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Marcela Bovio's vehicle Stream Of Passion continues to soldier onward long after co-founder and initial composer Arjen Lucassen left to venture back to his Aryeon stronghold with Darker Days, their third release. What the band does for this excursion is reprise some of the progressive aspects of their debut while maintaining the heavier qualities of The Flame Within, and the results reinforce Stream Of Passion as one of the upper tier levels of goth metal bands in terms of sheer musical quality, unleashing a golden shower as their band name implies upon a multitude of lesser acts whose existences often rely mostly on the costumes adorned by their lead vocalist.
Darker Days does offer more than just a merging of its two forebears sound-wise, as new elements are introduced that grace this work with an added characteristic, specifically the addition of occasional bandoneon utilization. It works wonders during softer passages, adding an elegant flair that reminds one of regions more akin to the southern regions of France or the Atlantic coast of Argentina than castles adorning mountainous landscapes or icy foreboding mausoleums. It may seem like a contrast to the gloomy yet garish image of the goth camp, but as a musical statement the added instrumentation remodels a short ballad like "Spark" into an essential part of the album's whole, a welcome attribute that widens the scope of the band's overall sound. If I have any complaint about the supplementary feature involved here, it would be that the pandoneon could have been appropriated even more, giving the album an unusual unique charm. Another important evolution in Stream Of Passion's sound is the growing incorporation of Latin melodies into their goth metal base, increasing that aura of warmer climates and the notion of actually getting a healthy tan while behaving all cryptic. You can pretty much dance the mambo to a song like "The Mirror". With Marcela dishing out generous amounts of Spanish lyrics to mingle with her English prose, the stylistic shift of the band pays off in dividends.
The album immediately kicks into high gear without an ambient opening 'mood setter' with "Lost", which is very much on par with the best of their debut album's gems. The progressive tendencies are less subdued than on The Flame Within, and the musicianship remains stellar, particularly the contributions of new drummer Martijn Peters. This track also introduces the ethnic flair the band have embraced, providing a sterling overall summery of the album's contents. The production manages to balance the guitars, violins, piano and other embellishments deftly without emphasizing any particular instrument, although the bass does suffer by being somewhat buried. The mix is polished and clear, with sharp intonations on the drums without being pushed towards the forefront. Marcela's vocals blend into the music while remaining crystalline, and by providing the backup vocals herself, there's no intrusive choir that sometimes sings with blatant over-enthusiasm.
As with their previous effort though, even with their idiosyncratic sound developing here, the album does feel long at thirteen tracks since some of them are comparatively similar in design. The 'quiet verse, loud chorus' blueprint is exploited on numerous occasions, resulting in a certain level of predictability that can dull the senses over the album's duration. Marcela's vocal delivery remains unequivocally elegant and pretty, which, while technically fantastic, can eventually put me into a lull, although she can get profoundly dynamic when utilizing her higher registered range such as on the impressive "This Moment", an excellent showcase for her skills. Shaving off a couple of numbers such as "The Scarlett Mark", which rehashes the two tracks preceding it with little to add except for an admittedly well played guitar solo, would have tightened up the listening experience as well.
Still, there's far too many good traits and individual songs to write this album off as something only worth spinning while shooting billiards with your friends or trying to install a new garbage disposal. The title track alone is quite a grand slab of progressive metal with some ostentatious goth trappings, and on the other side of the spectrum the Spanish ballad "Nadie Lo Ve" is an understated piece with a memorable piano melody and gorgeous delivery. The lyrics have broadened past the typical glumness to also focus on more interesting subject matter such as Marcela's hometown spiraling into a hellhole, as revealed by "Reborn".
Darker Days turned out to be a refreshing surprise from a band I expected to slowly but persistently sink into a quagmire of banality before expiring entirely since their founder left, but Stream Of Passion have proven that they are not done, and in fact may have triggered the beginnings of a new distinct flavor of their own design. Throw in some maracas, hand claps and a horn section and Stream Of Passion would be one hell of an interesting group. At any rate, I'll definitely be watching them to see how further progression is made in this direction, or if nothing else, look forward to another enjoyable goth metal offering.