Even within Rock Circles, with the exception of a notable few artists, Gothic/Symphonic Metal appears to be a much-overlooked sub-genre, particularly within the UK. The vast majority of exponents appear to originate from and are more successful within mainland Europe, as is the case with Sirenia.
Sirenia – 1977 (Napalm Records)
Release Date: 26 May 2023
Words: Sophie James
Formed in Norway shortly after the millennium, today the band consists of multi-instrumentalist mastermind Morten Veland, who is joined by Gallic duo Emmanuelle Zoldan and Nils Courbaron on vocals and solo guitar, respectively, with British Drummer Michael Brush completing the quartet.
1977 sees the band experiment with ’70s/’80s pop rock stylings, fusing them with Synthwave colourings and then shaping it all in signature Symphonic fashion.
Opener Deadlight begins with a beautiful piano piece accompanied by a mournful violin, but then everything else, and I mean everything, comes in on a dime. Mezzo-Soprano Emmanuelle wastes no time in unleashing her crystalline tones.
The first two words are uttered, and we are already at EarwormCon 1. “In denial, In denial.” This is a hugely musically uplifting piece which contrasts sharply with its disconsolate lyrics.
“In a dream, your life descends towards whatever end.” Already it is clear that the arrangements and performances of both the delicate musings and the gloriously bombastic symphonic arrangements have been crisply captured by Morten Veland’s immense production.
The third single, Wintry Heart, picks up the pace, demonstrating all that is so majestic about this genre. Like a warm coat shrouding you on an icy evening, the vocals are so enormous they should be backed live by a full choir. One understands how difficult logistically it would be, but songs like this should be performed at least once with that full accompaniment.
“You can’t hold me back. You can’t hold me down. Can’t chain my soul down to the ground,” emphasises the spirit of the dashing Nomadic. Its unrelenting rhythm thunders with the intensity of a redlining locomotive.
A massive chorus, delivered at equally breakneck pace, may preclude mass singalongs, but that would not deter many from attempting to do so. If not the chorus, then alternatively, there are less challenging woooh-ooh-oohs to get your larynxes around. Another hugely infectious number.
“All your demons thrive, and the night conspire. There’s a truth behind all lies. All the voices screaming and the astral dreaming paralyse your mind.” Once again, delicate piano introduces The Setting Darkness before all that magnificence kicks in.
Quite commonly, the format appears to be delicate intro, then unleash electro-orchestral hell. Emmanuelle’s vocal is given the space to not only breathe but to shine in the verse before it is united but not overwhelmed by the propelling rhythm guitars. Then throw in the stunningly ascending chorus before a mellifluous solo adds the icing to the cake. Here, the synthwave elements are more apparent, plus I will also mention the A-Word. More on that later.
“All the bridges on fire as the night aspire to bring you to your knees.” I do not think I have seen lyrics that articulate the multiplicity of concerns that nightfall brings.
A Thousand Scars gets straight down to business. Melodically, I hear shades of Depeche Mode in the verse before the chorus releases that harmonised immensity.
“A new deception disguised as a dream.” They could almost be talking about our illustrious leaders. In the mid-section, we hear Emmanuelle fully exploiting her operatic training. A piece worthy of pervading a cavernous arena for sure.
“I can’t feel no love for this life no more, I can’t feel no will, no will to carry on.” Fading To The Deepest Black, as its name implies, is a dark piece and opens with the most potent riff yet. Disconsolate but very catchy. Emmanuelle’s vocals ebb and flow akin to riding a wave. This even comes with a mid-song male vocal segment. The darkness of this piece feels so inexplicably reassuring.
Oceans Away commences with lavish melancholic keyboards with Emmanuelle’s mezzo-soprano put to the most enchanting use. Again, a desolate but massive chorus of “I feel so dead inside, I’m falling through countless aeons of time”. Beautiful, so bleakly majestic.
“Dopamine, like a blissful dream, Velvet eyes enchanting me.” Dopamine picks up the pace again. The grandiose multi-layered instrumentation acts as an overture, the easing verse allowing space for the hook to enchant and ensnare you.
The fluidity of Emmanuelle’s native tongue in a brief interlude adds to the exquisite feel of the track. Imagine if Abba had been a Symphonic Metal outfit. Not too radical an idea, but what a tantalising prospect.
“Demonised voices of death scream in your head. They tear you asunder.” Delirium sees us transported towards the weightier end of the genre, with harsh male vocals prefacing the full operatic tones. Other vocal styles just wouldn’t cut it here.
The angelic operatic retort of “Falling deep into the night with arms wide open. A thousand demons by my side delirium unspoken. You can’t see me through this time” is so contrasting.
“Embraced by life’s degeneration, yet another loss. What is life but pure damnation all that I came across.” Timeless Desolation has one of those déjà vu melodies. By now, you should be in no doubt with regard to the album’s lyrical themes.
The album closes with what was its lead single. The rather surprising inclusion of Tanita Tikaram’s 1988 hit Twist in My Sobriety. When it comes to recorded covers, the Golden Rule should always be ‘Make it your own’. They have most certainly reworked it. It has a totally different feel to what preceded it. Imagine mixing Eurythmics with Bon Jovi, add a dash of Marlene Dietrich (or even Frida), and then symphonising it all up.
This strange brew has all the requirements to turn this sullen classic into a potential Club smash. Bonkers mental, but it works. It absolutely works. As I write this, I have a huge silly grin on my face.
To conclude, an absolute triumph of composition, arrangement and performance, which will have the repeat button being frequently reached for as one imagines these epic soundscapes brought to life.
Emmanuelle’s wide-ranging vocals are impeccable throughout. One must also give credit to the resplendently fluid solo work of Nils Courbaron. Incredibly dazzling but never outstaying its welcome on any number, and then, of course, there is Michael’s powerhouse drumming.
If you are a devoted or even a casual follower of the handful of artists who are the vanguard of this sub-genre, then IMHO, I think you will adore this album.
2. Wintry Heart
4. The Setting Darkness
5. A Thousand Scars
6. Fading to the Deepest Black
7. Oceans Away
11.Twist in my Sobriety (Bonus track)