Review Summary: A new perspective makes for fresh music.
Female fronted metal bands are no longer a rarity. After the stunning success of Nightwish, countless bands have jumped on the bandwagon, using their siren's sex appeal as a new way of recruiting fans to music that they may otherwise have avoided at all costs. For some, like Epica's Simone Simmons, the move is a natural extension of a superior vocalist. For others, who will be left unnamed, it is a shrewd business decision that leaves much to be desired from the actual end result.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this lies a different path, tread by very few women. Led by Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy, there are now more women fronting legitimate bands on the extremes of the metal world. Gossow's work in Arch Enemy is highly controversial, but her shredded vocals have paved the way for women to make metal that is not fluff and go toe to toe with the boys.
Luuna Mortis straddles the two sides of the equation, a progressive minded metal band that dabbled in all the areas the genre has to offer. Borrowing bits and pieces from classic heavy metal, to thrash, to melodic death metal, they piece their influences together in the way that all great bands do, but with one difference. The first thing that anyone notices about the band is their singer, Mary Zimmer. Her presence makes the listener assume that they are in for a ride along the bombastic style that female-fronted bands usually favor, but they would be wrong on every level.
The Absence is not a fluff album, nor is it in any way watered down to fit Zimmer's vocals. A capable singer in her own right, the songs are solid slabs of metal that force her to keep pace. She does this, and along the way throws in her own truly remarkable harsh vocals. Sounding like a less layered, less processed Gossow, Zimmer quickly makes her case as the best extreme vocalist to pack two X chromosomes. Her shrieks are strong, clear, and sound as though her throat should explode at any moment. With this talent, it would be easy to overdo things, but Zimmer is in full control, using these vocals only as a means of adding to the songs, never letting them overpower her clean singing.
As "Ash" rises from the speakers with a rapid assault of double bass under a thrashing riff, it is obvious that this is not a band interested in marketing themselves for having a female singer. This is a cohesive unit, and they rip through these songs like a true metal machine. They slow the tempo slightly on "Ruin", introduce acoustic guitars in the introduction of "The Departure", but never give the impression of going soft. In between these breaks, "Reformation" is a balls-out thrasher, while "The Absence" showcases the most aggressive of Zimmer's vocals.
The success of Luna Mortis is double-faceted. Zimmer is a revelation, a woman capable of any vocal style she chooses, but still interested in and capable of turning out strong, but not sugar-coated hooks. The melodies on almost every song are memorable, but never in the saccharine way that leaves the ugly taste of modern pop in your mouth. The other shining light are guitarists Brian Koenig and Cory Scheider, a tandem that toss off riffs and solos with the kind of skill of players with far more credits to their name. Their thrash influences don't limit them to simple low string chugging, and their melodic moments are well placed rests from the onslaught.
The Absence may be Luna Mortis' first album, but it comes with a maturity and sense of craft that is amazing. This is a band that sounds both vital and composed. The growing pains usually associated with any band are already gone, leaving this album as a testament to their talent.
If this is indeed only the beginning, and the band is ready to grow, they could become something truly special. If they only manage to continue along at this level, that's nothing to be ashamed of either. The Absence is a very good record, and there are so few of them left I can say that about.