Without Face – Astronomicon

Without Face – Astronomicon – 4/5

Perhaps it was due to worry about that daunting ‘gothic’ in their genre description, or perhaps the fear of discovering something to tarnish Julie Kiss’ (To-Mera) reputation that led to this album being left untouched for years since I first discovered that they existed. Regardless of the reason, I’m glad I finally got around to giving this album a whirl as the result is not what I expected; the description of ‘Progressive Gothic Metal’ fitting, but rather than a mesh of the two styles you can readily extract what elements have been taken. Combining the foreboding atmospheric mood, deep doom-like bass tones and alternating ‘beauty and the beast’ vocals from gothic metal with all the technical proficiency, melody and epic compositional song structures – complete with time signatures – from progressive, they have formed a ‘best of both’ styles.

In a true break from most gothic metal bands, each musician is not only proficient at their instrument but show no fears in demonstrating that; the drumming constantly flurrying about adding a constant variation to the beats, allowing for the complex song structure to seamlessly flow throughout the tracks length. The bass makes a notable appearance, performing the main rhythm allowing for the rest of the instrumentation to weave around his base melodies. In particular it is the guitar work that succeeds in doing this, adding ‘fills’ more than a continuous riff, his varied playing never feels complex for the sake of it, adding an assortment of short solos that whilst unspectacular in themselves, serves to accent the atmosphere created.

In fact, it is the solos emerging from the keyboards that are the most impressive; complex and yet with a dissonant melody to them, mixed up with piano work on the slower passages, they are his moment to shine and they come fairly frequently. The finale in this line up proves no slack either, if providing more variety than any spell binding performance from either musician. Julie Kiss sounds somewhat unenthused and apathetic about the material, performing aptly but without emotional conviction, sharing the lead with the male vocalist. With a venomous bark, rather more rabid in tone than blackened, in addition to a cleaner voice that lacks any of the operatic qualities of his counterpart, alone they may well feel weak but combined it is the variety of tones as they interweave within each others melodies.

Compositionally it feels varied enough to sustain its relatively short length (~44mins) and capable of remaining interesting even after multiple listens, if perhaps lacking a certain memorability of other artists, a ‘catchy’ aspect that isn’t quite there. Listening through this album, you can clearly see the similarities between them and To-Mera whom Kiss would go on to form – not to suggest they are clones of one another – but despite the similarities, the atmosphere is ultimately different, darker in tone, almost as though a Tacere/To-Mera collaboration effort. Nonetheless, To-Mera fans should not wait as long as I did to take dive into this proof of the virtues of the genre.

Highlights: In the Garden, Talamasca