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Personally I'm going to have say before we start that I feel this is Imperia's weakest album. That might be down to pure preference of the style they choose to use here, but I don't find it as appealing. It's far from being a bad album, but it's also a long way shy of being a great one. Perhaps that's understandable given that this was their first attempt, and the band has seemingly improved at a steady rate since then.
The styles are different in that the music takes on a more general heavy metal type of approach as apposed to the calmer and more atmospheric melody to generate the mood. There are moments that this seems like a good thing, but for the most part I do like their newer style better. Even the fact that my favourite song on The Ancient Dance of Qetesh is the slightly mellow Into Paradise illustrates this as that song is more reminiscent of the band's latest effort.
Something about Helena's use of higher vocals is also off-putting, although I'm not too sure why. On Queen of Light her operatic vocals were the best part, but here there is almost an irritating quality about them. I don't really want to say that, but there are points where she sings in a high note and you'll actually wince. The more prominent use of the witchy cackles from Helena isn't something that I find to be a positive factor either. They're still leaning more towards being good than bad, but not to the extent of the albums to follow.
The frequent use of middle-eastern sounds might appeal to some people, but I personally don't find that it fits the music terribly well. I did sit and wonder why they were even there, but the band probably knows something I don't. If you've ever sat in English lessons and the teacher has dissected the poem or play or whatever to a level that you couldn't have seen, claiming that the writer completely intended that to be the case while you sit and think to yourself that that's bullshit, you'll understand the feeling I have here.
Because the guitars and drums are more prominent I find that they are more technical (although the keyboard is a little lacking as a result), and there are moments where I suddenly realised the amount of talent that they have. Maybe Helena's vocals falling below my expectations help to exaggerate this slightly, but they're just as good as she is in all honesty. I actually found myself wishing they'd get to show off more in the new stuff instead of just the odd guitar solo here and there, but it's a case of one style or another at the end of the day and I'd pick their style on Secret Passion before this one.
Overall I have to stress the fact that it isn't a bad album. It certainly scores far above even 50%, but it's also nearer that score than the 100% rating it acquired from PrincipleOfEVIL. If you want something different then maybe this album will do, but I'd recommend either of their other albums first if you're after proper symphonic/gothic metal.
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