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Julia, the fairest of them all? - 89%

Liquid_Braino, December 20th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Black-listed Productions

Imagine when Nosferatu's Count Orlok took his vacation to raise bloody hell across the sea, if the new entourage of castle caretakers (the old guard conceivably drained of their blood) consisted of a swarm of giddy French maids high on life and cocaine. The stone floors would be swept clean, the massive cobwebs all dusted off, every nook and cranny would be decorated by flower arrangements that permeate the air with pleasant aromas, and the coffins would be adorned with numerous teddy bears and stuffed bunnies. This is the impression I get whenever I start listening to Birth of Romance, a cold dark atmosphere overrun by psychotic happiness.

It doesn't take long before the violent sugar-rush of "Noble Scar" challenges the senses, bazooka-blasting marshmallow bombs of unrestrained flamboyance and aggressive energy at the listener. The pace is fast as hell, occasionally reaching rapid-fire speed as the crunchy guitars blaze, the bass rumbles and keyboardist Issaki hammers away like a catacomb dwelling Phantom of the Japanese Opera. Seriously, this guy is nuts. It's like he's on some perennial quest to discover the most outrageously garish combination of chimes and chamberesque organ sounds to flood the band's music. Then along comes Julia. gifted with the capability or rendering nearby ears into worthless appendages of oddly shaped flesh without resorting to cacophonous shrieks, her naturally super-high timbre is matched by her perfect pitch, strong vibrato and charismatic delivery for those accustomed to her brand of singing. I think she's a borderline wunderkind, but I can understand if some peers I play this recording to look at me as if I'm a tinfoil hat donner when her pipes kick in and I smile with jubilance.

About half of these tracks rip at a propulsive gait like rabid nuclear unicorns, which is always a plus in my book, but what I also enjoy is the progressive nature of some of these songs such as the fascinating "Incomplete Requiem". It's as peppy as cheerleaders on LSD, but the complexity of the rhythm section eventually reveals itself through all that keyboard tinsel with some neck-breaking tempo shifts and quirky time signatures while somehow remaining catchy as a motherfucker. Bearing progressive traits, it also showcases the band's top-notch capabilities, particularly concerning the drumwork. Great shit.

Categorically speaking, Birth of Romance is primarily a speedy flower power album, but what separates it from typical conventions is the manic gothic nature of this release. I know their are symphonic metal bands labelled "gothic" simply because they're fronted by a babe in a corset, but Cross Vein actually resonates like a gothic metal act dolled up with extravagance and accelerated to triple-time tempos. The loud yet murky production weighs things down with a foggy atmosphere at times, enhancing that gothic effect, and if Julia's chirpy vocals were replaced by a standard male grunter dispensing his woeful tales, I would be surprised if a slower tune with doom-like chord progressions such as "Ever After" wouldn't have been deemed gothic metal despite the sweltering lushness of it all.

The group's follow up full length, Royal Eternity, sheds some of these gothic characteristics and boasts a clearer production, which aids in maximizing the quality of that album's best tracks, but can become a bit overwhelming when attempting to sit through the whole album in one go. Birth of Romance, on the other hand, benefits from the production dampening some of that glistening dazzle with a layer of campy moodiness. Yet this album isn't some morose black eyeliner take on power metal. Birth of Romance is an extravagant affair that's able to toe that thin line between elegance and bloated excess, and amazingly enough, undergoing a full sit-down with this entire album never becomes an overwhelming experience that embodies Royal Eternity despite being a pretty cool disc in itself. It's pretty wild, sometimes frenetic and always bombastic with a fair share of technical virtuosity and killer solos. And Julia. Let's not forget that crazy gal.