Gardenian – Soulburner – 4/5
A melodeath band I stumbled upon, and ended up ordering a CD intrigued as to how melodic death metal would sound with female vocals. If id been more thorough with my research however, I’d have seen that she only really presents herself in one track. Furthermore, the lead guitarist would go on to form Engel, both would have been points to give me cause for concern, but I’m glad I did. What I found myself with is a rare gem of a melodeath band that is capable of straddling to either side of their genre, and produces an album with a unique and diverse tone.
The main reason for this is without a question in my mind down to the vocals. Whilst only one member was part of the permanent line-up, there were another two guest vocalists, a woman id previously unheard of, and Eric Hawk of Artch fame. Whilst the former has a small role, providing backing in one track, Eric Hawk plays a very prominent role, working either alone or in tandem with the lead vocalist. The inclusion of clean vocals in melodeath is by no means unheard of today, but in 1999 when this was released it was somewhat unusual. It is these vocals, similar in tone to a deeper version of Bruce Dickinson that creates an odd power metal feel, working in tandem with the growls which lend more of an Amon Amarth feel to it, or a highly melodic swedeath.
The guitars surprisingly do incredibly well at maintaining aggressive riffs that work with both sets of vocals. They never reach a high level of aggression, but manage to be both melodic and aggressive simultaneously, combining the best of the At the Gates clones and the Children of Bodom clones for one in the middle. Furthermore, there are plenty of upbeat solo’s, slower melodic passages and even an incredibly well done acoustic intro. Whilst the drumming does little of note, they work well at keeping the structure and providing the framework as they so often do. They’re at times perhaps a little quiet, but largely do little but enhance the sound created.
The album opens with “As a true King” which is at least in my mind, the worst track on the album, It reeks of generic and mediocre Gothenburg melodeath, and whilst isn’t bad, is the sort of thing you could quickly see yourself falling asleep to. The second track, “power tool” features the female vocals, and whilst she does well, it still largely feels generic, as though they were tacked on as an afterthought. In fact, I’d recommend skipping both these tracks right off the bat, and heading straight for track three, featuring a strong riff, and a perfect example of power vocals and growls working in tandem. I could go on describing the songs from here, but ill leave you to discover them. Beyond this point there are no low points – only high points – left.
This is more than just an album for the melodeath fans, this is one for the lovers of US Power Metal with a yearning for something perhaps a bit more aggressive, this is one for those who thought the genre had seen its last creative days, and this is proof they were wrong.
Highlights: Deserted, Tell the World I’m Sorry, Black Days
By T. Bawden