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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Imperia

Queen of Light

Review by Gary Hill

Isn’t it amazing how a new sound comes along, all original and unique and sparks a whole field of musicians who recreate it in their own image? Then, after a while, the style becomes so overdone that it gets clichéd and trite and feels generic. Well, symphonically driven, epic metal is about at that point. The thing is, as overdone as the genre is, Imperia do it so well that the disc doesn’t suffer. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t often wander far from the safe and secure confines of the tools of the epic metal trade. There is little here that comes close to Earth shattering. What makes this disc so good is that the group manage to capture so much power and passion in their reading of the musical style that it’s scary. I’d have to say that they wander a bit too far into opera at points for my taste and they turn a bit strange at other times, but overall this album is great. It also (for the majority of the time) avoids getting into the overblown excesses that pervade so much epic metal. That’s how well this band plies their trade.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mirror
The metallic modes that lead the album off are melodic, feeling a bit like Joe Satriani with a bit more metal in the mix. This shifts out into a more epic metal approach for the female vocals to enter. This rocks out quite nicely with string instrumentation thrown in for icing on parts of the cake. The vocal deliveries alternate between more hard rocking and the melodic. A killer instrumental section wanders between neo-classical epic metal and progressive metal. As they move this mode forward we get some vocals that are a bit too operatic for my tastes, but they shift it back out to the central song structure to carry forward. This is a strong tune and a good way to start things off.  The thing is, it pales in comparison taken next to what follows.

Fly Like The Wind
This is frantic and symphonic with a killer prog metal/epic texture. While the first track was strong, this is worlds beyond that one. In a word, this is a killer. It varies between the frantic hard edged sounds and a slower, more melodic motif in a great way. This is dramatic and powerful.  It is extremely dynamic and epic in its scope. And, yet, they manage to pull it all together in five minutes.
Raped By The Devil
This has more of a brutal metal sound, but there are still enough epic/symphonic textures here to elevate it from the run of the mill type stuff. I’m sure there are those who would have some serious problems with the lyrics (even just the title) but it’s another powerhouse track. There are a number of varied sections here and plenty of changes to keep it interesting. I particularly like the soaring, fast paced section. There is a short mellower segment that is dripping with sexuality, leading one to question the “rape” part of the title. As they power up from there they maintain this element into the first dramatic metallic section that follows. They shift it back out into the song proper from there and we get a tasty guitar solo.

Broken Wings
Classical type musical motifs are laid down upon a sedate balladic structure to open this up. The melody grows in dramatic and poignant fashion and at times seems about ready to explode out into metallic fury. Instead the first vocals are delivered over this ballad structure dripping with classical overtone. The track grows through waves of emotion until it eventually explodes out into power metal that’s a great reinvention of the musical themes. This motif carries it through the chorus, but then they drop it back to the balladic for the next verse – with even more waves of emotion lain across the foundation.  They turn in a powered up chorus before dropping it way back down to just classical instruments. When we are taken back into the song proper it’s even more powerful than before. After a powerhouse instrumental progression with some extremely tasty guitar soloing, they drop it down to a piano and vocal dominated ballad arrangement that ends it quite nicely. This cut is another highlight of the CD.
Braveheart
We jump right into the metal on this one. The mode is frantic, epic metal that’s quite heavy. They run through an extended intro and then drop it way back to keys and voice in a ballad approach. They play around with varying musical themes for a short time before pounding in with a heavy progression that carries the epic metal themes. This cut is another dynamic one seeming to change from motif to motif after each verse or chorus. This is another that is quite powerful taking on some soaring modes at times. The vocals have a definite rock strength at times and we get some great instrumental work. All of these factors make this one of the highlights of the CD. The only misstep for my tastes is when they throw some nearly full on opera vocals. I can’t stand opera and the fascination that epic metal has with that style purely loses me. Still, this is a short enough section and the rest of the track is enough of a powerhouse to keep it from really detracting from my enjoyment.
Facing Reality
This one starts off a bit odd and its hard to understand where it’s going to go. After a short time of unusual keyboard like textures, they move out into a short section that reminds me of Enigma. This turns to more standard epic metal after a while, though and when it settles back down later to the more ballad-like structure, it’s a passion packed killer. This track wanders from metal to more melodic sounds, but is another of the best pieces on show here. It sort of skirts around between pure metal and the more complicated forms, but is always powerful. It’s probably one of the most accessible numbers here.
Norway
Here we get a number that manages to be super heavy, but also extremely classical in nature. It’s another powerhouse. This group just seems to keep getting better with each piece of music and they never falter in producing emotional and evocative metal.  They put in a full death metal segment, complete with evil growls and a powerhouse kick drum. This gives way to a more epic metal reprise, but the growls turn to screams atop this. They are interspersed with vocals that feel like they could have come from the soundtrack to some epic movie. Then this moves out into territory that seems more in keeping with the rest of the disc in a staccato pattern. This then drops us back into the song proper.
Abyssum
This cut takes on a more pure classical approach. That motif holds things through the first verse and then they power it out into a full epic metal arrangement. This turns more towards the operatic as it winds through in the harder rocking motifs later in the game. They move through a number of changes, which is pretty much standard fare for this group. The instrumental section with soaring guitar is killer, but when they bring in the operatic vocals over the top of this motif it seems like the first spot where the album has gone a little over the top to me. This doesn’t stay around long, though, as they drop down to a pretty keyboard based balladic instrumental motif to end.
The Birth Of...
With a vocal based approach that feels both angelic and rather like soundtrack music, the sounds of a child come in amidst this. This doesn’t rise far beyond the film soundtrack level, but becomes more mysterious and epic in texture and that baby carries on throughout the first half. The second half of the tune is even more like a film soundtrack with an epic old world texture that conjures images of Egyptian armies gathered for battle. This is definitely a different approach than the first half and is more energized, but still pretty purely classical in texture. While this is more or less a mood piece, it’s still quite cool.
Queen of Light
The title track jumps right in with screaming metal and they bring in the epic, symphonic textures over the top along with the soaring female vocals. That doesn’t stop this from purely screaming out, though. We get some almost operatic vocals over the top of this at times, but they almost feel like Lene Lovich. We also hear traces of those Egyptian themes. They turn out into a more melodic motif later and create another new sonic element to the track, but still manage to maintain all the power and drama. The baby from the previous track returns as they drop it to mellow soundtrack motifs later.
Fata Morgana
This one doesn’t vary a lot from the bulk of the material here. That said, it’s another fine example of symphonic epic metal. While the album is beginning to get a bit too “samey,” when the sound is this powerful and creative, who cares?

The Calling
This one has more of an operatic – and at times weird in that Lene Lovich way – texture. It helps to create a change of pace, even though parts of the song are quite in keeping with the rest of the album, but it also kind of grates on me at times – making this the one misstep of the disc, in my opinion. Still, there is some great guitar soloing on this one. The section after the solo segment also powers up some wonderful ways, just about redeeming the weakness in the earlier portions.
Missing You
This one never really rises to the level of metal. Instead it begins in mellower but emotionally powerful symphonic motifs. Operatic vocals come in as angelic accompaniment later as a nearly whispered spoken recitation delivers the lyrics. This is wonderfully pretty and majestic and serves as a great conclusion to the disc.

 
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