Review Summary: A well played album with some major flaws. The word love shows up 36 times on this album.
Prog, in of itself, is a fairly vague and unassuming term to use for classifying music. The nuances and specifics of something that is “prog” are hard to define and impossible to agree upon (for the most part). While this is a trend that follows with many different terms used to describe music (such as the melodic in melodic death metal, the symphonic in symphonic black metal, just about any use of the term “post”, etc), it seems the hardest of all to agree upon is “prog”. Strange it is, then, that it is easy to hear something and say “oh, surely, that is prog *genre*”, but when asked to describe why it is so, one may find oneself speechless, or, most often of all, about ready to cause an argument. Some aspects can be agreed upon, however; as far as prog metal goes, soaring vocals, virtuoso instrumentation, long song durations, and ridiculous, far-reaching lyrical content are commonly agreed upon progenitors. Incidentally, when a band seeks to construct a prog-metal release, it is not unreasonable to expect them to at least cover all those grounds competently. While some of those classifications are more fragile than others, it seems as though it would be easy to pinpoint where the weaknesses lay when some aspects are done inadequately. Not so with Empyrean Sky
’s The Snow White Rose of Paradise
, henceforth referred to as TSWRoP
(stupid prog metal album titles are another common statistic), which fails on several of these levels. Curiously enough, the album, and the band, excel and go beyond in the areas they do not fail at.
Singers, predominantly, go with one, two, three, maybe even four different vocal techniques that they (hopefully) excel at. While the “excel” part is not always true, and is often the greatest weakness of a band, it does not contradict the fact that a small amount variation in vocal array is expected. Apparently throwing tradition to the wind, as well as slapping originality in the face (probably with some kind of mouth on a stick), Empyrean Sky
have taken the high road and decided that it’d be acceptable to forcefully shove as many possible vocal styles onto their 47 minute release as possible. One may wonder just how many “as many as possible is”, and by my count, it reached somewhere into a dozen and a half (probably more). Diversity can often lend to interesting and complex music, but this is based on the precedent that the aforementioned diversity has a quality-based merit to it. Such is not the case with TSWRoP
Ranging from imitations of every high pitched vocalist who’s made a name for himself to some of the worst black metal screams ever uttered, Empyrean Sky
’s vocalist sets the bar, and sets it quite high, for how much you can possibly suck at different kinds of vocals on one record. This man literally sounds as though, during the recording process, he’d be singing a line and, suddenly, a seizure would set upon him; he’d then be singing in an entirely different (albeit awful) way, and rather than redoing his effort, he just ran with it. He cannot decide how to annunciate his vocals; on the record, he has only two or three techniques which he actually sounds good using. The singer presents to the listener a sample of his black metal voice at the very beginning of the album; for the less audacious, this is a good summary of the entire album, with terrible layering and cringe-worthy snarls. For the more daring, however, they will soon find themselves assaulted with a barrage of Bruce Dickinson imitations (one singer amongst many) as well as terrible variations of screams. Now, perhaps these vocals would not be so bad if they had a strong, confident lyrical backing; sadly this is not the case. Running with the pseudo-fantastical lyrical content, as well as a wholeheartedly hilariously contrived romantic focus, their lyrics are what a polite person would call “bad”. Sadly, when confronted with a more honest opinion, they are nothing short of "absolutely abysmal"; a child scratching a stick into the sand has crafted more eloquent verses than what can be found on this release; even after the tide inevitably washes away the archaic sketching, a finer conception of literature yet remains. While not the most awful writing ever conceived, they are overly effective in their capacity to induce an intolerable amount of groaning. For example:
The stroke of twelve and the bells start to toll again,
I raise my blade to the moon, the ceremony begins,
Drive it deep in the heart of the sacrificial lamb,
Red candles cast shadows on my blood covered hands,
To the beat of my heart I drink the flask,
This spell of love hath now been cast.”
Combine laughable lyrical content with a hilariously awful and arrogantly forced vocal presentation and what’s left is an album that often consternates and disgusts the ears, frequently at the same time. In the wake of this glorious tragedy, the album has one saving grace: its instrumentation.
In the depths and bounds of bands associated with the illustrious term “prog”, one can find occasion after occasion of enormously gifted and talented musicians. In Empyrean Sky
’s case, this only falls to the instrumental section. Putting forth a performance that is nothing short of brilliant, the members hold together and push forward the album through all its flaws (the singer). Indeed, TSWRoP
gives off the impression that the band has two separate entities: the singer, and the rest of the band. While the singer is completely unfocused and out of control, the instrumentation is very much in tune with itself. Combining punishing riffs that take influence from numerous genres, programmed drums that drive as often as they complement, and a bassist who is both audible and extremely talented, the instrumentalists from Empyrean Sky
strut their chops for the entirety of the album. Their ability to transition from heavy to soft is one of their greatest strengths, marred by the fact that whenever it happens that one jackass starts talking again. Luckily, and unluckily, they are given there chance to shine on two instrumental tracks, which happen to be the two strongest tracks. These instrumentals show off their ability to write an interesting, well thought out song. Sadly because there are only six songs on the release, this condenses the amazing suck of the vocalist onto four tracks instead of six. This is not to say, however, that the tracks with vocals don’t have their strong points. Into the Depths
boasts one of the best solos that I have ever heard. It’s just that good (it’s also followed by some of the worst black metal vocals I’ve ever heard. They’re just that bad). All over the album, fantastic moments of brilliance can be found.
Unlike Disney movies, however, there is one last flaw that will deprive this album of a happy ending. A matter of personal preference, some find that synthesizers add another element of complexity to an album, while others find them hysterical and pretentious. The lesser of two evils that is not at all preferable under any circumstance, the synthesizers on TSWRoP
are mixed high above everything else, apparently under the assumption that anyone who wanted to hear the album also wanted paroxysm caused by annoying electronic keyboards. Imagine the most obnoxious synthesizer tone possible; these guys did just that, and set forth to realizing it. Having done that, they put it all over the album, literally drowning the listener in faux-piano. Sometimes they do complement the guitars, but not often enough to make up for how flawed they are.
The Snow White Rose of Paradise
is a fantastically instrumentally realized album marred by hilarious vocals, indecently bad lyrics, and annoying synthesizers. Empyrean Sky
is a band worth checking out for hardcore fans of prog metal, and no one else.