Review Summary: A great well-executed dose of melodic/symphonic death metal.
Metal is one of those subgenres that likes clone bands. Once we had Iron Maiden, then half the metal fans wanted to sound like Iron Maiden. Once we had Slayer, then every thrash band wanted to sound like Slayer. And we have melodic death metal, where every band wants to sound like In Flames or At The Gates. How many bands haven't tried to copy this formula of guitar shredding, Maiden-esque and bellowed throaty vocals?
And a lot of them seem to come from Finland. Eternal Tears of Sorrow have been around for a while, mind, but they kind of disappeared off the face of the earth after 2001's A Virgin And A Whore. EToS, too, are -gasp- a melodic death metal band from Finland. To put your metal clone gag into an even bigger reflex, there are power metal influences here (Finns like to combine power and death for some reason), with backing vocals being contributed by Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko and Nightwish/Tarot's Marco Hietala. This should be a recipe for a boring, repetitive album, shouldn't it?
Well, marvellously enough, EToS stand just far enough from the pack to be able to have a nicely discernable sound. Sure, the vocals are the standard grunty rasp, very reminiscent of Ensiferum and Finntroll. Sure, the drummer is really fond of his blast beats, which abound far and free on the album. Sure, the riffs sound like the generic chug thing all death metal bands seem to do these days. And still, there's something that captivates and enthralls the listener. Maybe it's the overly cheesy yet supremely melodic keyboard plonking the band uses over all the violent drums and speedy guitar riffing. Maybe it's the clean vocal choirs on the masterful closer "Angelheart, Ravenheart." Or maybe it's the all out thrashing and pounding opener "Sweet Lilith of My Dreams", that absolutely steals the show.
It's that symphonic element, indeed, that propels the band above all their peers on this album. Red Dawn Rising has some really cool choir effects, combined with a nice clean/dirty vocal interplay, and the keyboards adding a nice melodic touch to the song. Opener Sweet Lilith Of My Dreams manages to make grunted vocal lines actually sound catchy, with the added high-tempo smashing beat swivelling around it to punish your ears. And surprisingly, the Japanese-titled Sakura No Rei (which serves as an introduction to Sinister Rain), slows down the tempo to actually let the melodic side of the band enhance the album.
The songwriting variety is still seemingly cut a little short, though. The band really relies on the symphonic death metal formula, and the band has two speeds: midtempo and fast. They tend to mix those dynamics better than most bands do, leaving room for breath sometimes and other times charging up the speedometer again, but the formula may become tiring at the end of the album. Luckily the album has a magnificent closer, Angelheart, Ravenheart, which integrates some of the best clean vocal choirs I've heard in a good while, combines it with a nice melody hook, and doesn't manage to bore surprisingly for its runtime (which comes close to 9 minutes.)
Yes, it's a stereotypical slab of metal. Yes, this album is probably not going to be on the best-of album lists at the end of the decade or millenium. It's simply a very enjoyable slab of music for what it is, and it's bound to satisfy your every daily need for quite a while. Perhaps not quite mastery of the style, but just an extremely good and catchy execution. Strongly recommended for fans of the style.