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One of the newest releases coming out in early 2009 is from Sirenia, a female fronted gothic metal band from out of Norway. This is Sirenia’s 4th full-length release, entitled ‘The 13th floor’, and it is also the 4th cd in a row with yet another female vocalist.
It seems that with this band, they cannot hold onto their female vocalists, as they sing on one release and then leave. 4 cds, 4 different female singers. I really thought that Sirenia had finally picked the right vocalist for their current sound when they released their previous cd called ‘Nine destinies and a downfall’. On that release, Monika Pedersen had the lead vocals after replacing Henriette Bordvik, and was fantastic in my opinion. The whole cd was so good that I remember listing it as one of the best metal releases in 2007. Unfortunately, Monika Pedersen left the band in November of 2007, a short time after the release, the reason being due to musical disagreements.
In April 2008, the band announced that their new vocalist would be Spanish “X-Factor” contestant, Pilar Giménez García, or “Ailyn” the name she was known by during her time on the television show, which originally began in the U.K. and was created by American Idol’s Simon Cowell. The success of the U.K. version has made way for other countries to take on the show, which has now spanned to over 15 countries. Ailyn was chosen as the newest singer of the band out of over 500 women.
Sirenia’s musical change began with ‘Nine destinies and a downfall’, where they opted for a more “commercial” gothic metal sound, similar to other gothic metal bands such as Leaves’ Eyes, Xandria and Within Temptation. The guitars became more down-tuned to give that “heavy chugging” feel. The rough and gruff male vocals of Morten Veland, which were primarily the lead vocals on Sirenia’s first 2 releases, became almost non-existent with the change. Included in Sirenia’s original sound were elements of doom and death metal, also now non-existent from their current sound.
‘The 13th floor’ continues the music trend of their previous cd, while still incorporating the choirs that Sirenia have used throughout their discography. There are also guest appearances by French violin player Stephanie Valentin and vocalist Jan Kenneth Barkved (who also did some guest appearances on Sirenia’s debut release, ‘At sixes and sevens’). Morten Veland’s vocals are used more on this release, more so than on the previous, which should make the fans of their original sound somewhat happier. I feel that this move has been made due to Ailyn’s vocals on the release, which are not quite as developed nor as strong as any of Sirenia’s previous singers. That’s not taking anything away from Ailyn, who has done a great job on ‘The 13th floor’. Getting selected from out of 500 women is a remarkable effort and has to be a good thing.
Although not quite as strong or creative as ‘Nine destines and a downfall’ (in my opinion), ‘The 13th floor’ is still a very good release and a damn good follow-up to ‘Nine destinies and a downfall’. There are some great tracks on here, including “Lost in life”, “The lucid door”, “Led astray”; and the single “The path to decay”, which there is also currently a video for. Without a doubt, the best track on the cd is “The seventh summer”, as I feel that it is Ailyn’s strongest effort vocally, while the track includes a great structure of big choirs, orchestral elements and kick ass heavy guitars. The track is topped off with a short gruff vocal piece by Veland in the middle of the song.
For the newer fans of Sirenia’s latest sound, you will relish ‘The 13th floor’ and will enjoy it as much as you did with their previous release. For the fans of Sirenia’s original sound, you may want to try before you buy as you may still again be disappointed. Other than that, any fans of the gothic metal bands mentioned in this review and including After Forever, Theatre of Tragedy and Epica; will also get great enjoyment from this release.
Originally written for www.metalcdratings.com and www.themetalforge.com
Do you know the feeling of entering into a caffe, only to hear that the song that's playing on the speakers as you enter is the same bloody pop song you've been hearing for the past 2 months on TV, in other caffes (or that same one), in other people's cars, etc? So, how does that feel for you? Are you instantly mesmerized by the stunning quality of the music, are you induced to move in any way (dance, headbang, or anything)? Or you just like me, cringe, grit your teeth and pray that it motherfucking stops after a while? Well, if you are like myself, then that's exactly the same feeling you'll get after listening to this garbage of an album.
