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No. - 15%

Goodly Hah, November 19th, 2013

Well, this is new. I don't think I've ever seen a symphonic metalcore band before. Yep, what Italian outfit Crysalys brings us on their debut The Awakening of Gaia is a combination of modern American metalcore and streamlined European female-fronted symphonic metal, with a gothic edge and a fair dose of electronic influence. Got your bullshit detectors at the ready, metalheads? But y'know what, it's a combination that could work, if it was executed professionally. And given the repeated references to sirens and someone called Angelica in the lyrics, and the amount of narration to be found here, they seem to be attempting some sort of concept album. It's certainly ambitious, at least by mainstream mall-metal standards. There's only one issue. Crysalys don't make good music.

First up, the main problem with the album, the one that probably constitues a good quarter of the reason I hate it. To put it bluntly, Chiara Malvestiti is the worst female operatic metal vocalist I've ever heard. Say what you will about the rather forced quasi-operatic nature of Sharon den Adel's vocals in early Within Temptation, or Anette Olzon's whitebread tone and limited range, at least they can carry a tune in a bucket. Chiara has a wide range, but absolutely no idea how to use it properly. She spends most of her time wailing atonally in the highest extremes of her vocal range, with an extreme vibrato which sounds like someone shoving Simone Simons' head in a paint shaker, and whenever it happens, it is absolutely awful. Did nobody tell her the meaning of "restraint"? Every song is injected with these swooping vocal lines, which I guess are supposed to prove how much of a "virtuoso" she is. Instead, it's pretty much the musical equivalent of a child shouting "Look at me! LOOK AT ME!" They have nothing to do with whatever actual tune the song might have, and it doesn't just sound bad, it sounds wrong, like she's trying to sing to the music of a completely different song. Whenever she drops into her lower range, she's a little better, if we define "better" as being "obnoxiously bland and occasionally off-key, and still with no idea how to sing a vocal line which actually flows with the music, but not as cheesegrater-to-the-eardrums bad". And as if that wasn't enough, Crysalys fall prey to the disease that has afflicted so many other Italian metal bands - the dreaded thickly-accented narration! It pops up in quite a number of songs, and whenever it does, it always ruins the pace of them. At least Rhapsody's narrative sections are cheesy and over-the-top in a charmingly clueless way. Chiara never sounds interested in delivering the spoken word sections, and it often comes across like she's reading her lines off a piece of paper in a voice that might be described as "overdramatic monotone". It's just plain cringeworthy.

Well, with the awful vocals out of the way, let's discuss the music. As you might expect, the keyboards dominate the music, leaving the guitars without a great deal to do. This would be forgivable, if the keyboards didn't sound like a MIDI from the mid-90's. They're so flat and gratingly synthetic that it's hard on the ear. If the likes of… well, basically every other symphonic metal band can make their synthesized orchestras sound natural and appealing, why can't Crysalys? And it's not even like they're playing decent musical lines that have the life sapped out on them by their overt synthetic nature. Despite being so prominent, the keys never do anything of interest, just a connection of generic soaring strings and horns. There's also a few electronic elements injected into the music, with poppy synths showing up in most tracks but thankfully never completely taking over. The synths aren't terrible, I suppose, but they're also utterly stock, and when they do get a part to themselves, as in parts of "The Awakening of Gaia" and the opening sections of "By Stars Revealed" and "Time for Vultures", they're always playing the stiffest, dorkiest electro lines possible. Wow, way to make the most of your time in the sun, chump.

But for all the keyboard work's faults, at least it takes attention away from the guitars. When I said the guitars didn't have a great deal to do, that was an understatement. The guitarist does nothing interesting, recycling the same collection of blocky stop-start metalcore chugs and disgustingly basic power chord riffing. It's so bland he might as well not be there. There's barely any soloing to be found here, and when it does happen, as in "Scarlet Crusade" and "Lilium", it's a limp backwash of upper-string noodling that does nothing for the songs. There's barely even any melodic leads. Just these soggy hunks of nothingness. And then there's that FUCKING TONE. The guitar tone is one of the worst I've heard on any mainstream metal album, a blurry blast of downtuned nu-metal fuzz. It sounds weak and toothless, but it's been turned up in the mix, spreading its putrid essence into every corner of the music. And the worst part is, it sounds so flat and sour it might as well be out of tune half the time. It sounds like the guitarist realized his guitar was out of tune just before they started recording, and turned the distortion up to try and hide it. Sorry, dude, you're not fooling anybody. As for the rhythm section… what rhythm section? Nothing interesting to be found here. The drummer's probably falling asleep at his (ProTooled to death) kit, pounding out an array of generic mid-to-fast-paced beats on his overly loud and clicky bass drums, splashy cymbals and boxy gated snare. The drum tone is irritating, but what he's playing isn't awful. Apparently, Crysalys also have a bassist, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell. He pops up for parts of "When Sirens Sing" and the intro of "My Will Be Done", plunking away aimlessly on his $200 Squier bass, then gets shoved back in his box.

