Seven Spires – A Fortress Called Home Review

Seven Spires Maintain Their Streak with the Release of A Fortress Called Home...

Released By: Frontiers Records

Release Date: June 21st, 2024

Genre: Symphonic Metal

Links: https://www.sevenspiresband.com/

 

Line Up:

Adrienne Cowan – Vocals

Jack Kosto – Guitars

Peter de Reyna – Bass

Chris Dovas – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. A Fortress Called Home

2. Songs upon Wine-Stained Tongues

3. Almosttown

4. Impossible Tower

5. Love’s Souvenir

6. Architect of Creation

7. Portrait of Us

8. Emerald Necklace

9. Where Sorrows Bear My Name

10. No Place for Us

11. House of Lies

12. The Old Hurt of Being Left Behind

 

One of my favorite symphonic metal bands in recent years has been the American band Seven Spires. While I initially had mixed feelings about their debut, Solveig, I came around to loving it after being blown away by their sophomore record, Emerald Seas, which at that point was one of the best symphonic metal albums I had heard by anyone other than my favorite, Epica, in quite some time. They wasted no time in following that up with the equally brilliant, but more complex and epic Gods of Debauchery, which ended their initial trilogy of concept albums, leaving room to explore new territory on any following albums. The band has recently released their fourth album, A Fortress Called Home, which builds on everything they’ve done before while also telling a more personal story with some incredibly dark and emotional lyrics. While it doesn’t quite match their previous two albums, it very much keeps their streak of fantastic albums alive and kicking.

Seven Spires have always had a rather dark, atmospheric, and heavy sound compared to most bands in their genre, at times even more intense with their extreme metal elements than the aforementioned Epica. This continues on A Fortress Called Home, with several tracks having some shockingly dark and heavy material, even by their standards. While some passages blend elements of melodic death metal (MDM) and power metal, others venture into full symphonic black metal territory along the lines of Dimmu Borgir, and there’s also plenty of sections where they merge clean and harsh vocal sections together in a classic gothic metal style. Of course, there’s still plenty of more traditional, mid-paced symphonic metal here as well, with some strong clean sung passages, as well as a couple of very impressive ballads. While the power metal aspect of their sound feels somewhat downplayed compared to previous albums (fans of tracks like “Succumb” or “Oceans of Time” shouldn’t expect anything similar here), there’s still traces of it to be found, usually mixed in with the more extreme metal passages.

Performances are amazing across the board, with guitarist Jack Kosto delivering some truly killer riffs, very technical solos at times, as well as plenty of more explosive passages. Drummer Chris Dovas alternates wonderfully between some very intense beats and more relaxed drumming, fluidly doing whatever the track calls for. The keyboards and symphonic elements sound great as always. The biggest highlight of the band, however, has always been the voice of Adrienne Cowan (also the band’s main songwriter and lyricist), and as always, she’s in top form on this album. She wonderfully alternates between smooth, beautiful clean vocals, intense screaming vocals, dark yet melodic vocals, and her harsh vocals are as present and as impressive as ever. If anything, this album may have the most amount of harsh vocals of any of their albums, with the majority of the tracks using them at some point or another, and they certainly sound every bit as intense and powerful as ever. While there are a couple of tracks which use clean vocals exclusively or near exclusively, they’re usually mixed in with harsh vocals, and the passages where the two are layered on top of each other are absolutely brilliant, especially on the masterful ballad “Love’s Souvenir”.

While the band has finished their initial trilogy, they clearly still have more stories to tell, as this album shows. It tells the story of a woman who lives alone within a castle, isolated from everyone else. There’s a lot of introspection throughout, lots of talk about regrets, emptiness, and other dark themes, though as usual, there are bits of hopefulness mixed in as well. The one real criticism I have with the album is that the production is rather disappointing compared to past albums. Vocals and symphonic elements are as crystal clear and powerful sounding as always, but guitars and drums sound very flat at times, often buried in the mix, which can be a bit frustrating. Whenever the guitars do emerge from the mix they sound fantastic, but sometimes they can get a bit lost. I will say: listening with headphones or a strong set of speakers is pretty much a requirement for getting full enjoyment out of this album, as it can be hard to hear parts of the music without a good setup.

As usual, the album opens up with a nice, cinematic intro track, which adds in some vocals towards the end and starts building up intensity, slowly leading into the explosive opener “Songs Upon Wine-Stained Tongues”. This track opens with an explosive instrumental passage, with heavy guitars and intense drums, paired with some epic choral vocals, before slowing down slightly for a dark, heavy opening verse with some epic, pounding drums and powerful harsh vocals from Cowan. There’s a brief clean vocal section before things slow down and guest vocalist Alessandro Conti makes his first appearance. The chorus is fast-paced, intense, and has strong clean vocals from both singers, and it’s soon followed by an intense section where the black metal elements fully kick in. Later on is a soft, somewhat folk-infused passage with some very beautiful, softer vocals from both Cowan and Conti, leading into an awesome rendition of the chorus. Needless to say, the track has a lot going on, but it pulls everything off perfectly and is one of the best tracks on the album.

We move into slightly more straightforward territory with lead single “Almosttown”, a slightly upbeat, though mostly mid-paced symphonic metal track, with a nice mix of heavy riffs, symphonic elements, and softer passages, with the opening verse in particular being quite relaxed and having some very light vocals before the chorus comes in and speeds things up slightly while adding in some heavy riffs and more intense clean vocals. It’s a track where the lackluster production is very noticeable, as it really doesn’t sound good at all without headphones, though with them it does sound a fair bit better, if not ideal. Musically, though, it’s fantastic, with a nice mix of heavy and melodic passages, and I especially love the beautiful yet technically impressive guitar solo near the end, which comes after the one brief use of harsh vocals in the bridge. Next is the slow-paced, atmospheric gothic metal track “Impossible Tower”, which blends guitars and symphonic elements very fluidly, and is one case where the more raw production actually works quite well. Verses are slow and fall more on the ambient side of things, with subtly heavy riffs paired with very creepy-sounding keys and symphonic elements, while Cowan leads the way with some blackened growls. The chorus maintains this sound, with the keys taking over further, and Cowan blends clean and harsh vocals together perfectly, layering them on top of each other in a way that sounds absolutely incredible.

