Ah, yes. Symphonic Metal. No, please, come back... I'll start again. Yes, it is rather like that, isn't it. Metal mixed with symphonic elements - instruments, vocal style etc that has many greasy headbangers running to the hills as another band churns out an album lacking in originality, following a tried and trusted formula that sounds like everything else.
And, on the face of it, looking at the album sleeve, that is exactly what you have here with Russia's Revontulet. A female vocalist over the top of strings, woodwind, guitars and drums. Yup, seen it, heard it a million times before. You would, however, be completely wrong.
Revontulet, which is Finnish for Northern lights (literally Fox Fire - stems from a Finnish folk tale about a fox with sparks on his tale which runs across the sky forming the northern lights) have seen many line-up changes since they formed in 2008 and the current line up are the two founders, Alexandra Revontulet (vocals, songwriting) and Sergey Zorg (drums). Musically, they are firmly in the Russian symphonic tradition - with hauntingly powerful mezzo-soprano vocals over the top of strong orchestrations and a driving percussion. This, their debut album, has taken eighteen months to perfect and record.
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To understand where musically this comes from, Alexandra is a classically trained musician and singer, although classified as a mezzo-soprano; her range is quite phenomenal - from c3 to c6. (Singers out there will understand, but that is a three-octave range - damn good.) This she uses to great effect, without sounding forced at either the low or the high end.
The training certainly helps with the arrangements - the orchestral instruments blend into the guitars, keyboards and drums very well indeed providing a very balanced sound. Blend the whole thing with a slight Gothy overtone, and you have the ingredients to make something damn good.
So, 'Blizzard' opens the album softly, strings and harp leading into to Alexandra's vocals, before the drums and guitar kick in, The tempo change in the chorus works well here too, and the song does have a great feel. 'Infernal Angel' is the next track, before 'Suomi' kicks in. This does take the best track award, a haunting ballad, (the Finnish cultural influence on the band really comes out here).
'Rainheart' is next up; followed by 'Velvet Night' - strings underpinned with great guitar riffs crescendo through the track, partnering the vocals well. 'Pianist Of The Darkest Nights' starts of faster paced, and has riff and tempo changes, making this a stand out track.
'Eternal Autumn' comes next, before the epic title track, 'Hear Me', ends the album. At fifteen minutes long, all their craft is put to good use here, tempo and riff changes abound as this song floats around, with plenty to listen to within, it will have you captivated for the entire quarter of an hour.
So, each song, as an individual track is rather good - fans of the genre will love it, and certainly it stands up alongside albums by bands like Nightwish and holds its own well...
Yes, there is a but, and it is quite a big one. Each song is brilliantly written, produced and recorded, BUT as an Album, it is rather, well, samey. The songs do sort of roll into each other, with little difference in each song. As a whole, it really does not deliver on the promise of each individual song, it should be better, hell it DESERVES to be better, and I am sure to diehard Symphonic fans, it is worthy of the praise it has been given, but really it needs to mix it up a bit more - heavier, faster tracks added maybe. After all, Symphonies in the classical world do consist of fast, slow and mid tempo movements!
Overall, this gets 3 1/2 beers, great tracks, and a good album to relax to, but needs more variety.
Alexandra Revontulet – vocals
Sergey Zorg – drums
Maxim Orlov – bass
Dmitriy Sakharchuk – guitars
Yury Leshchishen – acoustic guitar (3,8)
Vladimir Ryazansky – flute (3)
Anastasia 'Reinameron' Saveleva – flute (4,8)
Anton 'Zeuse' Ragulin – violin
Eugenia Striga – viola
Vera Mech – cello
Kristina Yavorskaya, Kristina Dovidaytis, Elijah Stauss-Brooks – choir
All songs written, composed and orchestrated by Alexandra Revontulet
Arranged by Alexandra Revontulet, Sergey Zorg, Maxim Orlov, Dmitriy Sakharchuk
Recorded, mixed and produced in June 2012 – November 2013 at Play Studio and Arcus Records, Moscow by Alexandra Revontulet and Sergey Zorg
Mastered in January 2014 at Yellow House Studio, Hämeenlinna, Finland by Hiili Hiilesmaa
Photography and Design – Anna 'migraine_sky' Ovsyannikova