For one reason or another (or perhaps for no reason at all), I have missed out completely on music for a while. No good. Until this weekend I hadn’t heard Nightwish’ new “The Crow, the Owl and the Dove” single with the previously unreleased “The Heart Asks Pleasure First” b-track (cover of the theme song of the awesome film “The Piano”), and I have yet to hear the new albums of both Epica, Eluveitie and Amberian Dawn. I suck, I know.
After going through Nightwish (which wasn’t a big surprise since I had heard a crappy live version recording before, but it’s nice to have it in good quality along with the lyrics and an instrumental version), I come to Amberian Dawn.
Last time AD released an album, “End of Eden” in 2010, I was a huge fan after “River of Tuoni” (2008) and “The Clouds of Northland Thunder” (2009), and the result was me waiting like crazy for the release date, going through the forums day and night, staying home from school and waiting for the CD to land in the mail. The CD was awesome, and I wrote an extensive review of it immediately.
When the new “Circus Black” comes, all is different. I know it’s been out for ages, yet I somehow haven’t bothered. I want to set aside time for it, I want to listen it through carefully and then go all fanboy-y on the internetz for a few days. I simply haven’t had the time.
Now is the time.
Here comes the mega awesome super cool extra turbulent Aki review of “Circus Black”, written as I listen, with my very first impressions. Hell, I have yet to start it now, and I’m shaking… and it’s not just the coffee in front of me. Let’s go.
[Edit: I listen to a download version, as I can't wait for my CD to arrive (in a couple days!). I therefore managed to screw up and missed "Cold Kiss" and "Guardian" at first, realising the mistake after reviewing "Letter". That's why I complain about no song being over five minutes at one point. The "Cold Kiss" review was thus done out of order and added afterwards.]
1. Circus Black (03:48)
I dislike starting with title tracks. It feels weird. The title track should be an intro of sort – not necessarily a short atmospheric intro, but some sort of kickstarter. Not the main song, as the title track tends to be. Oh well, let’s judge the music and not the title.
Starts with a creepy but cool sound, fits with the circus theme. The metal drums kicks in alongside the background sounds. Heidi sounds great as always, dulls the track down a tad. To nitpick, the chorus sounds like it comes to early, I wanted a longer pre-chorus section. Good vocal lines though, and still great background instruments. Good unexpected drum line before the second chorus. I don’t really listen to the lyrics first time around, but I’m sure there’s some awesome story somewhere.
Unusually interesting bridge section for AD, with good guitar lines and a quick yet suiting solo. Slows down in a good way, this is probably great live. Again, I think the chorus returns too early.
2. Cold Kiss (03:30)
Cool beginning! Melodic yet fast, classic AD. Nice whisper effects, but I’m a sucker for even the simplest background stuff. Timo Kotipelto’s guest vocals work great, I was worried if they would feel strange against Heidi’s but they sound excellent without taking over too much or feeling out of place. Nice riffing and cool keyboard solo. Overall a nice song, the riffing was indeed cool, and it feels like one that will grow on me.
3. Crimson Flower (04:24)
It looks weird to have three titles beginning with C in a row. Oh well. [written after realising the existence of "Cold Kiss": hey, four C's!]
Good start, doesn’t really sound like AD but it’s good to vary. The vocal lines come in beautifully. Hard not to head bang, great mixture of exciting heavy metal and simply beautiful vocals. Unusually slow a tempo, but that’s what I’ve been looking for in AD for a while.
Wow, interesting turn after the chorus, slowing down completely. Great fairy tale-like theme in the music. The choirs complement Heidi’s vocals elegantly. I like how the tracks so far have had fairly lengty bridge sections, and with a cool solo in this one. That’s something I’ve hoped for in a while. The songs seem overall longer too, at over four allover, lenghtier than the previous ones (though I’m sad to see no five or six minutes tracks like on “End of Eden”).
4. Charnel’s Ball (04:27)
Another slow intro? Hm, alright. Exciting start with cool tempo and good guitar-bass-drum-combo. Feels a tad weird with another mid-to-slow-tempo after “Crimson Flower”, but it might still turn. Oh, the intro turns into chorus (or chorus-like section)? Cool, it worked better than I’d imagine. The bass lines in the second verse are unusually imaginative and cool without disturbing Heidi’s vocal lines, I’d like to see more of that in the future.
The guitars and bass really kick in for the second chorus, it works truly epically. Again, this is probably really cool live. Cool drum solo line before the third chorus.
5. Fight (03:20)
I’m constantly paranoid about song titles and how they work in an album listing, which I know almost no-one else cares about, but still: I am truly disturbed by ideas such as having the three first track share the same progenital letter (C), and having two one-word tracks in the middle (“Fight” and “Letter”) and two much longer titles close to the end (“I Share With You This Dream” and “Rivalry Between Good and Evil”). I know no-one else cares, but IT FREAKS ME OUT. Please send this on to Who Gives a Shit Inc., Penny Lane 156, Switzerland.
