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Calm the seas, man - 80%

Liquid_Braino, December 12th, 2012

Calm The Seas involves material in which vocalist Birgit became an important factor in the group's overall sound rather than an occasional background chanter when she joined back in 1999. Thus this is where I tend to hop on board the Mandrake train and take a ride across the gloomy landscapes of their discography. Gracing the cover, the image of Birgit qualifies as an unstable fortune teller who loads up her tarot decks with almost exclusively grim looking cards like The Tower or the poor bastard with a slew of swords in his back. The music on this album also feels somewhat wonky at times, which is when Calm The Seas resonates at its most inspired.

For an album released in 2003, the overarching sound quality harkens back to the less polished era of the mid 90's, bringing to mind the early pioneers of the gothic metal genre rather than the sharp and polished tones that were evolving into the norm when Calm The Seas arrived on the scene. The drums are reasonably clear, but the other instruments tend to retain a miasmic aura, bleeding into each other on many occasions, providing a dreamlike atmosphere while sacrificing a bit of punch. The vocals are also heavily reverbed at times, adding depth to the growls and a ghostliness to the female vocals. Usually not concerning straightforward symphonic metal, but with gothic metal I usually find that a certain level of murkiness does more to enhance the music, providing a bit of mysterious gloom to the proceedings, or something to that effect.

"Soaked Through the Skylight" opens the album, showcasing the band's doom-tinged aura immediately with weighty growls accompanied by falsetto female harmonies during the chorus. It's a bit long and starts to drag a bit, but sells the band enough to keep an interest level as to what else could be in store for the first-time listener. Chord patterns aren't particularly edgy and there's nothing progressive or flashy involved; the focus is strictly on mood rather than skill. Vocally the gutturals could have been delivered with a little more force and the female vocals sound rather amateurish, especially when attempting to hit the high registered notes.

But track three, "The Reason Is Not Far to Seek", arrives and that's when the pants come off. I fucking love this song. I would not change a damn thing. When I first began hearing the term 'goth metal', this was the sort of music I would have associated with the term, not hair metal with an organ solo and some broad wailing operatic shit. It's a pretty simple mid-paced tune, but the sheer layering of guitars, keyboards and that fucking gorgeous chorus conjures up a heavier version of The Cranes' early 1990's era. It's also the first cut dominated almost entirely by Birgit, with a marginally wobbly yet endearing delivery that pierces through the borderline shoegaze wall in an appealing fashion, creating a nice contrast of heaviness and etherealness in a more original definition than the familiar 'Beauty and the Beast' angle dominating much of this album.

As for the remaining tunes, the Birgit focused "Distant Shores" opts for a slower though still heavy counterpart to the aforementioned third song, and while respectable in its own right, doesn't exactly resonate quite as poignantly. I also should not count out those dominated by Lutz' death grunts such as "Blue Hours Decade", which drifts along with a dark yet almost majestic haze while the growls ring with a sense of the foreboding though austere in delivery. "Entwine" is another winner, balancing both sides of the vocal coin without coming across as some cornball musical theater between the two singers. "Delivering Oblivion" even tosses in some well suited guitar melodies to spice up the tune with a feeling of mild complexity while still wallowing within the confines of doom and dreariness.

Although there's no real stinker here whatsoever, there's variances pertaining to the level of enjoyment I get from each number. The use of keyboards adds a strong extra blanket of thick fogginess to the compositions, but the bits with a bouncy, almost techno vibe sometimes feel out of place despite possibly giving those few cuts adorned with it a little individuality. As musicians, they play adequately enough, but can come across as a bit sloppy at times, and Birgit still seemed to be 'in training' at this point, with her vocal maturity still a couple of years away. Regardless, the strong tracks easily outweigh some of the negative facets of this release, and although their debut album isn't complete garbage, Calm The Seas to me is a huge improvement and maybe a better starting point if one wished to discover the band's works in chronological order for whatever reason, then bouncing back to Forever to check out the band's beginnings.