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Before an Audience of Stars. - 80%

Perplexed_Sjel, November 26th, 2008

We’ve heard it all before, but bands often turn up on the scene with records that just fall short of decent because of a few mediocre moments that spoil the entire proceedings. Arise From Thorns are a band who fit snugly into this category of bands who produced an average first record, but went on to produce a more mature, more focused and generally speaking better record in ‘Before an Audience of Stars’. Take the better moments from the first record, which was self-titled, and place them on this record and to the mixture, add more focus and a better understanding of song structures and song writing. These seemingly small elements are quintessential to every masterpiece we’ve ever come across. I don’t consider ‘Before an Audience of Stars’ a masterpiece by any means, but the mediocrity of the first outing is mostly put behind the band and those less predictable aspects that made the debut worthwhile are intensified by better use of atmospherics and improved instrumentation. The musicians from this band went on to create the accessible and audacious Brave, an American progressive rock/metal band. As musicians, none of the members are as accomplished as they become later on in their careers, but this is an evolution process.

Despite being released a mere year later than the debut, this piece is projected to the audience in a more reasonable manner. The record itself is longer, which gives us more of a chance to become familiar with Arise From Thorns and how they aim to display their lyrical themes. ‘To Dance By Moonlight’, ‘Remember The Stars’, ‘The Red & The Black’, ‘The Calling’ and ‘Return Of The Old Forest’ were included on the self-titled effort and have been presented on this second full-length too, which is perhaps a little disappointing. Aside from ‘Remember The Stars’ none of the aforementioned songs were particularly memorable or long lasting in the mind, so their inclusion onto this effort could be seen as a case of one step forward, two steps backwards. Why? Well, Arise From Thorns were seemingly beginning to string together some truly memorable pieces of material, see songs like ‘Time Alone’ for an example, but the inclusion of previously poor songs is a tedious reminder of the inaccessibility of the previous material due to its overbearing mediocrity. Having said this, the most pleasing aesthetics have once again been included on this piece, those which existed before, but they’ve come back with a vengeance and are seeking revenge upon those who discriminated against it, namely me.

Maybe this is a good time to break out the old ‘Run To The Hills’ song? I’m sure you know it. Fortunately for me, I have no need to shake in my boots because Arise From Thorns are not a aggressive band. There are no fast paced soundscapes or rocking metaphorical mountains for us to climb. The path is largely uninterrupted. We’re, as an audience, introduced to a largely mid-paced piece which delves into deep emotional soundscapes, as well as exploring heightened atmospherics due to improved instrumentation. The performance of Michelle Loose is the most noteworthy aspect of the bands sound. Why? Her vocals performance is strong. Despite the amateurish aspects presented on the debut, her voice stood tall and proud in the midst of all the mediocrity floating by her. Lyrically, this would seem to be a charm offensive, drawing on deeply emotional issues and closing in on the listener like The Great Depression. Although the lyrics aren’t supplied, her voice is clean and we are able to hear each word as it is sung. Thankfully, having learned through experience, the American act have opted out of using male vocals. They weren’t necessary. Simple.

Not only is her vocal performance strong, but she also performs well on the keyboards, though this is less noticeable. ‘Among The Leaves’, for example, produces song sweet sounding moments on keyboards, inducing that gothic feel to the music. The bass, alongside the keyboards, supplies in good measure that high octane emotiveness which wanders across the soundscapes like a nomadic animal. The sound, which is chilled and laid back, is very accessible and emotionally penetrative, especially the vocals which leave the listener with a heavy heart and the bass which underlines the melancholic melodies with some superb ground work. The keyboards function successfully beside this dominant elements to form a definitive triangle of bleak and moving sound. This time around, the contrast between the divine and the mediocre isn’t too wide and Arise From Thorns have managed to bridge the gap between the styles that they focus on. This is a much better record than the debut, definitely worth listening to for fans of gothic/progressive rock/metal, even more so if you enjoy female fronted bands.