Judging by the intro, the title and the length this seems to be one of the speedier ones. Yep, confirmed. “River of Tuoni” flashback! This would probably have fit better right at the start, not as a wake up call after “Charnel’s Ball”. I need either a cool atmospheric intro (read “Of Silence…” by Sonata Arctica) or a kick-in-the-butt super power track to start an album.
Surprisingly kick-ass guitar solo, much heavier and much more… metallic than I’m used to see from AD. Might not work on every song, but this sort of thing should come around more often. “Fight” certainly is a good title. I find myself drumming the keyboard with my fingers towards the end, awesome stuff. More of this live!
6. Letter (04:31)
Is this the quick-start section of the album, with both “Fight” and “Letter” starting with bass drums after the other three were much slower? Weird.
Interesting vocal section, and good pre-chorus section. Good tempo, I immediately start kicking with my feet. Good mix of slow and quick music, works organically as well as keeping it interesting and unexpected.
7. I Share With You This Dream (03:36)
Starts with a nice guitar melody and fitting riffing in the background, a tad sudden in my taste but at least it’s radio friendly. I have forgotten who’s doing guest vocals, but it feels like it works fine. I just hope Heidi comes in more than just the background. Nice chorus, but a little expected and too little heavy for my taste. Speaking of which, there has yet to come a real ballad. Is it “Guardian” or “Lily of the Moon”? I guess the latter.
In the second chorus I find myself drifting. It’s not bad, but it’s getting a little boring, nothing new comes. An okay solo, but nothing special or unexpected. Maybe it will grow on me in the future. A third solo comes, identical to the other two, only with a slight difference in drum pattern. What? It ends? This didn’t really work for me, at least not on first listen.
8. Rivalry Between Good and Evil (04:00)
A little too revealing a title, don’t you think?
Starts out like a fun and melodic instrumental (as it is). AD are skilled musicians who work well without vocals as well as with, and it’s nice to have a track per album to let them show it without restraints. At 1:20 I start hoping for a tempo shift or a turn of melody, and shortly after the song quickens. The circus theme seems to show again, or mayhap it’s just my imagination running wild without lyrics. At 2:20 I start to think the melody is getting a little overused, and shortly after it changes. They seem to know exactly what I want on this one, except that it might linger a little too long on certain sections (prior to the 2:40 mark or so). I hope this goes excellently into “Guardian”, it sounds like it might. Oops, it didn’t really, but great finale!
9. Guardian (05:08)
I always look forward to the longer tracks, not because they _have_ to be better than the rest, but because they often are. They often leave a little more time to get the music across than the shorter tracks. In AD’s history, a lot of the shorter tracks feel somewhat incomplete and rushed, where I would have preferred more time devoted to intros, pre-chorus sections and bridge sections. Their longer (4-6 minutes) tracks are usually more interesting than the shorter (2-3 minutes).
Sounds like I was wrong about “Lily of the Moon” being the ballad, this one seems to be it. Then again AD has a tradition of making their ballads longer than the standard songs. Heidi’s voice surprises me, it’s almost been a tad dull on the rest of the album but this felt unique. Maybe just because it’s almost alone? The dual-voice in the end of verse one seemed a little too much, but the double choirs shortly after worked nicely.
The chorus is epic without losing tranquility to speed. Slowing down a little too much? Feels a little too much like “Willow of Tears” in that sense. Nice slowing down to another choir section though, it feels natural before the guitar melody and the second chorus. Nice drum section at around 03:40 before the fitting guitar solo. The heavy riffing is nice and unique to an AD ballad, as is the general heavyness of the song.
10. Lily of the Moon (04:06)
Ah, sudden! But nice. Cool to have another quick one, they have been slightly abscent as compared to other albums (especially the first two). I overall enjoy more AD songs being mid-tempo on “End of Eden” and “Circus Black”, but it’s nice to keep with the classic speed too. Cool chorus, background riffing seems to be a theme on this album.
The chorus and the overall speed and melody suits excellently for a closing song in a way no previous AD finish has. I can only imagine it would work greatly as a finale live too. I find myself drumming on the table of excitement, this just might be a new favourite. Awesome!
Though an incredible jump from their 2008 debut River of Tuoni, The Clouds of Northland Thunder is still somewhat lost in the early days of the symphonic power metal act that is Amberian Dawn.
