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Cheesy melodic trip to the cemetary - 75%

greysnow, March 10th, 2008

I was so divided about this album, I decided to split myself into two reviewing personae, the fanboy and the jaded musicologist. Since you can only enjoy this album to the fullest if you're prepared to delve deep into your inner child, the fanboy review is longer. The final score is the numerical average of both opinions. Humor me.

Li’l Snowy sez: I don’t believe this! This is 80s’ metal made in 2007! And it’s damn good, funny (for a given value of funny), and catchy like Sylvester. These guys and gals are not ashamed of upfront keyboards, big soaring minor-key bombastic choruses and shredding guitar solos. While this might seem like a recipe for disaster if done badly (because when you attempt real songs as opposed to multi-part suites, the songwriting has to hold up), it is done very well.

The closest thing I can compare this to is Yngwie Malmsteen minus the self-indulgent wankery and plus a good singer with a memorable, deep and sexy (for a given value of sexy) voice. The power is all in the choruses (and what choruses they are! Oh my!) and in the guitar solos. Sometimes the rest of the song, the build-up to the chorus, i.e. the verses and riffs, are a tiny little bittle subpar and could have done with some more ideas and virtuosity (the riffs sound a bit blocklike and klutzy in parts), but generally those parts are short in comparison to the total time of choruses and soloing which is where the real goodies lie. (Did I say before that I like the choruses and the solos? I believe I did. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to repeat what this band is really great at: the solos and the choruses.) Oh, and they have a good keyboardist, too. The other musicians provide solid background noise, no more and no less.

Let me elaborate some more on the elements that make this music stand out: the keys, the voice and the lead guitar, and last but not least, the songs.

The keyboardist, formerly a member of Lordi, plays very, very tasteful stuff. The keys are there, upfront, in your face when they’re supposed to, and at other times they keep in the background, support the chorus melodies well and help to make them a bombastic pattern of sound (the background singing in the choruses helps as well). During some verses and bridges, now and then, they even sound ethereal, which fits the music well – while this is pop metal, it is Scandinavian, melancholic, darkish pop metal, and so all vocal melodies are as a matter of course minor-key.

Which brings me seamlessly (well, seamlessly until I mentioned it and then completely fucked it up with this here parenthesis, AHAHAAAHH!!) to the singer: seldom have I heard somebody with an evidently not over-trained voice bring so much punch and power to a tune. Ms. Maya’s voice is unusually deep for a woman’s, sometimes even dropping to lower tenor range if I’m not mistaken, and has a dark, part-scratchy, part-glossy and somewhat jaded timbre, not unlike that of a jazz singer. Unlike that of other Finnish singers I’ve heard (I’m looking at you, Tony Kakko), her English pronunciation is nearly devoid of foreign accent, and I must say she enjoys her words: listen to how she revels in her esses in “Six Feet Under The Ground” and still more in “Nosferatu”: “...in his vampire’s box[ssss]”. And in the choruses, she really starts to shine, cranking up the power and singing her dark little heart out with a dramatic, over the top delivery which is at the same time ideally suited to this kind of music and tinted, I suspect, with a smidgen of irony (which might be why it’s so well suited to the music: after all, these guys of course don’t take their lyrical emphasis on all things lethal and undead anything like near half-seriously).

The lead guitarist, now, plays as tastefully as the keyboardist. He really only sticks out in the solos, but those are frequent and very well done, not too short but also lacking any sort of over-indulgent bid to impress listeners with sheer virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake. And this chap is a virtuoso and could probably play endless guitar duels with the likes of Malmsteen, but the beauty of it is that he doesn’t. Instead he always keeps his playing within the limits of the tasteful and never uses a song as a mere unimportant vehicle for showing off. His solo melodies are well-crafted and fit well harmonically, he shows flashes of blinding speed but not too often, he even cracks a great joke, making his guitar sound like a hysterically screaming woman in the solo of “Face Your Death”. There’s nothing left to be desired here.