All of this would merely amount to bad music, not utterly terrible music, if not for one fatal flaw that fucks the whole album over. You see, for all that they're peddling a combination of two commercially potent genres of metal, all polished for mainstream accessibility, Crysalys cannot write a decent hook or a vaguely memorable melody to save their lives. Granted, part of that is to do with Chiara's voice, which takes the vocal lines and completely shreds them into pieces like a dog ripping the stuffing out of its toy, but it's mostly in the songwriting. Instead of sticking to verse-chorus structures, Crysalys attempt something more progressive. Give 'em some credit for that, at least, but take all that credit away once you realize that they don't seem to know what "progressive" means. Here's a hint: it doesn't mean tuneless. Every song is a complete mess with no direction, bouncing between sections of music, none of which will remain in your head when they are done. As soon as I turned this wretched pile of crap off, I honestly could not remember one single vocal melody or riff, except by the level of irritation they induced in me.

Particular lowlights include… no. Not doing that. I could spend three days spouting off sections of music in this album that annoyed me. Every song is the same collection of limp-wristed chugs, sickly orchestration, godawful vocals and haphazard songwriting, from which I can take nothing but individual lumps of irritation. The muddy soup of vaguely industrial guitar chugging and bloopy electronics that is "Scarlet Crusade". The pointless 30-second electronic intro to "By Stars Revealed", which honestly sounds like the Crazy Bus title screen music. The flatulent distorted keyboard intro of "Time for Vultures", which is really no worse than the sludgy nu-metal plod of the track itself or lifeless pinch-harmonic-riddled binary code riffing that constitues the outro. The random and off-beat DONKA-DONKA-DONKA thrash rhythm and shredding that sounds like a swarm of drunken mosquitoes injected into the middle of the droll groove-rock snorer "Lilium", for no reason at all. "The Awakening of Gaia", an obscenely terrible hunk of metalcore which tries to get up some decent speed but gets completely taken over by Chiara's shrieking and a childish tinkling keyboard breakdown. So, why don't we look at what's actually good? Actually, "My Will Be Done" is pretty much the extent of that. You can actually hear the bass for once (for about five seconds, but I'll take what I can get), there's an enjoyably basic upbeat metalcore groove to it, and it contains the only memorable chorus and acceptable solo on the album. It's a shame that the sour string patches, poppy electronic bloops and Chiara's flat, shouty vocals have to take it over, but for a piece of mall-ready pop-metal, it's acceptably mediocre, at least.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not, one of the better moments come when the band doesn't attempt metal. Closing ballad "And Let the Innocence Dream" is pleasant enough, with a few nice acoustic guitar licks and piano segments. Yeah, it's kind of dull, but it's at least listenable, until they feel the need to bring the distorted guitars back in to play some mud-fart riffs in the chorus. And occasionally, they manage to conjure up a few nice pieces of keyboard work, like the piano in the chorus of "When Sirens Sing" or the sweeping strings of "Angelica". Perhaps if these songs were made into some kind of keyboard-driven operatic pop, with a better vocalist, they would be alright. But as supposed metal songs, injected with godawful guitar riffs and drumbeats, they fall flat on their face. But this is only symptomatic of another overriding problem. Crysalys, throughout this album, prove that they know how to write good music, or at least music that isn't terrible. Even the worst songs in here tend to have something in them that might be good, like the brief section of martial tom rolls and string stabs in "By Stars Revealed", or the keyboard solo in "Scarlet Crusade", but they're always surrounded with a ridiculous amount of flatulent guitars, ear-destroying vocals, meaningless orchestration and pure musical bullshit that completely overwhelms them. The whole thing, to be quite honest, smacks of wasted potential.

And it's that wasted potential that hurts The Awakening of Gaia the most, because otherwise, this is just incompetent. It combines all the worst traits of modern mainstream metal, then vacuums out any redeeming qualities. And it isn't like this is just ordinarily terrible, either. It's big, it's cleanly produced, it attempts some epic things with the vague concept and the orchestration and the semi-progressive songwriting and blah, and it falls flat on its ass. This is bullshit on a grand scale. It gets 15 points for "My Will Be Done" and scattered bits of decent keyboarding, and nothing else.