Amberian Dawn makes good, unique power metal with symphonic influences in a genre that nowadays is all too dominated by Nightwish wannabees making it difficult to find the actual good bands, and for that reason alone AD has somehow been lost in the maelström. And on first listen, the keyboard-dominated melodic tunes with soaring soprano vocals by Heidi Parviainen may sound like just another copy, but on further listens one realises the work that has been placed into every note, with exceptional work done by all members. What differentates this band from the rest is the technicality of the instruments (especially guitar and keyboard) that follow the progressive, neo-classical elements made famous by acts such as Yngwie Malmsteen in the 1980′s, and the relentless speed of most songs, with the only exceptions of “Willow of Tears” and “Birth of the Harp“, the two ballads on the album.
But in spite of the technicality of the musicians, the beautiful vocals and lyrics by Parviainen, the band falls into the same problem as they did on “River of Tuoni”. The songs all too often end up in the exact same, traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus pattern of 3-4 minutes, making the music overall sadly predictable. And with the exception of “Incubus“, the band proves for the first time that they can make tempo-differing, epic tracks above the five-minute mark. And with exceptional, prolonged instrumental sections on before-mentioned track and others such as “Lost Soul” and “Saga“, they prove they could easily pull off pure marathons of neo-classical wonder. Somehow, though, it gets lost in the hope of making a well-played radio hit (I will not claim they don’t succeed – songs like “He Sleeps in a Grove“, “Kokko – Eagle of Fire” and “Shallow Waters” are scarily catchy, fast and heavy).
This review was first published on the official Amberian Dawn forum on October 21, 2010.
So I just downloaded the new Amberian Dawn album End of Eden (yes, I have preordered it, but it hasn’t come yet so I hope the band won’t mind me not waiting any longer), and I’m about to get my very first listen… And so I got the idea to record my primary listen experience in this thread, updating it as the album goes along. I’m currently just about to get a cup of coffee before finally pressing the play button on Talisman… so, wish me luck, and please comment!
Remember that this is my first listen, so don’t blame me all that much if I have the “wrong” opinion all from the start. Some of the best albums out there (Kamelot’s “Poetry For the Poisoned”, Epica’s “Design Your Universe”, My Dying Bride’s “34.788 %… Complete”, Tiamat’s “Wildhoney”) are growers I didn’t like one bit on first listen.
Observe that I really don’t pay any attention to the lyrics on first listen, but I focus on the music (not to mention that they’re hard to distinguish in Heidi’s operatic vocals, and I don’t have them before me).
1. Talisman (3:41)
Kicks off with an awesome intro – not really blast-off at all as on previous albums but slow and ghostly keyboards. It then moves into a nice verse and a chorus I really didn’t feel much from on first listen, but it grows on me on the second chorus. This track has some awesome guitar-keyboard play, especially the solo/instrumental before the last chorus, and it has an awesome neo-classical feel to it, as do the keyboard orchestrations in the chorus and the end of the track.
2. Come Now Follow (3:47)
An intro with piano-guitar work reminding me of Nightwish’ “Gethsemane” (from 1998′s Oceanborn) with atmospheric vocals by Heidi. Moves into a really cool chorus that reminds a little of “He Sleeps in a Grove” (in a good way). I’m a little disappointed with the solo leading directly into third chorus with no real bridge, as well as the outro not being longer – it builds up to an awesome riff there.
3. Arctica (4:59)
Ofcourse I’ve heard this track a million times before, seeing as it was released almost two months prior to the album, as its lead single. It has some awesome instrumental sections and Heidi sounds wonderful in the chorus. A great track with a wonderfully arctic feel – and I suppose that’s what they’re going for.
One third in…
Seeing as there’s little to comment on Arctica I’m taking a little break to talk on my thoughts so far. I’m actually a little disappointed to see that both Talisman and Come Now Follow are real “hits” with nothing extremely interesting to bring. Sure, every album needs a few pure rock songs, but I still feel too many AD tracks miss that little extra spark, that awesome solo or wonderful bridge – instead, most solos are pretty “ordinary” and most tracks have no bridge whatsoever. Arctica do have a wonderful instrumental section before the last chorus though, and so almost makes up for the lack of this in the previous two tracks. Those I look the most forward to next are Ghostly Echoes, Virvatulen Laulu.
4. Ghostly Echoes (5:43)
This song has a really awesome 40-second intro of partly those ghostly echoes promised, and partly some extraordinary heavy metal riffing. Moves into a nice verse moving into an epic chorus, very much relying on background keyboard moves and some up front guitar riffing. Reminds me of Incubus in its strange atmosphere. This would have made for a great music video, I feel two minutes in out of almost six…
This was one of the songs I was really looking forward to, partly for its length (I’m a sucker for epics) and partly for its title. Three minutes in I’m already satisfied, and now it’s moving into a cool post-chorus instrumental, followed by a ripping guitar solo followed by some face-melting keyboard battling and background choral movements (ghostly echoes!) – this… is… awesomeness. A vocal movement follows leading up to the final chorus. This track is somewhat gothy, with its slow, heavy guitars and its background keyboards and choirs, and what sounds like church organ by the end. In short, an awesome track.
