Review Summary: Depressing female-fronted progressive metal that sacrifices just a little too much variation in the name of maintaining their morose atmosphere.
If you ask the average person into metal about their feelings towards female vocalists in metal you’d probably find that opinions are extreme. It seems that people either love them or hate them with very little in the way of moderate feelings on the matter. If I had to venture a guess as to why people hate female vocals, I’d say that it’s probably due to the opinion that women just can’t achieve the aggression metal usually requires. A more general opinion is that female vocals just don’t fit the music as well. Whatever the case may be, Menagerie may be able to win some of those people over despite their dependence on a female vocalist.
The main reason that this band may be able to win over those not usually into females in metal is due to the style of metal that they play. Menagerie plays a gloomy brand of progressive metal; a genre not known for it’s “manly” sounding vocalists to begin with. They also don’t fall into the trap of bands such as Dream Theater
where they feel the need to stuff a song full of extraneous sections just to pad the playing times. Menagerie actually fall closer to the moody, concise prog of Rage For Order
or A Pleasant Shade of Grey Fates Warning
with stylistic influences coming from Mandylion
-era The Gathering
Opening track, “Echo”, stands as one of the best tracks on the album and is wholly representative of what it has to offer. This song, and every song on the album, makes great use of wonderfully morose lead guitar melodies played over chunky riffs and sci-fi style synths which all combine together to lend extra emotional weight to the depressive vocals of Brooke Mayfield. Brooke never tries to reach operatic-highs or death metal lows, instead resting comfortably in an upper mid-range that is perfect for the sadness that she conveys in every song. She also has a tendency to layer different vocal melodies over one another in a way that despite their variation meld together perfectly.
Even though the main focus of the music is definitely the vocal and guitar melodies, the rest of the band also do a great job of keeping things interesting. The bass player only rarely follows the guitar; he can more often be heard playing subtle counter melodies that interplay quite well with the guitar. During closer, “Moderation”, the bass player’s rhythmic melody gives the song its sense of movement and flow. If there is a weak link in the band it is the drummer. Despite the progressive edge of the songs, the drummer generally just lays down a solid beat making calculated use of rolls and double bass only to avoid monotony.
Unfortunately a little monotony has found its way into this album anyway. In order to maintain the depressing vibe of the album they sustain a relatively constant mid-paced speed in all their songs only occasionally varying tempos. Also, while the lead guitar melodies aren’t blatantly plagiarizing each other they all carry a very similar sound which becomes more noticeable as the album carries on. The final hint of monotony comes from the vocals that, while good, uphold a strict adherence to a certain range and never deviate from it. All of those similar elements only tarnish the quality of the album as a whole, but don’t affect the quality of individual songs taken singularly.
Despite the feeling of familiarity that becomes noticeable about three-quarters of the way through the album, Menagerie has still released a solid progressive metal album. There aren’t a lot of progressive metal bands that are good at maintaining a consistent vibe in their music, even within a single song, and that is Menagerie’s strong point, but also their undoing. The beautiful and gloomy vocals combined with strong lead guitar melodies and a solid rhythm section makes for highly enjoyable songs, but they also make for an album that could have used a bit more variation in the long run.