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Why does this leave me disappointed? - 75%

Susitaival, August 7th, 2007

Fall of the Leafe takes elements from melodic metal, progressive rock, even pop music and weaves out a package, which is quite hard to describe. In their first album this group hailing from western Finland toyed with some black metal influences but has since moved closer to mainstream metal. There are guitar melodies and passages clearly inspired by Amorphis, yet the structure and themes of the tracks are totally different than their great predecessor’s. Fall of the Leafe’s 2005 album “Vantage” was that year’s greatest surprise for me, much heavier than preceding ones and full of small musical hooks. The band has remained in marginal fame, perhaps just because their music combines so diverse elements and doesn’t fall neatly into any well-defined genre.

Songs on the new album contain multiple parts and many different layers with complex guitar patterns and usually many changes in rhythm. Music can transfer from metal part into a slow, melodic passage before transforming again into something else. Check out “Graceful Retreat”, having some fast yet fluent transitions between passages. Some of the tracks totally lack chorus, a feature that can be sometimes confusing if you’re used to straight-forward rock music, but which for me is an essential part of Fall of the Leafe’s charm. In some of the songs a multitude of different tracks feels like crushing the poor listener, then a guitar solo or melody intervenes at the right moment and saves it all (“Lithe”).

Despite what I said in previous passage, song structures are more coherent than in some earlier albums, specially “Fermina” and “Volvere”, where the ideas sometimes seemed to disappear under winding melodies and guitarists presenting their skills. All the trademarks of Fall of the Leafe are present here, though. Typical song by the band goes something like this: peaceful intro, then low-tuned rhythm guitar comes in with powerful riffing, higher-pitched guitar picks a melody over this and vocals top it all. A good example is “Especially by Stealth”, where every feature is present right from the beginning. What comes to the album as whole compared to “Vantage” which had several excellent songs the rest being nearly as good, “Aerolithe” really doesn’t have any jaw-dropping moments. There are fine passages and verses on many songs, but the album en bloc leaves a somewhat bland after-taste.

Guitar sound is more metal than in previous albums, and the mixing puts guitars clearly in front. Keyboards are here in secondary role, as befits a metal-band. Otherwise I can’t really find anything to criticise about the production, if the bit muffled keyboards do not count. Sound is clear as a mountain brook with separate instruments standing out well. Musicianship is top-notch. Jussi Hänninen and Kaj Gustafsson are probably two most undervalued guitarists in Finnish metal scene. Drummer Matias Aaltonen makes a reliable performance giving a good support for rest of the band.

Vocalist Tuomas Tuominen continues the same style he adopted in “Vantage”. His vocal performance is again very recognisable; clean, edgy vocals occasionally rising to high roar, at times faltering near breakdown and then almost miraculously pulling through again. Most of the time Tuomas’ vocals are almost flawless, but in some songs he tries too hard, resulting in not entirely convincing and sometimes even embarrassing parts. Listen to “At a Breath’s Pace” and “Look into Me” to hear what I mean. In “Vantage” Tuomas’ phrasing made it hard to distinguish the lyrics, now I can most of the time even make out what he’s singing about.

Lyrics in previous albums have been written by an American called Jessica Cerrato. In “Aerolithe” all but one are by Tuomas himself. Texts are quite unique for a metal band: they are like modern poetry, only part of which is actually sung. And to add complexity, some of the lyrics are not even written down in the album leaflet. Bearing this in mind, it is imperative to listen carefully if the listener wants to know what the heck is really going on.

So, despite all the aforementioned good things, why do I still feel that something is lacking? Maybe it’s because there are no highlights and all the tracks sound too much like each other. Album lasts 41 minutes, during which time you feel basically satisfied with what you hear, but what raises no feelings. For me, that’s the yardstick of excellent musical piece, and “Aerolithe” fails that test. Maybe after a few months and more spins I would give this album about 90 percent score; now I only feel that Fall of the Leafe’s latest is a step backward from “Vantage”.