Review Summary: Great new direction for a fledgling band.
Diablo Swing Orchestra have officially joined the ranks of weirdos such as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Fantomas, Arcturus, Stolen Babies, and Mr. Bungle. With this album, they have thrown out all the blatant presences of repetition and straightforwardness demonstrated in Butcher's Ballroom. Yes, it's still a rhythmically simple band with a myriad of influences ranging from the styles mentioned in their namesake to techno to middle eastern music to tango, but SASFDD show the band recoiling a lot from the accusations that their music was not 'avante garde' and jumping rather eagerly on the bandwagon of strangeness. For one, the musical structures are quite hard to read and not as 'hooky' as their previous release. Some token 'joke songs' like Siberian Love Affairs, Bedlam Sticks and Memoirs of a Roadkill are thrown in as deliciously bizzare interludes between the 'real' songs, which are much lengthier and unorthodox in composition.
Concerning the production, it's crystal clear as always. All the instruments(except the guitar) are polished to stand out in the mid-forefront without detracting from the vocals. The guitars are where they belong, since all they 'really' do is play three to five note rhythms in a rather fitting 'Meshuggah' tone, creating an aggressive growl in the background just to remind us all that this is metal. The 'extra' instruments, by some miraculous feat of engineering, are also perfectly balanced when called upon. They never seem too intrusive or too obscure. All in all, there's really nothing much I can say about this other than it's quite tasteful.
The instrumentation is also top notch. The guitarists never hog any attention with their electric parts. They have a little bit of a nice lead in Ricella Dell'anima, but other than that, they are simply content to sit in the background and add 'heaviness.' It would be nicer in the future if the band allowed them to actually 'do' something with their electric guitars rather than allowing them to shine only on acoustic parts and the odd song or two. The drummer is also similar in that he NEVER shows off and simply keeps a tasteful bouncy beat. Where the band shines is their use of unorthodox instruments. The violin(s?), and trumpets are played to great effect and possess some beautiful melodies when popping up. The real star here however, is Annelouice Wolgers and Daniel Hakansson, also the guitarist. Unlike Nightwish, Epica, and a gaggle of other faux operatic bands, Annelouice is the real deal. She possesses a genuine TRAINED operatic voice that can soar to the fabled glass shattering heights in some of the songs. She's a little more restrained on this album, lending about fifty percent of the vocal work to Daniel, who possesses a rather peculiar talent for switching between a boy band quasi falsetto croon into a completely unprecedented opera basso voice which I assume he has just recently acquired, since it was completely absent on the last album. The contrasting 'bearded male' rumble and 'opera diva' wailing work perfectly together, punctuated by the occasional monotone harping by Annelouice and some comical rhythmic narratations courtesy of Daniel's basso alterego. If anything, you should buy the album just for the vocals, since this is one of the best you're ever going to find in 'clean vocal metal.'
The composition is where things really get interesting. Like I said before, they probably got wind of criticisms of not being part of their respective scene, so they decided to take a little bit of strangeness Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and a little bit of cartoonish sensibility and unorthodox compositions from Arcturus and Mr. Bungle to add to their own established sound. The result is absolutely astounding. They sound like a natural evolution of themselves rather than a band trying too hard to grasp at being 'avant garde' (cough cough Mayhem's Grand Declaration of War cough cough) I was a little scared they would try to grow the inkling if mainstream hookiness in Butcher's Ballroom, but it turns out that my fears were completely unfounded. If their next release could manage to spiral just as gracefully into dementia without losing the DSO essence, they honestly could be the next contender for Mr.Bungle's dusty and abandoned throne.
In closing, this is a highly recommended piece of avante garde goodness.It is bizzare, beautiful, playful, and utterly insane, something Diablo Swing Orchestra have learned and perfected better than Fantomas' cartoonish spaz-outs could ever could.