Review Summary: The fine line that is female-fronted Symphonic Rock.
It may seem like a strange analogy, but I've always thought that the social equivalent of any form of symphonic rock or metal would be a person who would always steer conversations to suit their own talent or needs. Do it subtly & skillfully, and objectives will be met... Do it clumsily & unnaturally, and you probably end up looking like a tool. While bands such as Evanescence and Nightwish have occasionally had success melding classical and heavy influences, it’s a fine line to walk with only a confined space to successfully operate within. Moreover, when it isn’t performed with precision, the whole sound feels forced and artificial; a concern which Michigan based outfit Upon Wings experience on their debut EP ‘Afterlife’.
Comprising four tracks with sufficient – if subtle – variation, those searching for the kind of female-fronted power-metal which Nightwish has previously specialized in, need probably look elsewhere. Upon Wings’ style is more akin to alternative-rock, with an emphasis on infusing some form of gothic atmospheric quality to add distinction. The opening title track is most symbolic of the band’s sound, while ‘Take Away’ delivers more of the same in slightly poppier fashion. Sandwiched in between, ‘You Are My Weapon’ is the heaviest track of these fourteen minutes, leaning into post-grunge and nu-metal territory, as well as including a half-decent solo courtesy of Slaves on Dope guitarist Kevin Jardine (the Canadian nu-metallers also providing drummer Peter Tzaferis).
A novice to the genre would suggest that discussion concerning the competent – but far from extraordinary – musicianship is ultimately of secondary importance. Front and center to all things Upon Wings is classically trained vocalist Anne Autumn Erickson (just Anne Erickson wouldn’t sound anywhere near as ethereal). Armed with a dramatic mezzo-soprano vocal range, Erickson’s performance here varies from impressively controlled to annoyingly ill-fitting over-enunciation. For better or worse, celestial closer ‘The Dream’ is the most unique tune, delivering little in the way of instrumentation, and instead relying on angelic vocal layering to emphasize its haunting nature. At the very least, 'The Dream' suggests future soundtrack or theatrical work would not be out of the equation.
While it may be the odd track out, it is this closing piece which essentially typifies both Upon Words as a band, and ‘Afterlife’ as an EP. A love-or-hate proposition which rests almost entirely on Erickson’s operatic vocals, even those in the latter camp should recognize the potential apparent on this debut release that has been produced by (ex-Creed bassist and current Dark New Day vocalist) Brett Hestla. The room for improvement appears to be there in spades, but one has to wonder if Erickson has the range to pull off symphonic rock without a total overhaul of Upon Wings’ sound. At a minimum, some expert guidance will be required to direct her, while settling the band’s line-up will undoubtedly assist cohesion and consistency, since Erickson appears to currently be the only full-time member.
Recommended Tracks: Afterlife & Take Away.