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Good modern melodic metal album with symphonic/prog ambitions - 65%

lukretion, July 31st, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Independent

Fiber of Our Being, the third full-length release of UK metallers Damnation Angels, is one of those albums that make you question the usefulness of ratings in album reviews. I could have rated this album either 80% or 40%, depending on the way I approach it. On the one hand, it is an excellent album of modern melodic metal that could appeal to fans of bands like Amaranthe, CyHra and similarly inclined pop-metal acts. But, on the other hand, it disappoints if evaluated through the ears of a symphonic/progressive metal fan. Fiber of Our Being is an album that tries to strike a balance between these two worlds, not unlike Kamelot (Damnation Angels' most audible influence) have tried to do in their last couple of releases. To paraphrase the title of Fiber of Our Being's final song, the end result is the sum of its parts: a 65% that is the average between 80% and 40%, plus extra points for bringing in some subtle but refreshing hard-rock/AOR influences in a couple of songs.

The nine songs that form Fiber of Our Being seem to follow a straightforward guiding principle: to deliver the most infectious and catchy choruses as possible. And the good news is that Damnation Angels fully succeed in this. The album is packed with melodic hooks and outstanding choruses, of the kind that it is irresistible not to sing along to and that remain engraved in your head long after you have heard them. This success is in part due to new singer Iggy Rodriguez's vocal delivery, which is impeccable: extremely technical, but also full of subtleties and emotional layers. His range is excellent and his tone can be compared to a slightly grittier, more hard-rock version of Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), with a touch of Dan Tompkins (Tesseract) in the quieter passages. I particularly liked the injection of AOR/hard-rock sensibilities in some of his vocal lines, like on "More Than Human" or "Railrunner", that help keep the band's sound apart from Kamelot, which would otherwise be a too dominant influence.

The structure of the songs, the production, and the music itself, are masterfully crafted to ensure that the climactic choruses achieve maximum effect. Damnation Angels use all tricks of the trade to attain this result: anticipation of the main melody of the chorus in the first few bars of a song. Check. Quieter verses that are dark and understated to create maximal contrast with the bright, uplifting choruses. Check. Simple and sparse arrangements on the verses that then gradually swell to full-volume as we approach the chorus, creating a mighty cathartic effect. Check. Symphonic orchestrations that add dramatic tension to the crucial passages. Check. The album truly feels like a textbook lesson on how to write songs that are impactful and immediately likeable.

Unfortunately, the features that make Fiber of Our Being work extremely well as a pop/melodic metal album, are also those that make it falter as a prog-tinged symphonic metal release. The simplicity and linearity of the arrangements mean that, musically, there isn't an awful lot going on in the songs. The guitars are essentially relegated to a rhythmic role, chugging away in the background with varying degrees of intensity. Sure, there are the occasional solos, but frankly they do not sound particularly inspired or memorable. Same story for the rhythmic session: it comes across as competent but fairly anonymous. The orchestral arrangements are very prominent and dramatic, but quite basic. The impression I get is that, in putting the vocals centre-stage, the band have (consciously or unconsciously) demoted all other instrumentation to a background role, which makes the album not very appealing to those who appreciate layered, rich and complex compositions. The other problem I have with this approach is that the songs end up sounding quite similar to one another. They all have the same structure, dynamics and arrangements, making the album feel rather one-dimensional. There is a slight increase in pace around the middle ("Rewrite the Future", "Fractured Amygdala", "Greed and Extinction"), but it's not enough to inject in the album a much-needed sense of moving-forward. The excessive length of the songs (most exceed the 5-minute mark), combined with their simplicity and repetitiveness, do not help either. That Fiber of Our Being does not work very well as a symphonic/prog metal album is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the album is at its weakest when Damnation Angels try and push on their "progressive" side. The 13-minute long "Remnants of a Dying Star" is supposed to be the "magnum opus" of the album, but it falls flat, sounding repetitive and directionless.

I do not want this criticism to come across as too negative, though, because Damnation Angels are a very talented bunch and Fiber of Our Being is an album that is very easy to instinctively like and enjoy. It is just a little bit hard to make it also work at a deeper, more cerebral level, which is what I would expect from a prog-dabbling, symphonic metal release. In a way, it may just be too difficult to appeal to both fans of modern melodic pop-metal and the symphonic/progressive crowd, and Damnation Angels may be better off by picking one of the two camps and sticking with it. Given their excellent ear for catchy melodic hooks, if Damnation Angels were to cut back on their progressive ambitions and write songs that are shorter and a little bit more diverse from one another, I believe they could truly make a dent in the modern melodic metal landscape, and Fiber of Our Being certainly represents a solid step in this direction!

(Originally written for The Metal Observer)