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Review: Visions From a Thousand Lives (2012) - 75%

Midwinter Fires, April 28th, 2012

Dead Summer Society is a gothic/doom metal project from Italy. The man behind the music is How like a winter’s guitarist Mist who performs all of the instruments on the debut full length, Visions From a Thousand Lives. The album is a follow up to the instrumental demo Heart of the autumnsphere which was released in 2010. Musically Visions From a Thousand Lives is a gothic/doom album with dark, atmospheric elements. It would appeal to fans of My Dying Bride, Katatonia, Tiamat and Lacrimas Profundere. In the press kit Dead Summer Society’s music is described as “a multiform soundscape permeated with dark atmospheres and experimental sounds. A mutable kaleidoscope, a new kind of colours to paint your vision of life.” I’d have to say that is a pretty accurate statement.

As I mentioned, Mist performs all of the instruments on the album but gets help in the vocal department from a couple of contributing vocalists. The album makes use of several vocal styles including growls, spoken word, whispers and clean singing. The male vocals are performed by Trismegisto (Cult of Vampirysm, Teeth and Thorns). The growls are mid-range and have a harsh, echoey sound to them. They remind me a bit of Vorph from Samael or Anthony Kwan of the Australian gothic/doom band Elegeion. They fit the music very well and I found they had a slightly pained and anguished feel to them. He also does some clean singing and spoken word/whispers which remind me slightly of Lacrimas Profundere. I like the use of the layered vocals which were usually found during the chorus of a song. It added to the overall impact of the emotion and feeling.

The female vocals come in two forms. An eerie spoken word and some nice clean singing each performed by different people. I found both styles to be good but not great. There were times when they sounded great and other times when they sounded forced or slightly out of place. Maybe it’s because they seemed to be a bit louder in the mix than the male vocals. The spoken word had an empty, cavernous feel to them. They border on cheesy and interesting. I didn’t like them at all the first few times I heard them but the more I listened to the album, for whatever reason, the more captivating I found them.

The real strength of the album is the guitar work. Mist utilizes both heavy and clean guitars, sometimes even at the same time. The heavy guitars have a slightly cold, crisp tone to them which offers some decent heaviness. When they’re not playing power chords they sometimes appear as more of a melodic death style playing melodies and harmonies with the lead. They are usually heavy and catchy and I find myself nodding my head to the rhythm more often than not. The clean guitars have a warmer feeling to them. Every note is crystal clear and Mist makes the most of the clean guitars with soft, sorrowful melodies. There are times when the guitars are layered all playing basic melodies that when combined together sound quite nice.

The bass is pretty unnoticeable and almost always follows the rhythm guitars. It has a low end to it so it tends to blend into the mix. The drums are programmed which is too bad. They do lack any kind of human feel to them but they are programmed well and offer variation and interest. There’s nothing worse than hearing programmed drums that just repeat themselves over and over again but Dead Summer Society avoids that problem. Overall they add to the music but in a couple of places they really stand out as being programmed. An example of this is the blast beat found at the end of the third track “Shadow I Bear“. I would love to hear this album with real drums because I think it would have given it that extra edge and would have drastically improved the atmosphere and feeling of the music.

Another real strength of the album is the keyboards and dark ambient elements. The piano/keyboard melodies are very memorable and beautiful. They don’t do anything overly extravagant but it’s the basic nature of them that really makes them work. All of my favourite songs on the album make good use of the piano and keyboards. The other keyboard elements such as halo type sounds help to forge a darker atmosphere. They are used well and compliment the music rather than take it over.

There are many highlights on the album but a few that really stand out for me include “I Met You in Heaven and Hell“, “Down on You“, “The King’s Alone” and “The Way“. “I Met You in Heaven and Hell” has some great layered vocals on the chorus. The simple piano melody to start the song leads well into a heavier mix with spoken word and double kicking. “Down on You” begins with a beautiful piano melody which is sorrowful and enduring. It also does some interesting things with the vocals, mixing male and female vocals together. I also like the deeper growl which isn’t used a lot throughout the album. Mid way through there is a soft, melodious interlude which is quite nice. “The King’s Alone” is song from the pages of My Dying Bride but with a Dead Summer Society twist. It’s the longest song on the album at over 9 minutes but it’s kept interesting with interludes and ambient passages. “The Way” is a little different than the other tracks on the album. It’s basically an atmospheric, electronic/ambient driven song with some spoken word and clean guitars. There’s just something in the sweet melodies which creates a dream-like atmosphere and the clean guitar is a nice touch.

Overall Vision From a Thousand Lives is a pretty creative endeavour. Gothic/doom is a very crowded genre, like most, and there is a very fine line between cheese and quality. Dead Summer Society walks that border but manages to balance everything just well enough. Mist is not afraid to try new and interesting things which really gives Dead Summer Society it’s own sound. It’s refreshing to see with so many bands choosing to play it safe. Every song on the album offers it’s own unique experience and highlights different aspects of the music and atmosphere. It keeps everything interesting and I found myself looking forward to each new song wondering where it was going to take me. Dead Summer Society is an interesting band and I think that if they can incorporate real drums and refine the sound of the female vocals they will go on to do some great things.

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