Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Genre: Symphonic/Gothic Metal
Emmanuelle Zoldan – Vocals
Morten Veland – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Synths, Theremin, Programming
- Goddess of the Sea
- Dim Days of Dolor
- The 12th Hour
- Treasure n’ Treason
- Cloud Nine
- Veil of Winter
- Ashes to Ashes
- Elusive Sun
- Playing With Fire
- Fifth Column
- Aeon’s Embrace
Sometimes, as a fan of a band who’s gone through many changes in the past, you may eventually reach a point where it seems like things have finally settled and you know roughly what to expect from them each time, only for change to suddenly and unexpectedly strike once again. The latest case of this is Sirenia, the gothic metal band led by former Tristania mastermind Morten Veland. In this case, the change shouldn’t have come off as surprising as it did for me, because for the first four albums with his current band Morten had brought in a new singer each time, but after Spanish vocalist Ailyn had lasted four albums I thought for sure he had finally settled down, and then the two suddenly parted ways, with Ailyn being replaced by French vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan, who had been helping the band with choir vocals for a long time, though she had also sung lead vocals on one track from the Sirenian Shores EP released in 2004. At first I had no idea what to expect from the band going forward, as I loved Ailyn’s vocals and I thought the first three albums with her were some of Morten’s all time best, so I was extremely nervous to hear Dim Days of Dolor, but once again he has surprised me and has proven himself to be one of the best songwriters not only in his genre but in metal period.
Sirenia’s music has changed quite a bit over the years, starting off as somewhat of a simpler continuation of the classic gothic metal sound Morten had perfected on his Tristania swan song Beyond the Veil, with the debut At Sixes and Sevens in particular feeling like an excellent follow up that album, while later albums like The 13th Floor and The Enigma of Life had seen the band switch to a much softer, more accessible sound with an increased emphasis on female vocals and catchy choruses. Then came Perils of the Deep Blue, which felt like somewhat of a bridge between two styles, maintaining the more melodic and catchy style of the latter albums, while bringing back some of the complexity and the growls from the earlier albums.
With Dim Days of Dolor, it feels like Morten has once again set out to make a seamless blend between all phases of the band, with most songs initially seeming straightforward and lighter like The 13th Floor, and some fans may be disappointed to discover the lack of growls on most tracks, but once you start looking beneath the surface and start to pay full attention to the songs, you can notice there’s a ton of stuff going on musically, with all kinds of layers and elements thrown in to keep things interesting even on the simpler songs. As always, synths and orchestras are used for atmosphere and the music gets very dark at times, though not as dark as on Morten’s earlier albums, and I’ve also noticed an increase in the guitar work on this album, at least compared to the past few. Parts of the album remind me a bit of later Epica with how heavy the guitar sound can get, and there’s more speedy guitar driven passages on this album than I was expecting. At the same time, that lighter sound from some of their lesser regarded albums remains present on most tracks, and so if anything this is quite the varied album and there’s quite a bit going on musically throughout.
Getting back to that big change I mentioned, Emmanuelle fits in great and brings back an element many Tristania fans have been missing, which is the operatic vocals. Unlike the previous few Sirenia singers, Emmanuelle has had extended classical singing training and this immediately shows, as she can fluidly switch from high pitch operatic singing to normal, clear singing in an instant and she does so quite often throughout the album, most notably on the excellent track “Treasure n’ Treason”. She also has an excellent lower register which she uses a few times throughout the album, and this is another element that helps separate her from previous singers. While I don’t find her voice as unique as some singers Morten has worked with in the past, her abilities can not be denied and she certainly does a great job of carrying this album.
Fans of earlier albums will likely be pleased with the opening track “Goddess of the Sea” which starts off with some very dark and ambient keys, before turning to the kind of atmospheric mid-tempo the track the band specializes in. It’s a track very much dominated by Emmanuelle, whose operatic vocals immediately make an impact on the music, and the choir vocals, which are used frequently on this album, more so than on the past few albums, I think. While the track doesn’t have any growls, musically it feels like a nice mix of old and new, and it features some nice guitar work in the second half. On the other side of things, the title track is the kind of much lighter, catchier track found on The 13th Floor and The Enigma of Life, with everything from the sweeping orchestra at the beginning to the chorus all being designed to immediately grab the listener’s attention. Emmanuelle sounds much lighter on this track as well, and it’s certainly a more upbeat sounding track, which makes the sad lyrics seem a little out of place, though that’s not really a criticism as Morten has been known to mix upbeat music and sad lyrics from time to time, so listeners should be used to that by now. More importantly, the chorus is fantastic and all around the track is easily one the catchiest and most fun Sirenia tracks ever, making it the perfect choice for a single. The track also features some nice guest vocals from past collaborator Joakim Næs, who has a very warm voice that fits in well with the track, and he does a great job as always.
The other single “The 12th Hour”, is actually a bit more surprising, as it has some of the heavier, speedier guitar driven passages I mentioned earlier and it also has a particularly heavy section in the second half which really reminds me of Epica, though the soft passage that follows and the vocal section from Emmanuelle immediately bring the song back into familiar territory. Really, the track has a lot going on for a single, with a nice mix of the heavy guitars and synth, as well as great higher vocals from Emmanuelle during the chorus. Also, this track features some of Morten’s growls, and as always, they’re amazing.
While those two tracks are my favorites, there are more gems to be found on the album. As mentioned earlier, the mostly upbeat “Treasure n’ Treason” may be the best showcase for Emmanuelle, as she fluidly switches between operatic vocals and clean vocals throughout, and a softer passage in the second half does an amazing job of showcasing her lower register, while the chorus is very nice as well. More nice clean male vocals can be found on “Veil of Winter”, which very much feels like classic Sirenia, especially with how the guitar tone sounds during the male vocal passages, while “Playing With Fire” is another faster, heavier song in which Morten showcases his growls. One last appearance from the growls happens towards the end of the album on “Fifth Column”, a darker, heavier track that very much reminds me of early Sirenia, and I expect fans to be very pleased with it.
Aside from a few tracks, though, this album mostly feels like a nice showcase for Emmanuelle and the choirs, as lead male vocals aren’t very prominent and softer tracks like the power ballad “Elusive Sun” and piano ballad “Aeon’s Embrace” are especially driven by the female vocals, with the latter, in particular, having some great operatic vocals. Even the slow, crushingly heavy track “Ashes to Ashes” surprisingly doesn’t feature any growls, though in this case they aren’t really needed as the lead vocals are excellent enough, and musically it’s a hard hitting track with some great riffs nice melodic leads at points, so there’s already enough going on that growls aren’t necessary. Perhaps the one odd moment of the album happens on “Cloud Nine”, as, after the expected atmospheric intro, there’s a weird use of dubstep effects, though these quickly fade away and the rest of the song is a melodic mid-paced track with an excellent chorus.
I’ll admit I was initially not looking forward to hearing new Sirenia music as much I should have been, between their last album The Seventh Life Path being a bit of a step back and the change in singers leaving me disappointed, but with Dim Days of Dolor Morten Veland has once again stepped up his game and released an excellent album with a nice of old and new, all while doing an excellent job of showcasing his latest vocalist. Highly recommended for longtime fans as well as fans of symphonic and gothic metal who don’t mind having a lack of growls compared to past albums.
Reviewer: Travis Green