My most sincere apologies go out to all the information technology startups, but it is a cold, hard fact that cinematic, orchestral metal is probably Finland’s most popular export nowadays. Initially, NIGHTWISH had the monopoly for quite a long time and still, without much competition, the band set the quality standard rather high.
DARK SARAH is one of those few bands that not only had the courage to embark on this particular musical path but has also proved themselves to have what it takes to deliver the goods quite beautifully. On 17 July 2020, DARK SARAH will releasing their fourth studio album, ”Grim,” via Napalm Records.
While the Tarja Turunen-era NIGHTWISH flashbacks are inevitable throughout the album, the strong melodic hooks are equally reminiscent of the heyday of the Scandinavian pop avatar, ABBA. If this isn’t a winning formula to narrate exciting musical fairy tales that capture the hearts of the unsuspecting listeners, then I don’t know what is. There is something magical in the way melancholic soprano Heidi Parviainen chants alluring pop hooks against the backdrop of compelling guitar riffs, orchestral scores, and the occasional pulsating synths. Yes, even for a bloke who has a serious dislike for high-pitched classical singing like me. Maybe the album will not convert anyone to the fine vocal art of, say, Monsterrat Caballé, but it might just add a little something to one’s musical diet.
The album starts with a short introductory track, ”My Name is Luna,” which basically sets the mood for the album both musically and lyrically. It gets done with a little bit of ominous glockenspiel doodling and pulsating synths layered with lush strings. The lyrics on the album have a continuous storyline that is infused with mythical creatures and surreal elements. The orchestrations underpin these mystical ravens, rabbit-headed people, and fantasy imagery outstandingly well. Samuel Adler‘s guidelines from The Study of Orchestration have been put into excellent practice here. Although, the new DARK SARAH album does not have such an instant killer track as ”Dance With the Dragon,” which featured JP Leppäluoto on the previous 2016 album, ”The Puzzle,” after a few rounds, two tracks stand out. The fourth track, ”Melancholia,” has a chorus that has the potential to chill your spine with a melody that has a genuine goosebump-inducing quality to it. The album closer, ”The Dark Throne,” grabs you by the heartstrings right away in the song’s intro – in a rather devious way, actually. The song could easily be a PET SHOP BOYS leftover from yesteryear, but once again, the melodic hook is nothing short of breath-taking. Bastards!
JP Leppäluoto makes a guest appearance on this album too, with his vocals featured as the wolf character on the track, ”The Wolf and the Maiden.” Lyrically, the song seems to reference the 10th century European folk tale, Little Red Riding Hood, clad in new clothes but maybe not in the spirit of the Brothers Grimm.
The epic centerpiece track on the album, ”Mörk,” features Finnish singer Jasse Jatala, who is probably best known for his 2019 Voice of Finlandia performance and his band JATALA. On this overly cinematic song, he radiates the aura of the fantasy villain Mörk rather brilliantly. The song is a kaleidoscopic sonic journey. It has peaks of upbeat metal riffing and orchestral rumbles, while the determined blasting is abruptly intervened by a tasteful jazz break by a honky-tonk piano here and there. The choral parts resonate with the sweet, piney-scented air of the 1967 musical Hair, particularly the medley ”Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” which was made famous by THE 5TH DIMENSION.
Some of the uptempo tracks on the album could work marvelously as dreamy trance anthems as well, with the guitar tracks muted, such as ”The Chosen One,” ”The Hex,” and ”Illuminate,” given that the club cognoscenti would be willing to buy into the idea of having the vocals sung by a soaring soprano. The melancholic melodies have quite a lot in common with, say, the English trance outfit ABOVE & BEYOND. For a headbanging metalhead, ”Grim” is pleasantly unburdened with ballads galore. ”Iceheart” is the only purely ballad-y song. Its haunting melody makes it a track hard to skip, however. The following track, ”La Folie Verte,” is a gentle nod toward the enigmatic brilliance of ”Dance With the Dragon,” but for some reason the song refrains from stepping into the same magnificent realms of madness and remains in the more sober-minded pop-metal terrain. Video single ”All Ears!” pretty much marches to the same heartbeat, while ”The Devil’s Peak” offers one more haunting 5-minute journey into shivers and goosebumps. The melody burns like fire.
With all due respect to the pioneers and innovators in this particular genre, it needs to be stated that DARK SARAH has an intriguing prowess like no other band when it comes to writing haunting melodies. They resonate with the same Slavic melancholy that is so inherent in old Finnish tangos, the most beloved ABBA hits from the past, or Russian troubadours such as Vladimir Vysotsky. When you frost that melancholic undercurrent with class-A cinematic metal coating, you simply cannot go wrong. Then again, Yours Truly is a Finn – and we Finns have long had a deep affinity to melancholy and metal. If you have cultivated a serious penchant for the tasteful combination of these two, DARK SARAH‘s new offering is simply a must-have. As an added bonus, it comes ornamented with rich, cinematic soundscapes. It’s one of those ”Shut up and take my money!” albums.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- My Name Is Luna
- The Chosen One
- La Folie Verte
- The Wolf And The Maiden (feat. JP Leppäluoto as the wolf)
- The Hex
- All Ears!
- The Devil’s Peak
- Mörk (feat. Jasse Jatala as Mörk)
- The Dark Throne
Heidi Parviainen – Vocals
Sami-Petri Salonen – Guitar
Erkka Korhonen – Guitar
Rude Rothstén – Bass
Thomas Tunkkari – Drums