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A storm worth embracing - 87%

Liquid_Braino, April 26th, 2012

I've never heard Arjen's mothership project Aryeon up until now. Told recently by a friend that Aryeon's albums play like some unholy matrimony of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dream Theater at their most tumescent, I'm becoming more intrigued to check them out despite the befuddled reaction from my acquaintance since his description was apparently a warning as opposed to an encouragement. The Aryeon 'sound' as described to me doesn't quite replicate itself in Arjen's gothic exploration venture Stream Of Passion, but there is definitely a level of theatrical posturing and symphonic grandiloquence that sets this album apart from many of the female fronted gothic metal acts flooding the scene by 2005. Combining these excesses with a genuine flair for writing memorable melodies and no shortage of technical skill results in an artistic triumph, if the challenge was to create an album that balanced early Lacuna Coil with Edenbridge at their most incandescent. Considering that albums like In A Reverie and Shine appeal to me, Embrace The Storm was instant ear candy, although some songs resonated stronger than others at first.

First of all, those hoping for a full fledged progressive metal outing will be disappointed, but that doesn't mean there aren't 'proggish' elements to some of these tunes, particularly in circumventing standard goth metal trappings with occasional striking choruses that vibrate with positive energy, numerous shifting of tempo and heaviness, and short but almost over-the-top shredding guitar solos. Songs vary in tone from the jarring progressive number "Calliopeia" to a piano ballad sung entirely in Spanish ("Nostalgia") with forays into classical arrangements or folkish acoustic strumming. It's adventurous for sure, and a case in which the main composer has little interest in adhering to any genre principles. Adding to this is a sharp production in which the drums and guitars have muscle yet never overpower the other instruments, coalescing with the orchestral arrangements to form compositions that retain metal style heaviness but are not anchored by it.

Highlights are frequent and individually distinct in construction, with the pinnacle arguably being "Haunted", which brilliantly evokes an eerie atmosphere during the verses aided by Marcela's sultry spoken word vocals, alternating between her native language and English with an accent that reminds me of the comely hostess at a nearby Mexican restaurant I frequent. The chorus is aural Grand Guignol, punctuated with militaristic rhythms and a ferocious guitar sound. Completely different in approach, yet equally engaging is "Out in the Real World", a more straightforward number that's enshrined with one hell of a glorious and catchy chorus. Again, it doesn't fall into any specific blueprint, whether metal, goth or symphonic, but possesses aspects of each while rocking out with an irresistibly addictive aplomb. Other winners include the aforementioned "Calliopeia", "Wherever You Are" which boasts doomy riffs complemented by a hopeful chorus to create a unique and enigmatic aura, and "Passion", a heavier number steeped with gothic embellishments and at times really does come across as Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom Of The Opera" jacked up by distorted guitars while somehow deflecting complete pomposity.

There are numerous mellower tracks and full-fledged ballads nestled between the more intense cuts that provide a bit of morose serenity yet also offer diversity in presentation while varying in quality. The stronger numbers include opening piece "Spellbound", a fitting intro with tribal percussion that builds in tension before giving way to "Passion", and the eloquent "Open Your Eyes" which tempers the lushness with some folkish passages and exhibits vibrant vocal melodies during the chorus.

Not every song within is stellar, but even the lesser tunes have points of merit. I'm not a particular fan of the Elven hoedown title track, but a middle section consisting of marching band snare drumming precursing guitar melodies redeems it enough for myself not to skip it. Lyrically though, the album occasionally falters, especially on tracks such as "I'll Keep On Dreaming", where Marcela churns out the ubiquitous proclamations of being lost, lonely, frightened, depressed and would greatly appreciate it if Liquid_Braino could soothe the pain by gently kneading her buttocks. Her singing skills are certainly vast in range, emotion and technioque, but almost seem a bit too dreamlike and even a bit 'dainty' at times to augment the heavier sections of these pieces with an extra layer of power. Musically the competence of each cherry picked individual is acutely professional, with the drummer showing flair during the proggier numbers (especially concerning the final track), and while the guitar solos tend to be a bit grandstanding at times they never overstay their welcome by being to the point.

Embrace The Storm, awkward title aside, rests comfortably among the upper echelons of the female fronted goth metal outputs by offering divergences from existing facets, and hence, limitations preordained to a relatively new but already saturated category of music. If 'goth metal' doesn't instantly repel you upon the mere mention of those two words put together, this collection is practically a 'must have' work.