5. Sampo (3:12)
Kicks off with a nice but not extraordinary intro, and leads into a pleasant vocal-lead chorus – probably the perfect semi-joyful, melodic track after a heavier one like Ghostly Echoes. I notice the use of background choir in both this one and Ghostly Echoes and realise I really enjoy it. …at 2:02 I stand in shock before the awesome instrumental – my complaint on lack of bridges, forget about it! This is great, and that for a song that’s just a little beyond three minutes in length… wow! Nice idea with such a sudden and great instrumental. I’m using “great” a little too much, huh?
7. Field of Serpents (3:39)
There’s something awesome about this album and its varying atmospheres. This one starts out like the big escape theme in a Hollywood thriller, and goes on through a stressful verse into a scream-out chorus, with varying crazy keyboard and ripping guitar riffs. I can’t imagine anything but running through a Field of Serpents in this awesome chorus. The bass-drums increase works perfectly and brings on just the right feel.
Moving into a nice instrumental section (proved wrong again, what is this?! ) I realise this is one of the tracks with keyboard battle. Awesome!
Two thirds in…
As the last keyboard notes of Field of Serpents echo out I take another break for commenting on my thoughts so far. In the last one I were complaining about the lack of surprise and the lack of bridges, that the two new tracks so far had been nice “hits” but weren’t really that original. That definititely changed now, with the awesome epic Ghostly Echoes and the speedy-as-hell-what-is-going-on Field of Serpents, as well as the next “hit” Sampo which turned out to have quite a wonderful instrumental bridge.
The next three tracks all seem very exciting. City of Destruction (I recalled it to be “corruption”, I have to do a quick Google search) has a very interesting name indeed, and I recall it to be the second one with a feature from Jens Johansson? Virvatulen Laulu is the classical piece with an opera singer, and seeing as I am a sucker for both classical music and opera it doesn’t take that many geniuses to calculate that I probably will love it (not to mention that mr Seppälä has only done great classical compositions so far). War in Heaven is 7:24 and I guess it is in this one we’ll see a reappearance by our dear friend James Goodman, that’s appeared on both previous albums as well. Put that together with its wonderful title and well, I think I’m sold before it begins. edit: After a Google search I realise that the title was indeed “City of Corruption”, not Destruction. Damned be that torrent file.
8. City of Corruption (4:19)
Starts off real epic and moves into an even more epic neo-classical movement before the vocals start after a minute. The vocal lines are really beautifully done, and already the verse is stuck in my mind. The chorus is purely enchanting as well, even though I had assumed this song to be a “rocker” judging by its title. Amberian Dawn is definitely moving into a more neo-classical direction as previously hinted on tracks likeIncubus, and I definitely enjoy this.
The song moves into a keyboard battle that rocks my brains out – as I had recalled, this was the one. The guitar riff featured in the intro as well is really wonderful as well.
9. Virvatulen Laulu (3:45)
I immediately notice that while this song starts out really nice, it definitely doesn’t suite well straight after City of Corruption. That aside, it’s really pleasant, with nice voices by both Nieminen and Heidi, and some extraordinary orchestration in the background. A style that immediately reminds me of the old classics. Moves into a wonderful piano-keyboard outro. Tuomas is really doing a lot of work in this one! A track I won’t really think is coming live, but it would be awesome if it did. Though this one didn’t strike me to be that amazing first run, it wouldn’t surprise me to be a grower.
10. War in Heaven (7:24)
Pure epic right from the start, with nice choir and guitar-drum-bass work, and background keyboard notes. Heidi’s voice sounds wonderfully tormented (am I sadistic? yes I am) and moves into a beautiful chorus (?) with a wonderful rhythm I really need them to play live.
[2:16] Moving into a doomish guitar section with James Goodman’s beautiful screaming voice and some chaotic background keyboards… wow that’s hot. They should do more of this. [2:46] Back to Heidi’s calm, tormented verse. Slow drums and calm keyboards… moving into a chorus section again. “God and his angel…”! Wonderful. Back to Goodman and the doom, moving into even cooler choral works and then slowing it down with some harpsichord moving into a scarily great keyboard-heavy instrumental leading into a guitar solo. [6:22] Goodman returns his part and repeats it with increasing drum action speeding up the tempo… background orchestration and keyboard sections returns and it all echoes out with a hauntingly epic harpsichord and church organ finishing it off… a perfect ending to this amazing album.
edit: I realised just now that 6. Blackbird wasn’t included among the files I downloaded… I fixed another download though, and I have to hurry now but I’ll comment on it later.
Finnish symphonic power metal act Amberian Dawn has now officially announced their third album “End of Eden” to be released this October. It is to be heavier than their previous albums “River of Tuoni” (2008) and “The Clouds of Northland Thunder” (2009).