Sirenia — Riddles, Ruins & Revelations
The year 2020 has made significant adjustments to the plans of probably all the artists. In addition to the cancellation of all the tours for an indefinite time, there were problems with the recording of new material. Someone, at their own peril and risk, nevertheless tried to somehow work on new music in the usual, pre-quarantine mode, but for someone it became a real test. Sirenia belongs to the second category.
It is difficult to say whether the pandemic influenced the new album, or whether Morten Veland had a concept ready anyway, but «Riddles, Ruins & Revelation» significantly changed the vector of the musical direction. From the «three whales» — symphonic, gothic and metal — in fact there remained only metal. Gothic mostly gave way to modern metal with all the consequences («Into Infinity«, «Downwards Spiral«), and symphonic was replaced by electro-industrial inserts in some way similar to Omega Lithium. The elements of symphonic black metal that could be found on the previous full-length album are also gone. Instead there are some inserts of Euro-pop music, which, together with metal riffs, sound quite interesting («Beneath the Midnight Sun«, «Towards an Early Grave«, «December Snow«). In addition, «Riddles, Ruins & Revelation» is the first Sirenia album not to feature The Sirenian Choir. According to the vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan, the reason is the pandemic and lockdown that forced the band to abandon both the choir and sound engineer and producer Jacob Hansen’s help. However, Morten Veland was still able to solve these problems. Instead of a usual choir, samples of Gregorian chants in the early Enigma style were used. And Veland did all the mixing and mastering himself, and it affected the sound quality unfortunately not in a good way.
It’s nice to hear the guest participation of Joachim Næss («Downwards Spiral«), who has already appeared several times on the band’s previous albums. Nevertheless, it’s high time to make a full-fledged duet, where not just everyone sings his own part. There are no ballads, like last time, but instead there is a surprise — for the first time since 2004, Sirenia recorded a cover (which is remarkable — in both cases the vocals belong to Emma). And this time the band has chosen the famous song «Voyage, voyage» by French pop singer Desireless released in 1989. It turned out so convincingly, especially in terms of vocals, that you involuntarily start dreaming about a cover album from Sirenia.
However, the new album has its weak points, too. Firstly, Sirenia made the same old mistake choosing an indistinct promo single. «Addiction # 1» gives a false idea of the album, besides; it opens the album and can really scare off some “old school” fans. Then, the ubiquitous self-repetition and borrowing can be detected, despite the fact that they have been before. In addition, the abundance of electronic samples and the elements of Euro-pop music make the album somewhat monotonous.
Nevertheless, all the minuses, just like the previous time on “AAA” album, are easily covered by the vocals. It seemed that Emmanuelle Zoldan was fully revealed on «Arcane Astral Aeon«, but, as it turned out, there is no limit to perfection. On «Riddles, Ruins & Revelation«, she literally jumped over her head. Despite the fact that full-fledged operatic vocals in fact are not represented here, except for the chorus of «Passing Seasons«, Emma was able to show her vocal talent to the fullest. First of all, she is different on almost every song: here we can find a range from dramatic soprano («Passing Seasons«) to almost contralto («Voyage, voyage«), and a strong clean spoken voice («December Snow«), and a languid whisper. And in the verses of «The Timeless Waning» there returned this sarcastic vocal manner that was remembered by the listeners on Trail of Tears «Existentia«. At the same time, Zoldan does not flirt with different manners and vocal techniques, but she remains incredibly diverse. This proves once again that even without pursuing this imaginary “versatility”, one can achieve incredible results. You can’t but admire the seriousness with which the singer approaches all the songs, even if they are not the most outstanding ones, and tries to give them the necessary colors with her voice. Her timbre creates the necessary contrast with the music and makes it sound more “metallic”. While, for example, with Monika Pedersen or Ailyn, these songs would have an even more «pop» flavor and would sound lightweight and sugary. Emmanuelle once again made me forget that someone had sung before her in Sirenia. Besides, she clearly demonstrated that with this vocal work she could easily shut up the eminent divas of the genre who occupy warm places in the so-called “first echelon bands”.
Summarizing, Sirenia released quite a decent and melodic album. In the end, they are not the first and not the last, who took the path of «digestibility» and radio-friendly sound, and «Riddles, Ruins & Revelation» sounds not worse than Delain or Amaranthe albums (and as for vocals — much better ). If the sphere of Morten Veland’s creative interests lies in the field of modern metal, then why not?