Morten Veland is, so I hear, praised quite a lot by some people that I personally know, and some people here on the Archives. He is apparently both multi instrumentalist and a singer (he does both harsh and clean male vocals). Well isn't that good to hear! So what do we have here, on this album which is a collaboration between Veland, and a classically trained female singer under a pseudonym 'Ailyn'? Well, I will tell you what we don't have here. We don't have a heavy metal album, simply said. We don't even have a rock album. I'm also pissed when people put something into the rock music realm when the guitar isn't loud enough to be classified as metal. Listen, rock music is a genre full of old school spirit, full of pissed off rebellious attitude, where bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC/DC, or Thin Lizzy rule the stage. I don't even have to explain to you that this piece of shit has nothing to do with those godly bands. And most important of all, none (or almost none, if I may have got some of my facts incorrect, forgive me) of those people had any classical guitar, bass, drums, or vocal training. They were all self-taught, and Bon Scott may not pass the Britain's Got Talent singing audition, but he is still far better than any member of the bands like Sirenia. Morten Veland is, however, a real musician, skilled in playing all rock/metal instruments, so why I can't hear any playing skill here, then? I'm sure that it has nothing to do with Veland being incapable of playing or composing a proper metal song. It's the pure intention behind this. This is a shallow and lifeless pop album, created for the sole purpose of selling a large number of copies, and adapt to radio. Of course, they didn't actually achieve that, as Sirenia isn't that well known, but they did their best.
Simply put, these songs fucking suck. They really, really suck. We open up with 'The Path to Decay', and we are immediately greeted by shitty electronica, fade in drums, and then we burst right into... a fucking mallcore breakdown. This 'riff' is composed of the constant repetition of the few notes, creating an epileptic vortex. Then, the female singer kicks in. Classically trained my ass. I don't deny her certificate, but her range is so narrow that it's boring the shit out of me. She is in the same octave for the duration of the album. This song also has a guitar solo, if you can call it that way. It's simply Veland strumming some strings lower down the fret. 'Lost In Life' is simply the sole reason why bands like Sirenia that plague the symphonic metal scene suck. Really? I mean, were you serious to compose a song like this? I said compose in a lack of a better word, it's something created while you are taking a piss, not shit, because it doesn't require even that much time. It sounds like Kelly Clarkson song, and I bet I know better Adele songs, because Adele's music, as shallow and nonexistent as it is, at least show her wide range and undeniable vocal skills. Through listening to the entire album I remember hearing precisely 1 riff that can pass as a metal riff, and I believe it's somewhere around 3:20 in the track 'The Mind Maelstrom', and although it does sound pretty stereotypical, it's like a remedy to the ears after this crapfest. Of course, the riff is dropped after only a couple of seconds, only to be replaced by more fake orchestrations and shitty 'riffs'. So, this album has no riffs, it has no good vocals, and it has no spirit (which is the most important thing of all). The worst thing of it all is this band will keep getting thrown at my face as being a great gothic metal band. Gothic? I am laughing my ass off right now. Gothic metal has the dark atmosphere, the morbid beauty, intersected midpaced with slow parts, the feeling of impending doom and despair. This crap has none of those. It's lifeless and dry pop music.
So, are the lyrics any better? Let's make one thing clear, when it comes to music, for me the priority is: music, vocals, then lyrics as an optional part. Which means, great lyrics can enhance an already vocally and musically strong song, cannot make a shitty composition any better, and meaningless lyrics can't reduce the quality of the strong composition. But what about the lyrics here? Seriously, what did you expect? It's suffering, depression (I guess), dissapointment, human mind, fantasy; which would be pretty cool, but of course, it's not well written. It's written horribly actually, with no subtlety, no conviction of any sort, no clever metaphors (Morten Veland is no Martin Walkyier, but that's a given). It borders with teenage angst, although it's not really like that, more like something I'd see being every single mallgoth girl's facebook status. However, there is a verse that I like:
Lead me down to the sea
To where the sirens call and where the waves are raging free
Sing for me, all of your sweetest melodies
and then let me drown into your arms, into the sea
Now, for some reason this stuck out in a good way for me, although you cannot pay attention to it during the song (it's from the album closer), because the vocal melody and the riff below are horrible.
I barely had enough strength to listen to this album from the beginning to the end, and I am glad I don't have to ever again. It's not only a musical void, it's intention is pretty damn despicable aswell. I just hope this band dies a fair death and leaves the gothic metal scene as it is, because there are a lot of marvelous bands out there (Moonspell, Therion, Draconian, just to name a few from the top of my head). Don't buy it, don't even download it, as Morten and Ailyn don't need your money or acclamation. They certainly didn't deserve it with this. Enough said.
