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Far too late now. - 55%

Diamhea, March 8th, 2014

Much fuss has been made over Pedersen's safe and poppy delivery, but is she really the biggest problem here? An Elixir for Existence featured the similarly-meek sounding Henriette Bordvik and still managed to embody a more than passable followup to At Sixes and Sevens. No, the biggest problem here on Nine Destinies and a Downfall is deep-rooted and is centered around uninteresting songwriting and bland arrangements. Pedersen is just an easy scapegoat.

Even at that, it certainly doesn't help that Veland feels the need to craft many of these tunes around Pedersen exclusively, with the rhythm section dropping out entirely far more often than it should. This approach can't help but amplify the one major problem with the female vocals, which is undoubtedly the lyrics. These lyrics are just downright embarrassing. What happened to the despondent atmosphere with the gall to tackle controversial psychological themes like on An Elixir for Existence? Instead we get Pedersen whispering sweet nothings into our ears. Don't believe that Veland would pull out such a tried and true cliché of a phrase? Listen to the abhorrent stab at a pop hit in "My Mind's Eye", which other than a somewhat-soaring chorus, falls flatter and faster than a ton of bricks.

At it's best, Nine Destinies and a Downfall embodies some sort of clinical fusion of the disparate approaches present on Sirenia's first two albums, all glossed over with a not-so-subtle attempt at selling out. Opener "The Last Call" is relatively strong overall, but it disappoints me more than anything, since it picks up quite nicely during the final minute. The keyboards get a decent triumphant subtext going, and the always welcome operatic choirs only serve to add sugar on top of the already divine smattering present. Regardless, only one minute of quality material on the opener (which should always be a barnburner as per this album's mainstream sensibilities) doesn't cut it.

Other than that, it's pretty piecemeal, with individual moments of brilliance surfacing at arbitrary moments through no conscious effort on Sirenia's part, only to be pulled under again when Pedersen takes over. "One by One" revolves around an extremely potent melody, but it overstays it's welcome and sputters out well before it's conclusion. "Sundown" deceives mightily, with it's initial driving riff dropping out yet again during the verses, yielding to more of the same regarding the female vocals. "The Other Side" has an absolutely divine chorus, and if Veland gets it right anywhere here it is most certainly on this song. It's concise, to the point, and recycles the chorus as many times as it can within it's sub-four minute running time. Unabashedly stock by Sirenia standards, but it works. Veland's parched roars make very fleeting appearances, mainly during the passable throwback in "Seven Keys and Nine Doors". I never thought of his vocals as a major highlight on the earlier material, but his absence here is actually quite damaging.

At least Nine Destinies and a Downfall's production isn't off the mark, embodying a balanced synthesis of crunchy riffs, ethereal keyboards, and the dense choirs. Veland's riffs tend to drift a bit too far into the background during the choruses, but the tone has a decent amount of weight to it. His six-string cohort Landa is apparently present on this album as well, but whatever little input he had is hard to discern through the performances. I find myself screaming for more keyboards, as the normally ample electronic undercurrents aren't very present here, only exasperated by the lack of memorable riffs or searing vocal melodies.

Nine Destinies and a Downfall is admittedly something of a mess, but it isn't an all-out disaster. It finds itself causing undue stylistic friction by playing up it's weaker points and disregarding much of the eclectic nature that helped define early Sirenia. Just don't place the blame on Pedersen's shoulders entirely, as Veland has a lot of explaining to do after this one.