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When I heard about a metal band featuring a Mediæval Bæbe on vocals, I wasn't too sure what to expect, possibly one of those renaissance metal groups with lots of folk shit from the days of yore dressing up the metal riffs, or a fluffy gothic infused act with catchy tunes about midnight dalliances with some mysterious stranger. What I did not expect was aggressive and occasionally furious all out symphonic power metal, with emphasis on the POWER. Pythia have released an absolute monster here, balancing between speedy and mid-paced mini-epics with enough gusto, spite and glory to lay waste most of their fellow female-fronted purveyors of the genre.
The Mediæval Bæbes are this famous "classical act" from Britain which pumps out olden day jigs and folk ballads, singing and playing traditional instruments. So to bear witness to the first track of this album was such an immediate shock that I had to play that damn song again in order to enjoy it for what it was, and not just what it wasn't. After a simple yet appealing 'mood-setter', "Cry of Our Nation" races from the gate with so much bombast that I didn't need to feel an urge to climb a mountain since I was already atop one with both fists raised to the sky in absolute victory. It was as if I had just won a serious bout that I never participated in, an adrenaline rush inducing a state of euphoria due to sitting on my ass in front of a couple of speakers.
It doesn't end there. In fact, the grand finale is even more of a shirt-ripping epic, the incredible "Our Forgotten Land". Darker than the opener, the mood here is more of desperation, peril and intensity than the former's triumphant celebration of might. Still, the grandiose mood concludes this release, endowing it with some seriously potent bookends.
Yeah, she's a Bæbe, but Emily Ovenden is more than up for this propulsive challenge, mixing up her vocals from seductive to righteous to full fledged operatic whenever the material needs it without displaying any weaknesses throughout these variances in delivery. Backing her is a formidable wall of skillful instrumentation boosted by one hell of a production job. The drums are particularly worthy of note, espousing a powerhouse bass drum tone with a tinge of echo that retains clarity during the fast double bass pedaling sections. As strong as the drums sound, they don't interfere with the powerful melodies and riffage of the guitars and bass, as well as the orchestration, which is more of a supporting role yet significantly enhances that "rising phoenix" feeling when it counts.
Between the opening and closing tracks previously mentioned, there are a number of fantastic cuts spanning a wide range of stylistic endeavors, from the slower, slithering "Kissing The Knife" to the high velocity workout of "Heartless". Don't expect any lush ballads or folk tunes reminiscent of the singer's other act though, which I personally don't miss. Lyrically, there's a mixture of the familiar "I hate my ex" therapy prose and songs of war, rebellion and dragons. Thing is, in this case I do enjoy the spurned lover shit, if only because the combination of Emily's delivery and the monstrous musical backup gives me the impression that the dumbass who jilted her should be crapping his pants in fear.
Months after my initial experience with The Serpent's Curse, I'm still finding new things to enjoy within it after each subsequent listen, with personal favorite tracks shifting in rank on a weekly basis and nothing I'd even remotely contemplate skipping. It still ranks pretty high concerning my favorite albums for 2012 in general, and the way things are looking, it will most likely remain that way.
Female fronted (occasionally symphonic and/or gothic) metal; can be a rather decisive genre among the truest of the true, and though I don't really count myself among the self-professed defenders of the faith, it’s easy to see what they mean. Easy listening melodious vocals, glide over an often keyboard laden, sickly sweet, treacle production, cutting the balls clean off, what is at its core predominantly traditional heavy metal. All disconcertingly package up with heavily Photoshoped artwork and commercially aware focus on the inevitably, oh so attractive front lady. An exercise which, at its worst leaves the listener with something, catchy, almost soothing; yet a rather soulless and ineffectual affair. Though it’s the majority of these criticisms could feasibly be attributed to theses Brits, they are immediately eviscerated in the face of one irrefutable absolute...
Pythia Kick fucking ass mate.
The reason for this apparent paradox is that Pythia is driven by a core metallic sensibility, a number of members apparently having a pedigree in death/thrash and black metal probably helps more than a little. The traditional power of the heavy metal riff, blistering solo is never compromised; the drums frequently go on the attack with tremendous potency and the bass rumbles along nicely, just as it should. The vocals have a quality that, while operatic, sync incredibly well with the whole band, never jarring, never homogenizing, and increase the power of the whole immensely. Keyboards and production, so frequently the main issues with this style, are just right. The keys have the prerequisite atmosphere, without falling foul of the glossy, glazing affect that blights many records of this ilk. Ditto the production, which sounds like an expensive enough job on what must have been on a smaller end budget, all instruments are clearly audible, and crucially, keep their teeth. The song structure is tight and punchy, while still affording the smooth nature of the genres lighter elements to bring some fantastic dynamics into play. The opener "Cry of our nation" is a perfect example of this, though every song presented here has moments of this frequently perfectly positioned balance. The lyrics are worth a nod too, written by the vocalist Emily Alice Overden they have distinctly feminine tone, fantasy, broken hearts and lost loves are predominant themes, but a frequent injection of anthem like quality which has thoroughly metal feel, again the balance is spot on. Hell "Dark sun" is worth a Bruce Dickinson comparison, really.
An awesome record then, but who should be looking to pick this up? Of course if you liked the first record, I can't think of a single reason not to own this now, as it’s a step up from that, already very worthy debut. I would even go as far to recommend none fans of the female fronted style, as I would count myself among you, check out The Serpents Curse, in particular power metal fans should find something to enjoy here. However, though I would urge you to give it a listen, it’s doubtful that a acolyte of Cirith Ungol style of uber trueness (on first press vinyl of course) or a devout teenage Kvltest would be convinced, as despite the quality's listed above, It still sits firmly in the niche for which it was made. Your loss mind.
So what does this praise all add up to? Well, what we have here, is the best commercially viable band the British metal scene has produced since prime era Paradise Lost. I'm not going to qualify that deliberately outrageous hyperbole as I honestly think Pythia Have a shot at been huge (hell, I could have said Maiden and not felt too self conscious!). Yes the British underground holds a good few band with something special on offer, A Forest Of Stars and Ghast spring to mind, and indeed both have true quality and originality, but the chances are, they will remain cherish only by a privileged few, it’s just the nature of the extreme metal beast. Pytha however, have the intrinsic possibility of wider acceptance, which this type of band naturally possesses. With a bit of consistency and an admittedly big chunk of luck, in five years or so I can see them returning to the place which I first saw them, Bloodstock, only this time instead of in a half empty tent, there on the main stage closing the dam thing.