"The 13th Floor" really took me by surprise. After the previous disappointing Sirenia offering, I expected something along the same lines. Thankfully, this was not the case here. "The 13th Floor", in my opinion, is a step backwards, so to speak. It shows traits of the first two Sirenia albums, which is a very good thing.
Before delving into the musical and vocal difference, one thing which really made me like this album is the fact that the whole "verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus" thing that was going on on "Nine Destinies and a Downfall" is gone. In the previous album, all songs were predictable. It was like listening to Evanescence, in my opinion. This is not the case here. Tracks tend to resemble older Sirenia in terms of structure (not entirely though, they are still rather structured, just not as much). Nevertheless, the choruses are as catchy as they were in "Nine Destinies and a Downfall", and this is one of the only things which that album had going for it.
Another improvement would be the vocals. Ailyn is no Fabienne Gondamin (from the band's debut album), but I think he did a much better job than Monika, even though her voice is kind of similar sometimes. I like the fact that her voice is not one tone throughout the album. On "Beyond Life's Scenery", for example, her voice alters from the verse to the chorus, and "Winterborn 77" makes you fall in love with her voice.
Sirenia never disappoints when it comes to choirs. Just like their debut and "An Elixir for Existence", choirs appear quite frequent. In fact, they are present in every track. Emphasis is given on "The Mind Maelstrom". On most tracks, choirs make an entrance during the bridge, which always provides a pleasant contrast to the catchy choruses.
The album kicks off with "The Path to Decay". This is one of the two songs which feel like leftovers from "Nine Destinies and a Downfall". Despite this, I think it's a great opening track, and has a very memorable chorus. I can't say the same about "Lost In Life", however, as I felt it sounded way too commercial, and it is actually the only song I skip when I play this album.
"The Mind Maelstrom" is where the album's greatness really kicks in. This track feels like "An Elixir for Existence" without the heaviness, in my opinion, and is dominated by choirs (always a good thing for most fans of the genre). I found this track to be the most haunting on the album, and definitely one of the highlights. "Beyond Life's Scenery" is also a highlight here. The changing singing tones of Ailyn and the powerful chorus featuring choirs make it very memorable. "The Lucid Door" wins the award for catchiest Sirenia chorus ever. It will take ages before you stop singing the chorus in your head. "Winterborn 77" is yet another highlight due to the amazing vocal performance, presence of clean male vocals and enchanting choirs. These make it one of the most diverse songs on the album, and it pretty much has all the positive traits of the album in it.
Any fans of the first two Sirenia album would definitely enjoy "The 13th Floor". Also, fans of the genre will not be disappointed either. Having listened to this and "The Enigma of Life" in the span of just two weeks, this was a very big surprise, as it was the only one of the latest three Sirenia albums which actually has that Veland feel to it. I highly recommend this to any fan of the genre, especially those new to the band, as this is more or less a combination of the previous three albums, and it worked.
And here we have Sirenia's debut of Ailyn, the first of their 4 songstresses to appear on two albums. The 13th Floor is without question a solid gothic metal release; the always amazing Morten Veland (well, almost always...) proves yet again that he deserves the title 'King of Gothic Metal'. Sirenia walks the line between the often-dull-traditional-gothic-metal-style and the oh-my-god-this-is-pop-not-metal-gothic-metal. You get the bleak, sad, hopeless atmosphere that most gothic metal releases SHOULD have, but don't. At the same time, though, there are the catchy choruses and memorable verse melodies.
When compared to this album's predecessor, Nine Destinies And A Downfall, there is a small step backward (on Sirenia's inevitable path to 100% pure pop-metal), away from the new sound they seemed to establish there. It has more than a few touches of what fans of Veland know and love from the Tristania/early-Sirenia era (just touches though, don't get TOO excited...). The catchy, verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure remains on the majority of the songs though, and they are still short (radio-safe?) like on NDaaD.
Unfortunately, although it is a solid album, it is only that. A handful of the tracks don't really go anywhere; they just there, not necessarily fillers but certainly not masterpieces. They all 'sound good', but with Veland, more than just that is to be expected. Then there are the choirs, the always lovely choirs, and the same guitar-work that is to be expected from Sirenia.
Ailyn was initially a breath of fresh air. It goes without saying that she is a good singer, and probably a fair handful of people will disagree with me here, but her vocal performances seem so static. After listening to her for 10 minutes, it becomes hard to listen anymore. Her voice is sweet and enigmatic, but also whiny and unnerving. The unfortunate part is that, with her, Sirenia broke the tradition of replacing the front-women with every album.
