The metal world knows Marcela Bovio from her days with STREAM OF PASSION, her collaborations with AYREON, like “Ayreon Universe” and “Electric Castle Live and Other Tales,” and of course as one of the voices of MAYAN. Some may even be familiar with her two solo records. Now she is back with a sympho-tech metal project under the title DARK HORSE | WHITE HORSE, whose eponymous EP was released independently on April 16th, 2021.
As a general rule when it comes to creating art, the sky is the limit as the final product depends on the artist’s creativity and vision. In music, especially in the metal scene, we have already seen such a wide array of genres and styles that nothing new should surprise us. Coming together to push more boundaries and challenge the limits of symphonic metal, DARK HORSE | WHITE HORSE is a great outlet for not just Marcela Bovio, but also for guitarist Jord Otto and keyboard player Ruben Wijga. The trio, together with bassist Siebe Sol Sijpkens (PHANTOM ELITE) and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek (EPICA/MAYAN), have created an EP that is as dramatic as it is experimental but still heavy and aggressive enough to fall under the all-encompassing umbrella of metal. And while a label such as sympho-tech metal may seem to cover what DARK HORSE | WHITE HORSE does in general terms, their music is so much more diverse than that.
Showing the world all that she can do vocally, Marcela Bovio has taken her craft and skills to a new level of awesomeness on these five tracks, hitting high notes with apparent ease while also belting out some intense melodies. She is masterfully supported by the tight and fierce rhythmic section, whose beats and grooves are as powerful as they are complex, many times bordering on progressive intricacies. First single “Black Hole” made this aspect abundantly clear, as it feels more and more hectic and tumultuous as it unfolds. It starts on a certain pattern but things kind of get out of control halfway through on a whirlwind of instruments, vocals, and fast tempos that may make for an uneasy first couple of listens, despite the beautiful piano/vocals section. However, the technicality and musical chops of the band are undeniable, as the track transitions seamlessly between calm moments and frenetic passages. Second single and opening track “Judgement Day” feels a bit more serene and subdued by comparison, while still being quite heavy and aggressive in itself. Marcela Bovio’s vocals are the driving force of the song going back and forth between fragile and resounding, with a slight tinge of an oriental vibe in the verses. Likewise, the instrumentals provide a steady barrage of powerful riffs, pounding drum beats, and even some underlying synths. It also features the hookiest and most melodic chorus on this EP.
Speaking of melodic, “The Spider” leans more on melody and groove than the rest of the tracks, toning down the aggression as a result. Again the vocals lead the charge, beautifully backed up by a thunderous bass line, going from whispers in the first verse to being progressively more dominant, especially in the chorus. There’s a neat increase in intensity as well, as the drums and guitar make their way to the forefront, but still maintaining the same pace and flow. Though “Get Out” benefits from a strong synth presence and various electronic effects, it is also the most dramatic piece of music on this EP, with many emotions pouring out from the vocal delivery. If you are still on the fence about Marcela Bovio’s vocal skills by this point, this song will put all those doubts to rest and make an impression; those vocal runs are impressive to say the least. Rounding up the EP is “Cursed,” a track that seems to highlight all the best that DARK HORSE | WHITE HORSE has to offer by better balancing the orchestral elements with the turmoil of instrumental layers and rhythms.
There’s a sense of urgency and aggression running through this EP, coming from the combined forces of Marcela Bovio’s powerhouse vocal performance, Jord Otto’s guitar wizardry, and Ruben Wijga’s atmospheric keys and synths. Add to that the booming power of Siebe Sol Sijpkens’s bass and the frenzy of Ariën van Weesenbeek’s drums and you have yourself a solid musical backbone. Put these elements together and watch them fuse into the unique and crushing sound of DARK HORSE | WHITE HORSE. Benefiting from a spectacular and crisp production value from none other than Joost van den Broek (EPICA/AYREON) these five tracks are the perfect calling card from a band eager to take the metal world by storm.
A beast of an EP in its own right, “Dark Horse | White Horse” will challenge and update your perception of what metal can offer when it comes from the hands of such accomplished and highly skilled musicians. No tropes are presented, no true-and-tested formulas are followed, no whiff of familiar soundscapes is to be found, which leaves so much room for originality and creativity to flow freely. Technically perfect, complex, and incredibly heavy, yet still with enough room for melody and emotion to shine through, “Dark Horse | White Horse” is as dramatic and theatrical as it is larger-than-life and genre-defining.
Written by Andrea Crow
1. Judgement Day
2. Black Hole
3. The Spider
4. Get Out
Marcela Bovio – Vocals
Jord Otto – Guitar
Ruben Wijga – Keyboards
Siebe Sol Sijpkens (Phantom Elite) – Bass
Ariën van Weesenbeek (Epica/MaYaN) – Drums