronted symphonic/gothic metal bands such as Epica, Xandria, Sirenia, Edenbridge and both early Nemesea and Nightwish; while overall also similar to bands such as Serenity, Secret Sphere and Dragonland. Helena Iren Micahelsen is a wonderfully talented and passionate vocalist, whose range is quite versatile and normally sings in an angelic mid to high pitch but also sings in a soprano operatic style similar to that of ex-Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen.

2011 brings us to Imperia’s third and latest album, entitled ‘Secret Passion’. It’s a very solid and entertaining disc that has much depth and diversity, as Imperia don’t restrict themselves (in song-writing aspects) to just symphonic gothic metal or symphonic power metal, rather an entwined mix of both genres. The material on offer here is quite memorable, with many tracks sounding rather epic, bold and bombastic in demeanour. The gothic and power elements fuse together nicely, blending the best of both worlds - flurries of heavy and crunchy guitar chords for that bite you like to hear in this style of music, and also atmospheric keyboards and harmonies that is a staple for gothic metal lovers.

While not overly speedy, the majority of the tracks on ‘Secret Passion’ are of a mid to quick pace, again quite typical of the gothic metal genre. Of course you cannot have a symphonic/gothic metal album without the added instruments and there are quite a few throughout; including a marching snare, acoustic and electric cello, piano and also additional guitars. The title track “Secret Passion” takes the crown of best track on the album (IMO), a beautiful piece of work that begins softly with violins, cellos and synths before a grinding and wailing guitar riff takes over. The sombreness returns during the verses but again the crunching guitar riffs reappear in the catchy chorus.

“Out of Sight” is a slower, but emotionally powerful track, with Michaelsen’s vocals a clear standout. The band write their songs with an emphasis on the chorus’, and this is no exception on this track, with the chorus being upbeat and memorable. There is also a grand solo during the track, which is rare but not unheard of for gothic metal. “Let Down” is tagged as one of the ballads on the disc, and this one is rather epic and bombastic in nature, with a huge build up towards the climatic chorus, featuring both electric and acoustic cellos and atmospheric keyboards for that extra harmonic touch.

“Like Rain” is another kick ass bombastic track, catchy as hell and superbly sung throughout by Michaelsen. A fantastic blend of gothic and symphonic metal with again an emphasis on the chorus, which will get stuck in your head long after the track has stopped. “Suicide” is the heaviest, most epic and quickest track on the CD, which is also sung eerily in parts by Michaelsen. The opening speedy riff is enough to get your attention while also heavy enough to get your head beating in approval, thanks to the double bass pounding.

The rest of the album has its up’s and down’s, but the better tracks not yet mentioned here include the CD opener “Touch of Your Hand”, the emotional “Hold On” and the powerful “Greed”. If anyone manages to grab the digipak version of ‘Secret Passion’, it contains a bonus track called “Mistress”, which is a doof doof dance track that may appeal to the electro-goth lovers out there. Personally I despise most dance tracks, but this one is alright if I must say so myself.

Overall I am quite impressed with the quality of Imperia’s third album. Some gothic/symphonic metal bands release albums that arrive and disappear with not much flair or purpose, but ‘Secret Passion’ really has a deep impact and a solid contribution to its genre. The key to its success, I believe, is the improvement of the song-writing and the exceptional vocal performance of Michaelsen, who really blew me away with her delivery and most importantly, passion.

It is a major step up from their first two releases and with that said, ‘Secret Passion’ is undoubtedly Imperia’s best album to date. Hopefully the CD will have the same affect on the gothic/symphonic metal fans around the world and that Imperia can now be spoken in the same sentence alongside the other major and successful symphonic and gothic metal bands that we have grown to enjoy and respect.

Originally written for www.themetalforge.com

Utterly spellbinding - 95%

PorcupineOfDoom, December 8th, 2014

Imperia are a band that I found to be quite interesting. I actually liked their last album so much that I felt the need to review this too. Reviewer ratings are lower, but they're by different people so it's hard to judge the true value of this album when placed side-by-side with Queen of Light. My opinion at any rate is that this album is woefully underrated, and it therefore falls to me to present it in a good light.

The first track really makes an impression on me. It gives more than the last album does, throws more at achieving an epic performance. The guitars are heavier and more prominent, the vocals even better than last time around. It doesn't sound like a big change, but coupled with the catchy nature of the song they really impress me. I was worried that maybe Touch of Your Hand might just be a one-off, but those elements continue for the whole album.

There are softer moments as well (much of the title track is slow and light, for example, as is Hold On), but whenever the guitars are there they generate a much heavier feeling than they did on the last album. The drums are also more noticeable, and even if the keyboards are left more to sit back and watch I find myself enthralled. This is really what I wanted to hear, and it delivers everything I could have asked for. The melodies aren't sacrificed at all, they're just created in a different way, a way that I personally find to be more entertaining.

Who cares if this is an hour long, I don't want to miss out on any of those sixty minutes. Nothing is worth missing or better left out of the mix, it is all completely compelling. Even the weird witchy vocals that would usually be off-putting featured in Suicide are done to a very high standard and they are indeed likable. Admittedly I'd rather the operatic vocals and the plain ones Helena uses across the rest of the album were present here too, but a bit of variety never killed anyone. Besides, they seem to be some sort of trademark for her.

For those that care about the lyrics above all else, you may be disappointed. They're a bit cheesy and unoriginal on more than one occasion, but I can't say that I care about what Helena's singing when she does it as well as she does. Her voice is seriously spellbinding, she could probably sing me into jumping off of a cliff if she did it like she does on Secret Passion.

Reproducing something to rival this would not be easy by any means, but Imperia have it in them to do it. How on Earth this album merited such low scores is beyond me, but I think it might well be the best gothic metal album I've ever heard.

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/