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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.