'Sirens Of The Seven Seas', the final track on The 13th Floor, deserves a special section in this review. Guest vocalist Jan Kenneth Barkved of Elusive brings the track to a whole new level, reminding the listener perhaps of Beyond The Veil (Tristania) where there are three styles of vocals coming together. It's just beautiful, and perhaps among the best Sirenia songs to date. Plus the nautical theme that so suits Sirenia is played upon here like no other track before it has.
While The 13th Floor has its flaws, and its highlights, it is no more than a solid album. It is very bland at times, but still has 'Veland's magic touch'. A couple tracks make it an album any fan of Sirenia or gothic metal should have, but those who are either new to the genre or not fans of the genre should probably spend their money elsewhere.
I, along with many other fans of Sirenia, was a bit disappointed with the musical direction taken on Nine Destinies and a Downfall. However, on this release, Morten incorporates more of the elements from early Sirenia. He growls at every track except one (and he sings clean vocals on one song, with very good emotion might I add) and the synth plays a bigger role than on NDAAD.
However, it still has the pop-like structure of the songs, not that I think it's a bad thing, but don't expect it to be like early Sirenia only with more female vocals.
Ailyn is a good singer, and she's pleasant to listen to, a good choice by Morten. However, she sounds a bit weak and unconfident on some of the high vocal lines in my opinion.
Jan Kenneth Barkved from Elusive is also back as a guest vocalist on this album, his voice is wonderful to listen to. The song on which he sings is also without a doubt the best song on the album, the last one, Sirens of the Seven Seas. This song is incredibly good, not only are the vocals amazing, the melodies and arrangements are beautiful, and Morten plays the guitar leads with very much emotion. The tempo is also very catchy, and you want to dance to this song. It's actually a bit goth rock like I think.
Some people say that the drums are programmed on this album, unlike the previous album, where they were played real for the first time. I don't know if it's true, but it might be, they are very, very tight, and they sound like the drums on the first 2 albums, where they were also programmed. Either way, they sound very nice and powerful.
All in all, this album is very good. The melodies, the riffs, the arrangements, the vocals, the way it is performed, it's all incredible. You got to hear this album if you like gothic metal!
The scenery that Sirenia had in this new record was complex. A lot of their hard-fans felt very dissapointed with their new sound on "Nine destinies and a downfall", although they add a lot of new followers into their fanbase. And after the day that Monika Pedersen left the band, the joining of Ailyn, ex X-factor contestant, brought a lot of new doubts to their new sound. Will they follow the mainstreim direction they started with "Nine destinies..."?
What they show on "The 13th Floor" is different of what I expect. The album is a mixing of all their albums, the heaviness of "At sixies and sevens", the sweet melodies of "An elixir for existance", and the catchiness of "Nine destinies and a downfall". The excellent drums of Jonathan Perez are an important part of the new sound of Sirenia, also the guitars show some interestings parts on the bridges of the songs. The violins and other symphonic arragements give some sweetness, and Ailyn's voice is far away to sound out of the style, it's versatil, she can move between some powerful lines and some sweet ones.
The album opens with two single-like songs. "The path to decay" is closer to the structure of their previous release, but it's really nice to hear Morten's growls on a single. "Lost in life" was clearly compossed with a radio-formula structure, a nice gift for the fans who joined Sirenia with "Nine destinies...". The third song is totally different, "The mind maelstrom" sounds heavy, with a sweet and almost ethereal Ailyn, with a lot of choirs, culminating in a powerful growl of Morten, with strong guitars and drums. "The seventh summer" is the best song on the album, it mixes perfectly all the history of Sirenia, it has a catchy chorus, a heavy bridge, and even the clear voice of Veland, into the best vocal performance of Ailyn. "Beyond's life scenery" follow that path, with an interesting chorus that makes some kind of dialogue betweet the choirs and the singer. The growls sound very industrial-ish in this one.
"The lucid door" is another good example of the new sound of Sirenia. Between very catchy melodies, heavy interludes, and a chorus that will be stuck in your head for hours. "Led astray" at first can sound very simple, but it crecendo is really nice, finishing in a heavy last chorus. "Winterborn 77" mixes a lot of interesting things, a heavy drumming, an powerful singing of Ailyn, violins and a very interesting choir.
