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The fading embers burning out. - 55%

Diamhea, March 25th, 2014

The Enigma of Life is certainly underwhelming, but it isn't necessarily any worse than Nine Destinies and a Downfall, or even The 13th Floor. The one advantage it has over the former is the presence of Ailyn, who is much more tolerable as a front woman than Pedersen was. I still prefer Bordvik over them all, but Ailyn has a safe, smooth voice that fits effectively within the mainstream inclinations being experimented with here.

The biggest problem here is that much of the album is far too vocal-driven, no matter how saccharine Ailyn's delivery becomes. The band really puts themselves at sixes and sevens (yes, I just did that) by constantly dropping out into ethereal nonsense just when Veland gets a good idea cooking. Just like on Nine Destinies and a Downfall, we get a few shoehorned-in heavier riffs alongside a bevy of overblown choirs and buzzing synths. The keyboards are more orchestral and less synthetic sounding this time around, which isn't necessarily a detriment on it's own. The opener "The End of It All" is a good example of the symphonic style being pioneered here. The keyboards risk veering into Nightwish levels of overcooked pomp, but it's a well written and in hindsight, quite deceiving opener. Sirenia has a pretty characteristic style, defined by the use of orchestra hits that coincide with breaks in the riffs. We get some of that here, but for every bruiser (well, by Sirenia standards) of a track we get two or more lachrymose half-ballads like "Fallen Angel" or "Winter Land."

Even with Ailyn as present as she is, Veland could have put her to better use with a return to the dark, risky subject matter present on Sirenia's first two albums. The lyrics this time around are universally pretty faceless and forgettable, and it puts added pressure on Ailyn that she is in no way fit to handle on her own - as impressive as she may be. As stated above, she has a pretty smooth delivery and a wide swath of a range. She enunciates some of the words strangely, but after the meek, childlike warbling of Pedersen, nearly anything would represent an improvement. Veland tosses a few gutturals into the stylistic mixing pot, most evident on "Fading Star," which is easily the best track here after the opener. It features an accretion and release of tension not present on most of the rest of The Enigma of Life, so there are still hints of life under the thick layers of pretense. "Coming Down" has a sweet-as-honey chorus, but sorta drags during the verses.

Other than that, there's not much more to see here. "Darkened Days to Come" is a cool ode to Wishmaster-era Nightwish and features some nice resonant clean singing by Veland. More of this tradeoff aesthetic would have added immensely to the lasting power of the slower material, and from this point of view you can sort of see what Sirenia was going for here. Nothing here is unabashedly offensive, but some of the more mediocre songs like "The Twilight in Your Eyes" really test the listener's patience by failing to commit to any one compositional avenue for any length of time. Sirenia's earlier material was never this busy sounding -despite Veland's eccentricities-, with classics like "Meridian," "On the Wane," and "Lithium and a Lover" all representing a more subdued, melancholic stab at the normally far too upbeat aesthetics normally associated with symphonic acts like Sirenia. The Enigma of Life instead tries to distract the listener with pompous orchestration and constant, in-your-face female vocals that simply drain the entire procession of anything of marked value way before anything interesting occurs.

Going back and listening to albums like An Elixir for Existence after this very nearly results in a case of aural hypothermia; the female vocals were always a supplementary facet and never at the forefront back then. Veland is a very skilled composer, but it doesn't take a veteran of this genre to tell that he is forsaking his earlier masterpieces in an attempt at pleasing the more mainstream crowd. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that on it's own, but there are a number of bands that execute this style way more proficiently than Sirenia. Talk about not playing to your strengths.