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Great symphony, but it needs more metal - 75%

Pepsiman, November 28th, 2010

Back when I was getting into metal, albums like this one were good for easing in (although I was also in my “1600s period”, playing Imperialism II, reading The Baroque Cycle, studying the 30 Years War, and of course this), and nowadays, they’re good when you want to show someone the genre can be “intellectual” without having to rant about tonality and song structure on "Obscura" by Gorguts.

In fact, this is not a very metallic release – Haggard have kept an orchestral ensemble with them since the mid ’90s, and for a good part of the album, they do most of the work. Even during the more overtly metal parts, the core group plays in a fairly simple matter. The guitars generally play simple tremolo riffs, doing little more than providing harmonic reinforcement, and doesn’t play unaided for very long. Asis Nasseri has a passable growl, but it lacks depth considering how throaty it sounds. To their credit, the drummer does a good job, keeping the drumming fairly varied, although generally resorting to a thrashy style with lots of double bass. Still, it’s up to the orchestra to run the show, and (apparently) steal it, too.

It should be mentioned that this is a concept album about Galileo, his life, his troubles, his emotions, and such. A nice guy, discovered lots of scientific stuff. Shame about the scandal with the pope and the imprizzlement. The album begins with All’inizio e La Morte, with lyrics in German and Latin and the occasional English. The first few minutes or so suggest the experience of listening to an opera. It’s a good beginning, shows off the arrangement and composition abilities of the band. The metal comes in at the middle – it’s played in a simple matter, but it proves that the best moments of this album are when the orchestra and core band are playing together. The music we get is essentially Baroque symphonic death-doom with some gothic overtones... quite the mouthful. The tempo varies a lot, going from very slow, to moderately fast (never balls out, although it might be interesting to see the group do that), but often remains at a middling pace. The orchestra is very, very prominent – usually the band plays with it, although there are sections where either the band or the orchestra plays alone. It also contains a substantial selection of vocals - a choir, a good operatic soprano, a tenor - even Nasseri performs some clean vocals. The band even incorporates the stereotypical “beauty and the beast” aesthetic in the vocals – low, harsher voices accompany the soprano.

The main problem is that we have a serious case of underused potential. Mainly, the metal doesn't stack up to the classical music. It's not incompetence - just listen to the band’s first official release (the “Progressive” EP) – They have no orchestra to cover their asses, so they end up putting up a decent, if amateur performance. But here, while it often complements the orchestra, the metal is mostly very simplistic. The combination is admittedly difficult to pull off - many of the bands that do it (for instance, Therion) end up simplifying their music drastically.

Still, it could be much worse - Haggard only ends up simplifying their metal. Listen to the 2000s work of bands like Subway to Sally and In Extremo – it’s basically just heavy electronic dance music with folk instruments. I mean, those bands are generally good for what they are, but they shouldn’t really be counted as folk metal once they end up on the dance floor. Then again, only a complete maniac would try to dance to Haggard’s “Eppur Si Muove” – this is a listening album through and through. What lends the album its quality is the compositional work – you hear repeated motifs, and the lyrical content is tied together, but each song is strong enough to stand on its own. The compositions themselves are structured well enough to compete with classical music, with fairly traditional forms. Many songs use the sonata allegro form - they introduce their main themes, develop new themes in the middle, then tie them together as the revisit the original theme. Other subtle things contribute to this like the interplay of instruments. During the Baroque era of classical music, counterpoint and polyphony were essential to composition – they’re present here. Possibly the most obvious example of this is the intro of “The Observer” – a violin plays a line, a second violin starts a few notes later, creating a simple round, then a harpsichord comes in and plays another melody at the same, time, and a cello comes in playing yet another melody in it. Then they all play a quick unison, and return briefly to playing counterpoint. Then it starts over, with the metallic elements of the song coming in. And this is just in the first 20 seconds of the song. Welcome to workmanship - this is still a musically dense album that will keep your attention for a while - the orchestra could perform this entire album on their own and it would make a decent opera.

But I sure wish the band would pull their weight better – they probably could, in fact. If only they put that amount of effort into their parts on Eppur Si Muove as they did on the Progressive EP... damn slackers. At least they can do harmonic reinforcement. Not having listened to much of this band's discography, I couldn't tell you how well the band pulled off the fusion on other albums.

Still, if you're into Renaissance/Baroque era classical music, or enjoy other symphonic metal bands, this may very well become one of your favorite albums.