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Napero, June 4th, 2009

On of finnish metal's worst banes these days is the dangerous creature known as "female vocalist". There are many of them, and they ambush bands with their looks and intriquing private parts, perhaps even targeting a specific guitar hero in an intimate way in the process. While some of them provide the bands with extra charisma in the promo photo shoots, too many of them fail the bands and become anchors that hold the ships close to the coast. The main reason is simple: their voices too often lack strength and personality, and because of that, they tend to drive the bands towards specific styles: usually, a finnish band with a girl in any other position than behind the keyboards plays mediocre melodic heavy metal or some sort of gothic whatever. The result is a brand of metal that centers on hiding the riffs so that the powerless nasal singing does not get overpowered by the equivalent of an ukulele plugged to one of those tiny Marshall amps with a belt clip and two A-Cell batteries. The antithesis of metal, in many ways.

However, there are ways to work with what you have, and Liquid Society's The Burning is a fine proof of the possibilities a clean, delicate female voice can achieve if used for the right purpose, with the right ideas and with some ingenuity in processing the results.

Liquid Society's trade is progressive metal from the most melodic end of the spectrum. The band's sound overall is not extremely heavy, and despite an abundance of riffs and guitarwork, the music cannot be labelled as "riff-heavy" by any stretch. Rather, the songs are centered on the melodies, and the sparse, extremely well restrained use of keyboards, combined with the intricate vocal melodies, are the first thing that hits the listener.

That's not to say that the guitars and riffs aren't there; on the contrary! The two guitarists work their asses off creating a metal foundation for the songs. There is a complex and heavy intertwining mattress of guitars, bass and drums on the bottom of every song, with a rather modern guitar sound, and the riffing has plenty of of hooks and enjoyable progressions for those who wish to hear them.

The real steak, the beauty, the exquisite outer shell of the songs, however, is in the vocal melodies. The vocalist, Tiina Savela, has a delicate, very clean and quite beautiful voice, and where this kind of vocalists usually drag their own bands down, her performance gives The Burning a pair of wings. Soft, almost fragile, but a perfect companion for the churning and meshing metal underneath, her voice paints the melodies above in fine lines, especially on the opening track. It could even be claimed that he voice there fills the niche of the "light lyrical soprano" of classical music in metal, and that would only be stretching it in technical sense. Savela probably has trained her voice, at least the tender but perfect rose-petal-shaking vibratos say so, but she doesn't have the overdone quality of operatic vocalists; the voice has not been defiled with too much cultivation. She is a sparrow playing above a scrap metal yard, and the contrast is incredible; at the very best her highest notes have a flute-like quality, and the higher she goes, the fancier the effect is. The necessary keyboards, with a piano sound, surface scarcely enough to keep their effect, and do not overburden the swallow.

The ingenuity lies in the way this literal bedroom demo has been produced. The metal parts have completely occupied the lower parts, leaving the vocals plenty of space, but the vocals fly high enough for the middle parts virtually unattended. The net effect is a feeling of free air and space, and the whole soars. The relatively low-strength voice is far apart from the mass center of the foundation, and they live separate lives, interacting, but not competing.

The songs do have some old-fashioned solutions in some spots, and they offer respectful nods to certain melodic bands in many parts, probably unintentionally. Overall, they have been very well designed, and the only awkward moment comes in the end of the otherwise brilliant opener "From Asleep to Reality" in the form of a bass solo. The solo itself is not a bad one, but choosing to place it in that particular masterpiece seems like shoving a doughnut into a piggy bank: it has to be done by force, and while the doughnut itself gets flattened, the piggy bank will get smeared as well and might even break.

For a home-made demo, this is indeed a very professional piece of work in all aspects; just remember, this is not something to listen on crappy headphones or speakers the size of a soap bar. The production works well with a decent stereo setup and enough volume; any other setup or the pitiful MySpace sound leads to over-emphasized vocals, and turns the music into whining without the heavy metal foundation. The strange decision to include the bonus track "Dreams" on a separate CD seems like an afterthought, but perhaps there is a logical explanation for it.

This is the best CD release with a female vocalist from Finland during this century so far. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from this.

Now, if the vocal temptress, the invisible Ingénue with The Voice, would be kind enough to hand an enthralled old man's ears back...