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Wild, But Not Very Enchanting. - 55%

Perplexed_Sjel, August 14th, 2010

Bands like Astarte and Gallhammer have made the female presence within black metal a more accessible concept to the largely male dominated fan base. Female fronted black metal bands in Italy alone are not unheard of, but they certainly are rare. Melencolia Estatica come to mind when thinking of good female fronted black metal bands from the region, a part of the world normally associated with a rather mediocre scene in general. Melencolia Estatica’s humorously named Climaxia is a solid musician and vocalist. She spearheads the group and, although the band remain relatively obscure, plays a role in making the inclusion of female musicians and vocalists in the genre a more successful story than it has been throughout the 1990’s, the decade which saw the genre take-off in a way that few would have expected. Her performance on bass for Absentia Lunae has also been greeted with much praise.

However, the female performance within the black metal scene is still very much a raw subject. The majority don’t seem to appreciate, or even remotely like the idea, calling a vast number of female influenced black metal bands “flowery” and “overly accessible and stripped down”. It is true that a number of these types of bands, including Streben, use a symphonic base for their music. Although symphonic black metal isn’t a new concept, many female based bands tend to allow the symphonic side to run-away with the entire theme of the album, instead of focusing on the cold, primitive and raw intentions of black metal in its very essence. The majority of mixed gendered bands tend to have annoying vocal duets, too, something which Streben have smartly eradicated from their debut full-length, entitled ‘Wild Enchanted Gardens’, an album which took many months for me to finally track down.

Although this album does feature both clean and hoarsely rasped vocals, it doesn’t feature a central male vocal performance, something which tends to overshadow the female voice. Songs like the self-titled one use both clean and harsh vocals, but all are performed by Cristina Hagalaz, who has almost all of the creative control on this release - aside from Valker’s assistance on guitar. Cristina doesn’t appear to like implementing her timid clean vocals that often and I can understand why. They’re not very striking. She has a rather bland clean voice, though this aspect of the music pales in comparison to how hilarious her “rasps” are. Her voice is puny. It doesn’t carry the emotion of black metal rasps well. It doesn’t add much of a presence to the album at all and considering her performance on bass is muted by the presence of the overwhelming distorted background guitars.

Her only other option is to make a name for herself on keyboards, though this isn’t exactly achieved due to the raw production values, though the album is hardly what you would consider lo-fi in the same way the earliest black metal demos were. The production does hamper the material somewhat though and limit’s the appeal of areas like the guitars. The vocals and drumming sound far too clean, whilst the bass and guitars are shrouded in the darkness of the poor production. This album does feature guest musicians, but neither seemingly have control over the creative assets of the band. Cristina’s performance comes under close scrutiny given the fact that she is the central performing artist on the album, much like Climaxia is for Melencolia Estatica.

Through bands like Absentia Lunae and Melencolia Estatica, I have come to find a certain charm in having a female performance central to a band, but the poor production here doesn’t allow for much charm to be visible through the music. The guitars, for example, are very rough. They’re highly distorted and are shunted into the background of the layers on the album, with the drums and vocals taking precedence and the keyboards playing a small part in trying to tame the harshness of the release, but to no avail. The keyboards shouldn’t be considered central to the music because they’re very sly in their intermingling with the other elements. At times they can dominate, but it’s never for long periods at a time, as shown on songs like ‘Delyrium Lies At the Core of Wisdom’ during the introduction.

Overall, the production is a hindrance to the progression of this symphonic tinged album. The guitars and bass are given less important roles by the dense production and the song writing isn’t strong enough to make the riffs feel worthwhile, though the occasional acoustic touches are worked well into the songs, as shown on ‘Delyrium Lies At the Core of Wisdom’. The clean vocals are too sparse to feel worthy of inclusion and the harsh, almost whispered rasps of Cristina are average at best. The domineering vocal work, though only domineering because the production pushes the distorted guitars into the background, and the lack of real class makes this album a dull listen, despite a few attempts at sparking the listeners interest through belatedly used acoustics alongside subtly moving symphonies. No real emotion behind the music and a real cluttering of the soundscapes make this album devoid of any real merit. The quirkiness of a female fronted element doesn't save this effort from mediocrity, I'm afraid. Swiftly moving on is the best option.