But what use are good musicians if the songs they play are shitty? These songs, though, aren’t. Not by a wide margin. Au contraire. Apart from the riffing under the verses which could be a bit livelier at times, the songs have everything that songs in this genre should have, and that is first and foremost a big chorus that works well. And Deathlike Silence are superlatively successful at that. They’re overachievers in the chorus department. Come to think of it, to concentrate on the choruses so much is a win-all-or-lose-all proposition and therefore quite daring in a day and age when practically every melody there is must have been used in a chorus before. But they pull it off. The particular melody of this and that chorus may have been heard before, but, I venture to say, has probably never been performed with so much gusto, tongue-in-cheek drama, and unabashed passion for bombast. That said, I don’t want to diss the melodies: They are, as a rule, beautiful. Not very unconventional, I agree, but soaring, melancholic and highly sentimental. I love stuff like that. It’s so 80s, and I love 80s’ music. And even the choruses, though over the top, are tastefully done: if a chorus is lengthy (and most of them are) it is not repeated ’til puke point until fade-out (there are no fade-outs on this album, which is another plus), but only played two or three times during the length of the song so you have the opportunity to appreciate it once more but never get sick of it. Oh, and did I mention they were catchy? They’re gonna stick in your head till kingdom come. You’ll be humming them at work (I have). You’ll still be humming them during a nuclear attack. Okay, maybe not.

Of the songs now, only “One Thousand Deaths” is a bit of a letdown, but not enough so that I would have had reason to color the song title red in the track listing. The bridge is almost the same as the chorus, the chorus is nothing special, and the whole comes across as a bit uninspired. There is some more filler, I admit, in “Nosferatu”; and “Before The Dawn” has a beautiful chorus (what else?) but I don’t like the verses too much. All of the rest is just great. There’s a funky guitar riff in “You Cannot Kill The Boogyman” (shouldn’t that be “Boogeyman”?) which is a nice change from the heavy, blocky riffs heard in most of the other songs. There are two half-ballads, “Bite Me” and “Next To Your Grave”, both to do with love affairs with vampires (I thought Cradle of Filth held exclusive rights to that material?) where Ms. Maya’s voice becomes catlike and scratchy in an attempt to sound sexy (she does ok). The real killers, though, are the first four songs which right now I can play almost continuously over and over, they’re that catchy. “House On Haunted Hill” is a mid-tempo, quasi-“epic” number, and I would perhaps have chosen another opener, but the chorus is one of the most beautiful on this album, and maybe that was the reason. “Six Feet Under The Ground” has become the band’s signature tune and is/was available on Youtube, and it is the song with the biggest hit potential, flawless from beginning to end, with a beautiful guitar intro, great shredding, acceptable lyrics for a change (normally and unfortunately, DS don’t shine a lot in that department) and oh so big and great a chorus. “Let The Sleeping Corpses Lie” has lyrics as bad as the song title, but never mind – it’s got an absolutely beaut guitar melody starting off the song and the best chorus in all the album. “Face Your Death”, finally, is the only really up-tempo song on this disc, which perhaps they should’ve done more often. Here the verse and the chorus melodies shine, the keyboard is great, the guitar is great, the background choir is great, Ms. Maya is great anyway, and on top of it all this thing simply rocks.

So my quibbles with this album are very, very minor indeed. It’s not perfect – some more variety in the riffing and in the tempos would have helped, some of the lyrics could have been less shallow – but it is simply great, entertaining, campy, easy-listening, catchy, catchy and thrice catchy, unpretentious and fun stuff. And it’s their debut. I fear to think what they’ll do next. Will they make the coveted full 100 points? It seems possible. For now, it’s a whopping 95.

Mr. Grey says: In a general perspective, though, stuff like this can’t rate terribly high; it is formulaic, commercial and simple music, and I can’t give it more than 55 points. And it gets a rating slightly above average only because the music is adequately executed, the lead guitarist is actually good and the singer is acceptable, though far too dramatic and kitschy for my taste. The rhythm section, including the rhythm guitarist, is lazy, hamfisted and uninspired, and the only songs that can half-claim to be any good are the ones where the riffing livens up. The lyrics are inane and will make you cringe more than once, and I fail to see the tongue-in-cheekness that this band is supposed to have; “grave digger metal”, my ass. I surmise that many a slightly deranged twelve year old, including my Li’l Colleague who is twelve in his head, will enjoy this to death; personally, I only put this on when I’m looking for a respite from listening to too much Green Carnation in one go. Don't buy if you have an aversion to kitsch.