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I am really puzzled why this album has not more reviews around the web or on Metal Archives, since Helena Iren Michaelsen is one of the most prominent singers of metal. Most people prefer the second album, ''The Queen of Light'', which also leaves me puzzled. This might be a subjective reason, since I prefer operatic vocals. While 'The Queen of Light'' has some operatic moments, not a single moment approaches the operatic moments from ''The Ancient Dance of Qetesh''. Certainly, the strongest feature of this album, and Imperia, is Helena Iren Michaelsen (further called Helena only, for obvious reasons). In an attempt to describe this album, I'd say it is symphonic metal with a strong atmospheric influence, although MA say they are ''gothic'', very little proper gothic influence is to be found here (and in imperia's music as well). There are obvious power metal influences, which misled many to think Imperia is similar to Nightwish. before I begin, I must add this, as I feel the urge to be irresistible. The ever-growing amount of idiots claiming that everything is below Nightwish, that all bands with operatic female vocals are their clones and that Tarja Turunen is ''yet to be surpassed'' are inept. Those with ears will notice that Helena is yet to be surpassed. I do love Tarja, but read on.
Beginning with a gentle atmospheric intro with ethereal vocalization, aptly entitled ''Awakening'', ''The Ancient Dance of Qetesh'' quickly explodes into ''Mysted By Desire'', which is among the best songs on the album, being my favorite. The intensity of this song is overwhelming, from the opening soprano vocalizations, to the epic, genuinely symphonic bombastic orchestrations from wind instruments and strings that accompany Helena. This song offers no relief, the intensity never ceases, the energy is channeled through different manners. In the break, the music slows, and acoustic guitars can be heard while Helena changes the vocal style to softer singing and the whole mood changes as well, but he intensity invoked is still the same. The lyrics and the name of the song are masterfully chosen for this song. The unleashed sensuality and the fear that comes from longing are perfectly translated to music. After this song, comes the title track, which, according to its name, has egyptian themes. The music bears a strong oriental vibe, the guitars playing an oriental rif, while the prominent bass bellows . The lyrics are again vivid because of the symbiosis with the music: ''Moves like a snake..'' One can really picture the weaving motion of the snake and Helena performing a belly dance. She utilizes alto range in this song, which results in a voluptuous experience of sweet ravishment: the danger from the snake looms, but its beauty is so seductive that one can't draw his sight fro her. With Mordor, the whole atmosphere shifts towards atmospheric music. Helena alternates between ethereal chants and her trademark ''wicked witch'' soprano vocals, while the music evolves from a calm quiet beauty, to chaotic darkness that both match the vocal styles, evoking the dichotomy of Mordor. Angelchild switches to another ambiance. The whole song is constructed around piano and acoustic instruments, and the vocals are soft and ethereal, being sometimes close to pop. The song explores an interesting subject and the lyrics are very personal.
I will stop the song by song analysis. I have done it only to show the variety of Imperia's music. Diversity is the key here: this album features a large variety of songs that are different from each other, but still similar in terms of atmosphere and artistic strength. Someone might think that the metal parts are insignificant here, but he will be wrong. Almost songs feature a strong metal section. Guitars play strong riffs, mostly chugging along, but always melodic and interesting. The bass is quite prominent, mostly on the slower songs. The drumming is varied, with many tempo changes and fils and supports the music greatly in enhancing the energy the music bears and poises to headbanging. The orchestration is blistering: epic, evocative and grandiloquent, as taken from an opera. It seems that all instruments are real, or the keyboards are very good. And finally, we arrived to the highlight: Helena. She single handedly handles all the vocals here, as well as all the choirs. She possesses incredible range. She can sing from bellowing alto parts, which is her natural range, to high soprano, never missing a note and often switching between with ease and seamlessly. Besides her operatic singing, she adopts many styles, depending on the song, ranging from pop, ethereal, dramatic improvisation... I find that such versatility is yet to be surpassed, as she never loses expressiveness and never sounds cold. She is the type that seduces with her voice, impersonating the witch, the angel, the scared girl, the siren; whatever she chooses to, able to evoke anything only by singing. For those who say Helena looks like the metal Pamela, I'd say to shut up and listen to the music. It's true that she looks somewhat cheap sometimes, but she is a beautiful and talented woman that has contributed greatly to the gothic and metal scene in general, while remaining artistic and strongly personal. This album is a magnificent amalgamation of classical symphonic music and metal, whoever has not heard it yet misses much, as its diversity and appeal stretches far beyond femae fronted gothic and power clichés. And yes, this is better than Nightwish and Helena is better than Tarja. I just had to say it, because of all those fanboys out there. again, the urge... It was irresistible
Adding elements of a symphony to metal has been used and abused for quite some time now in the metal scene. The result is usually chaotic music with no direction, a guy who cannot decide if wants to be a death growler of black metal shrieker (and cannot pull either off) and/or a poppy and/or “operatic” female vocalist whose voice is either drowned in the chaos of the music or just does not fit. This album, however, is truly what symphonic metal should be: Metal; sounds of a symphony; and a powerful, well-rounded vocalist to pull it all together.
The vocals on this album are amazing. You are not going to find the above mentioned disasters. Instead you are treated to the dramatic, operatic soprano, Helena Iren Michaelsen, who has come a long way since her days with Trail of Tears. She always used a wide variety of voices, but never quite knew how to use them until now. She is one of the most underrated vocalists in metal, despite probably being the one of the most talented. She favors her powerful operatic voice throughout the album. Occasionally she uses a “mainstream” voice, which does not possess that nasal out-of-tune quality that the usual popular female voice does. She also uses a lighter classical sounding voice and even a theatrical “witchy” sounding voice. She uses all of these voices effectively to compliment the music behind her and never do any them sound ridiculous or out of place.
The music on this album is very well done. The symphonic elements compliment the metal aspects very nicely, rather than sparring for dominance like most symphonic metal. The drumming is done in the atmospheric, “commercial metal” style. The foot pedals are used in appropriate areas throughout the songs and the beats are kept well throughout the rest.
The symphonic sounds create most of the melody throughout the album. The guitars are not a huge focus in this album. They are mostly used to support the symphonic melody and add some darker elements to the melody. When they do get the melody, they pull it off and the symphony fades out to let them have it. The instruments never over power the voice of Helena.
My favorite songs on the album are “Misted by Desire”, “Mordor”, “Escape”, and “Scared for Love”. However, the rest are great, too.
If there were a flaw in this album, it is that Helena’s lyrics are a little feminine at times. Being a woman, I did not really catch this immediately and it did not ruin the experience of for me, but it may bother some.
This album is very well done in all areas. If you like any form of symphonic metal or operatic vocals you will probably enjoy this. If you do not enjoy operatic vocals or female fronted bands, Helena’s dominant presence is hard to ignore.