SIRENIA are headed down a very interesting musical path that may cause them to either gain or lose fans, depending on expectations. No longer dwelling in the symphonic/Gothic metal they started out playing, the Norwegian band are now opting for a more melodic approach to their music. This foray into symphonic synth-pop started out with “Riddles, Ruins & Revelations” and is continuing on their upcoming studio outing, “1977.” The album is out on May 26th, 2023, via Napalm Records.
Musically, “1977” is not as daring or adventurous as “Riddles, Ruins & Revelations” was, being more streamlined with less emphasis on synth and electronica and more on a retro, ‘80s vibe. Now, when it comes to this idea of a retro vibe, a lot rides on the specific elements/sounds from that period that are used to create the sound design of a given album; it can be either a successful endeavor or a major disaster. I feel like SIRENIA falls somewhere in the middle, though slightly edging toward success. The first single released, the cover of Tanita Tikaram’s “Twist in My Sobriety,” is a good indicator of the sober and melancholy music the band have crafted for this record… with one highly enjoyable curveball (more on that later). Really, the album is moody yet restrained and grounded without so many choirs and symphonic elements as per usual. I could almost say it’s a minimalist album, focused more on ambiance than on anything else.
For the most part, the songs follow the same pattern set by the aforementioned cover, as well as by the second single, “Deadlight,” being straightforward, mid-tempo, and atmospheric. To match this newer soundscape and vibe, vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan showcases more of her mid and lower range, which adds a certain aura of darkness and emotion to the lyrics. Piano and strings juxtapose with guitars and drums, as Zoldan sings about the denial of a failed relationship on “Deadlight,” thus creating a very dramatic opening track. Luckily, this gloomy mood is dispersed by the fast-paced “Wintry Heart,” where stings and roaring guitars create a melodic backbone that is beautifully enhanced by a piano riff that pops up here and there, while the guitar solo injects a dose of energy to the track. Up next, dark and heavy “Nomadic” ramps up the energy levels with relentless drums, intense guitar riffage, symphonic/electronic elements, and a catchy chorus section that will make this song real a crowd-pleaser in a live setting.
The ‘80s melancholy vibes are really palpable on “The Setting Darkness,” a track that boasts one of the album’s most beautiful choruses, as well as a layer of synth that transports the listeners to that particular time period. The poppy “A Thousand Scars” combines groovy rhythms with symphonic elements and chugging guitar riffs but kind of falls flat in its endeavor to be anything more than a filler. Also, that operatic bridge part is totally out of place. However, “Fading to the Deepest Black” picks up the slack and delivers on all accounts from melody and rhythm to emotions and atmosphere, being an album highlight. Zoldan sounds absolutely charming on this track, as her vocals soar on top of blast-beats that give way to a serene passage and a vocal interlude by Morten Veland. “Oceans Away” is the obligatory ballad of the album and Zoldan’s passionate delivery combined with swelling strings and grave bass tones elevate it from a filler to a beautiful piece of music.
The final tracks of the album are also some of the best. “Dopamine” is about as groovy and heavy as “Fading to the Deepest Black,” though it has a brighter atmosphere going for it, with a solid instrumental side and even some piano lines that pop up from time to time. In between Veland’s harsh vocals, Zoldan’s gorgeous operatic vocals, sparse piano melodies, and driving guitar riffs, “Delirium” is my favorite of the bunch and the highly enjoyable curveball I mentioned earlier in this review. That’s because I didn’t expect a full-blown symphonic metal piece on an album that has such a specific sound design. “Timeless Desolation” is my second favorite track on this album. It has a beautiful symphonic backbone, warm atmosphere, and fuller soundscape, with a very powerful bassline and melodic guitars rumbling underneath Zoldan’s vocals. It’s a really good album closer as it combines everything the album has to offer, before the bonus track, “Twist in my Sobriety,” brings back the darkness and melancholy for one last go.
All-in-all, “1977” feels like a winter’s day that starts out cold and desolate but gradually warms up… or at least that is the lingering impression this album leaves in my mind. It’s an album that starts out in one point and ends up in a rather different point, adding more layers and gaining more momentum as it progresses. As for the retro ‘80s vibe that Morten Veland wanted to go for, it works surprisingly well as it presents a fresh, new facet of SIRENIA and showcases the band members’ versatility when it comes to tacking new soundscapes. With that being said, how many will like/enjoy this new soundscape, only time will tell.
Written by Andrea Crow
2. Wintry Heart
4. The Setting Darkness
5. A Thousand Scars
6. Fading to the Deepest Black
7. Oceans Away
10. Timeless Desolation
11. Twist in my Sobriety (bonus track)
Morten Veland – Vocals, guitars, bass, synth, programming
Nils Courbaron – Solo Guitar
Emmanuelle Zoldan – Vocals
Michael Brush – Drums
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