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It's gotta be a difficult move to exit the sanctum of popular touring acts and forge ahead with a solo career, but that's precisely what Sarah Jezebel Deva has been after for a few years, kicking off with the lackluster debut A Sign of Sublime, in which she asserted her classical, operatic presence over a smattering of Gothic and black metal cliches. The Corruption of Mercy has landed a couple new musicians in her fold, and seeks to intensify her brand with another gallery of blast beats, layered vocal arrangements, and frankly overproduced symphonic synthesizer arrays, all of which contribute to a pretty jumbled mess of a sophomore, with little redeeming value despite its complex ambitions.
For one thing, I just don't care for her voice. When it was providing a single, shrill melody in the midst of a Cradle of Filth track, I had no problem with it. But here, left to its own schizoid craftsmanship, and backed by both male and female opera swells, it's just not working for me. In particular I don't enjoy the contrast of her lower range against the ferocious onslaught of modern black metal rhythms in "No Paragon of Virtue", especially because it's misleading, and you will find very few blasted sequences throughout the rest of the album. In general, the material tends to be the pompous, sweltering sort of Gothic/black metal hybrid, with a lot of guitar rhythms that follow in the steps of slower Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir.
Jezebel can definitely come up with some quality lines with which to ply her trade ("Sirens", "Silence Please"), and she's about the closest a metal front woman can come to a banshee without outright killing her audience, but the symphonic keys are far too overbearing here, too obviously digitized and produced with the lacquer of a Castlevania soundtrack on the original Playstation (and not a very memorable one). Still, even when she hinges on the most creepiest passages, the layering of the vocals in the mix comes off entirely overwrought. Her backing musicians are all competent enough at their respective instruments, but it's clear they are meant to take a back seat to the vocals, and the result is something like a more manic, alternative Therion without the infectious sense for composition that marks their earlier work (Deva herself has performed with them).
I suppose if there's an audience for this at all, it would rely heavily on the fans of faerie metal royalty like Nightwish and Epica, other bands who jam a bit too much cheese into the architecture of their output. Or perhaps Deva's British alma mater. You know the one. The cover of The Cranberries' "Zombie" might seem like a natural fit, but it's ultimately comical, as are the lyrics throughout practically this entire album (with one or two acceptable exceptions), which read like angsty Pink-pop in a lavish black fishnet shirt. Check out the brilliant prose of "Pretty with Effects", if you don't believe me. What is this, kindergarten-core? Ultimately, The Corruption of Mercy plays out like a shooting (sinking) star, a crass commodity of generic extreme metal characteristics rolled up into a dorkestrah of not so fiendish, cookie cutter delights. With a stronger guitar tone, and less of the dubbed-in vocal harmonies, this might have lit a brighter fire, but it seems all too frivolous and distraught.
One year later, one record label later, and Sarah Jezebel Deva has released another album under her name. "The Corruption of Mercy" is a great album. Powerful and intense, a large step forward for her and the band behind her. I wrote a review for her debut "A Sign of Sublime" and gave it a really good marking, though I realize that the production of said album was bad, I could tell what it was supposed to sound like. But here, I don't need to do that because the production is amazing. The sound is very clear, and there's no buzz in the background. The song writing is much better as well, the music has more beauty and strength than her past album, the parts just blend together perfectly.
The guitars are heavy and give as much power, but there isn't as much distortion in the sound, which is fine. The riffs are energetic and is one of the most audible parts, just beneath vocals and keyboards/orchestration. Accompanying these guitars is the bass, which isn't as present as any other instrument, but it's present and gives the music more body. The drums are at times aggressive and thunderous, but also precise at the same time. The keyboards lend either traditional piano or bells to the mix, or they play an electronic sound that makes the sound less organic. Then the orchestration (A.K.A. violins and such) adds this intensity and power that may be very subtle, if you played the tracks like "No Paragon of Virtue" or "The World Won't Hold Your Hand" with out the violins (and such), they would be almost completely different songs.
All these instruments are a foundation for Sarah's voice to stand on, she sings for the most part with a mezzo-soprano range. She very rarely uses her operatic style anymore, the only tracks that have said vocal style are "No Paragon of Virtue" (for a very short time), and "Silence Please". Which I guess is a good thing because the music is in fact quite dark, and having operatic vocals a la Tarja Turunen would not make a match. The music and vocals would not be compatible. So with her lower range rocker voice, she pulls off another album. And I have to say it was a large improvement over her debut. And if you liked her debut, you'll definitely like this more. By far, this is the best thing she's done.
Highlights: ... All but What Lays Before You, & The Corruption of Mercy