The album closes with somethine really different. "Sirens of the sevens seas" is the song that bring us to the beggining of the band. The clean voice of Jan Kenneth Barkved is the protagonist of the calling to the sirens of the sevens seas. The rest of the songs are the choirs, the growls, and a almost ethereal Ailyn, mixing all that stuff in a magical song.
The album is very good. We aren't talking about an "At sixies and sevens", but it's a work that brings back Sirenia into metal instead of generic gothic rock. And the most important thing, the mixing of all their albums works very well. They were capable to made an catchy but also heavy album, with a lot of interesting parts on it, good choirs and the excellent work of one of their best voices. All this compiled in an album of an excellent production.
Good music, good voice, and lyrics that are okay for the musical style. Will Sirenia go for the next level?
There's something of a moment of anticipation when firing up a new album that's the successor of an extremely terrible one. Will the predecessor be a one time accident? Does it mark a new, downward shift in the band's sound? After all, bands release albums below the bar at least once in their career, as was the case with Bathory's Octagon, Nightwish's Once, Darkthrone's Plaguewielder, the list goes on, but the point is they happen, and us fans hope beyond hope they'll amount to nothing more than the independent misfire. It's when that album's successor is released that we find out if our hoping has been in vain. When Sirenia released Nine Destinies and a Downfall back in '07 it was an obvious step downward; they dipped below the bar, and so we hoped this was an isolated case. Two years later, with the offering of The 13th Floor, we learn it was the beginning of one of those downward trends.
The 13th Floor tries to improve on certain flaws from Nine Destinies, but ends up creating more shortcomings. I was thrilled when I heard Veland growl, and on more than one song, and at a pitch and level reminiscent of At Sixes and Sevens! However, it took sitting through the first two tracks and three-quarters of the third track to get to it, and learning that his growling sections were limited to a single verse at the closing end of each song negated the positive bonus of him finding his previously misplaced voice. The sickeningly sweet, cheery, and simple melodies that ran rampant throughout Nine Destinies have been toned down to simply sickeningly sweet and simple; the cheer all but axed. This encompasses both a reduction and toning down of the Gregorian choirs and keyboards utilized in a significantly lower key pitch, but the end result are these melodies that hover, lost and confused, between mildly melancholic and pleasantly dull. One can hopefully infer that the musicianship hasn't improved much either. Worthy of mention is the laughable, but obvious attempt at a “guitar solo” on The Path to Decay, which involves playing the same, repeated, boring melody that's present throughout the song.
Despite the shortcomings stemming left and right as a result of attempted improvement, The 13th Floor does manage to succeed in two departments. First, Ailyn is a vocalist who is finally able to hold a candle to Henriette Bordvik. Her style of low pitch singing adds that desperately sought layer of mellow and downbeat sound, which would otherwise cease to exist in any musically pleasing form on this album. The thick, Spanish accent isn't as goofy as one might expect, and during the choruses of Winterborn 77, The Lucid Door, and The Path to Decay, manage to sound very fitting and pleasing. Second, the drums have received a substantial improvement over the preceding album, bringing them back up to par with At Sixes and Sevens and An Elixir for Existence. There's technicality and presence with them that simply aren't there with any other instrument, again using Winterborn 77 and The Lucid Door as examples.
Fairly lackluster musicianship, melodies that fail to have any real purpose, and an underwhelming presence of growling, juxtaposed with pretty decent female vocals and drumming; where does that leave us? Surely not with a solid release for '09. What we have here is nothing more than a glorified attempt at commercial success, only without the blatant disregard of any and all musical creativity, unlike other recent albums such as Karmacode, The Heart of Everything, and Dark Pasion Play. Instead, we're left with something we can only sigh heavily at as we remiss about what once was, or what might have been. The 13th Floor is an album that, in the end, takes no risks, and asks for a lot in return. Tracks standing apart are Winterborn 77, The Lucid Door, and Sirens of the Seven Seas, but aren't saying much when put on the same album as The Path to Decay and Lost in Life, which might as well be bonus material from Nine Destinies re-recorded with Ailyn's vocals.
Morten Veland has shown us the path Sirenia wants to take, and while I won't utilize any of the numerous possible puns with that idea and certain song titles, its certainly not a path I personally want to follow them on. An improvement over Nine Destinies this may be, but it's still another shot in Veland's foot, only this time he's out of feet.