One track that took a while to grow on me, and which really requires a proper sound system to fully enjoy, is “Love’s Souvenir”, an absolutely fantastic jazz-infused ballad led by some rather creepy-sounding jazz piano and symphonic elements. Cowan sings softly throughout the verses, slowly setting the stage for one of the most impressive choruses I’ve heard on a metal ballad, where the drums suddenly go full blast, guitars kick in subtly, symphonic elements go crazy, and Cowan once again demonstrates how well she can merge her harsh and clean vocals together. This is soon followed up by a rather heavy and intense growled section, though things do calm down after a while, only to pick up again with a truly fantastic, very emotional-sounding guitar solo, and then the final run through the chorus is pure magic, with some of the best vocals I’ve ever heard on a symphonic metal album. It’s a very unsettling track, but also one which sounds unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, and while it took some time to grow on me, I now consider it the best track on the album.

Things don’t exactly let up with “Architect of Creation”, which does offer a brief moment of calm near the beginning, only to soon pick up again with heavy riffs, intense, pounding drums, and more blackened growls. This is more of a symphonic/melodic black metal track, moving at a fast pace and alternating between intense passages and some more melodic, but still rather heavy passages, with the chorus once again blending the two vocal styles together before ending with a super epic, sinister-sounding scream. It’s one of the more straightforward, heavy-hitting tracks on the album, and one which took no time to become a personal favorite. Next is “Portrait of Us”, a more typical sounding symphonic metal track, at least by Seven Spires standards. It has a slow, thick, and heavy main riff, while the opening verse is slow, atmospheric, and keyboard-driven, but it does get heavier leading into the chorus, which has some of Cowan’s more dark and intense clean vocals, accompanied by some intense growls in the background, as well as some very technical guitar work. It’s another track that requires headphones or a good sound setup to fully appreciate.

One song that sounds great in any setting is “Emerald Necklace”, a soft symphonic metal love ballad with a slight folk feel at points. It’s very light during the opening verse, driven entirely by vocals and symphonic arrangements, with Cowan singing at her absolute softest, and this carries into the first round through the chorus, which is hauntingly beautiful. Drums and guitars kick in during the second verse, leading into a stunningly beautiful guitar solo, and that’s followed by a nice bridge where the vocals slowly start to pick up intensity, leading into a fantastic final run through the chorus where Cowan finally sings at full power. This fairly calm stretch of music continues with “Where Sorrows Bear My Name”, another slower-paced track, with a big emphasis on keys, symphonic elements, and vocals, while guitars and drums largely play a secondary role. It once again has a gothic feel to it, with the symphonic elements sounding very creepy and atmospheric, while Cowan fluidly alternates between clean and harsh vocals, especially during the chorus, which is once again the highlight of the track. It’s not a show-stealing track like many others on the album, but it’s still very good in its own right and fits in nicely as a mood setter.

One of the more upbeat-sounding tracks is “No Place for Us”, which, despite its name, actually has some of the more optimistic lyrics found on the album. The main guitar melody is quite warm and has an optimistic tone to it, and this leads into a section with some chunky, sort of alt-metal infused riffs leading into the opening verse, which features some more intense harsh vocals. The chorus is cleanly sung and fairly upbeat, with some wonderful vocal melodies as well as some excellent harsh vocals in the background. Next is another softer track, “House of Lies”, which feels like a power ballad of sorts. It has slightly heavy riffs during the verses, mixed with more creepy-sounding keys and symphonic arrangements, and the vocals have a rather haunting quality to them, despite being on the softer side. It picks up a bit of heaviness during the chorus, but still stays slow and soft, and it’s definitely a track where the vocals and symphonic elements dominate throughout. Closing out the album is “The Old Hurt of Being Left Behind”, which once again features a very beautiful, optimistic-sounding main guitar melody before some intense drums kick in and the track gets heavy during the opening verse, with some very intense growls. The chorus alternates nicely between soft and heavy parts and is definitely one of the best on the album, once again blending harsh and clean vocals perfectly. The track has an epic feel to it and does a great job of blending the band’s symphonic black metal, gothic, and more traditional symphonic elements all together in the same track. While it gets very dark and intense at some points, it also has some very soft passages, and ends with a very beautiful message: “Somewhere, there is someone who loves you, before and after they learn what you are.” An absolutely perfect way to end the album!

Despite some issues with the production, A Fortress Called Home is yet another fantastic album from Seven Spires, who continue to be one of the best symphonic metal bands in recent years. While I wish it had a bit more power metal like the previous two albums, I can understand what the band is going for here, and their blend of symphonic, black, and gothic metal works fantastically, with the instrumental work, lyrics, and especially the vocals all being fantastic. Obviously, it’s a must-hear for fans of the band, while anyone looking for a more extreme-sounding symphonic metal album with a ton of harsh vocals would also be well advised to give it a try, preferably with headphones. Personally, while Emerald Seas and Gods of Debauchery are more to my tastes, this album is still fantastic, and at this point, I can safely say Seven Spires will likely remain one of my favorite bands for a very long time.

 

Ratings: 9/10

Written by: Travis Green

My Global Mind – Staff Writer

Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.

 

 

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