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Pretty bland. - 40%

volvandese, November 16th, 2012

Amberian are a female-fronted neoclassical power metal band from Finland. Circus Black is their fourth full-length album since the band's formation in 2006. Now, I'm going to be very up front about one simple fact right from the start: I rarely like female metal vocals. There are of course several exceptions, but as a general tendency I do not find female singing voices appealing in a metal context.

Now that that's out of the way, I can talk about the actual album. The band's style and image immediately brings to mind an overpowering Nightwish flavor, and I'd say the music pretty much follows suit. All the instrumentation is carried out with skill and precision, and the compositions are quite pretty as metal goes. Backing choral arrangements and dramatic, gothic keyboards fill in a lot of the space in the genrally fairly open mix. The guitar work is very reserved on some tracks, seeming to disappear entirely for far too long, but then in other places it steps into center stage for entire tracks. In both cases, it's played with extraordinary skill but not a great deal of character. The drums and bass serve to enhance the ebb and flow as the music builds to peaks and then settles quietly into valleys. Throughout, the operatic female lead vocals drift and soar over the music.

While there is nothing wrong with the material here from a purely technical standpoint, I do have some personal issues with it. For one thing the overly clean and precise instrumentation, shimmering vocals, and crystal clear production are completely devoid of any traces of grit. This music doesn't just sound clean, it sounds downright sterile. The guitar often crosses the line over into wankery (like on the track "Rivalry Between Good and Evil"), so fans of Petrucci and Malmsteen should enjoy it, but many listeners will probably just find it annoying. And the vocals, ugh, the vocals. Yes, they're pretty. Yes, she can clearly sing. But again, I really dislike flowery operatic vocals in my metal. And, as well performed as they are, they have relatively little variety and they show scant signs of any genuine passion. The singing, like the rest of their sound, all just feels very superficially pretty.

If you're a big Nightwish fan you'll probably like this. It's definitely not my cup of tea, though. In my opinion, it's so devoid of personality that it feels like the metal equivalent of a Celine Dion concert.

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