Review Summary: The work of a really good doom metal band trying to pass for a melodeath band – and being all the worse off for it
One of the most curious particularities of modern music is the way in which some countries and regions become associated with certain sub-genres. With the exception of world music, where the different sub-genres correspond to the musical identities of different cultures, no style of music should be anything less than universal – and yet, that is very often the case. The rock and metal scene is particularly notorious for this, with certain sub-genres being so synonymous with specific regions that they become part of their official designation - ‘Florida’ death metal and ‘Bay Area’ thrash being perhaps the two most instantly recognisable examples. Even when the associated location does not make it into the name, however, the connection oftentimes remains, with every new act of the genre instantly being assumed to come from its most prolific location.
As music distribution and access becomes ever more globalized, however, this still prevalent trend begins to slowly dissipate, as more and more bands prove even these sub-genres are more widespread than initially thought. Some of these locations are more incongruous and left-field than others (Indonesia is a million miles away from Queens, New York in every possible way, yet boasts a thriving and vibrant Ramonescore movement) but most examples of this phenomenon are not actually all that extreme – just unexpected, in light of musical stereotypes associated with the genre.
Case in point: Black Therapy, a band from sunny Italy whose sound evokes much harsher, Northern-facing climates. Rather than ascribe themselves to their country’s trademark upbeat, epic power metal sound, this Roman five-piece chooses to tread a much darker path, self-identifying as followers of the melodic death metal sound usually associated with Scandinavian countries, most notably Sweden.
However, even a cursory spin to the group’s third full-length album, Echoes of Dying Memories
, reveals this self-assigned categorisation to be somewhat less than accurate. While Black Therapy certainly do exhibit more than a few melodeath traits over the record’s nine songs (the verse riffing in Scars
would have been as much at home in a mid-90s melodeath record as a mid-2000s metalcore release), the overall sound is somewhat slower and more melancholy than usual for bands of the genre, more readily evoking Katatonia or Insomnium than In Flames or At The Gates. Most of the album’s forty-five minute duration is spent at a deliberate, mid-tempo pace, and even the occasional bursts of death/thrash metal speed never quite reach the sort of full throttle most bands of the genre are known for. Likewise, the guitar work focuses less on crunching, headbanging riffs and more on plaintive, atmospheric leads which, when coupled with the classically-minded keyboards, the aforementioned mid-tempo percussion and bassist Lorenzo Carlini’s wall-of-sound approach, create a soundscape closer to modern death/doom metal than the Swedish style mentioned by the band; so much so that, were it not for Giuseppe Di Giorgio’s unwaveringly harsh, throat-searing vocals and the occasional speedier section, Black Therapy might have been considered an out-and-out doom metal band – and a damn good one, at that.
As it is, this unacknowledged duality in style ends up detracting from the band’s sound, rather than enhancing it, for one simple reason – Black Therapy are just not a very good melodeath act. Paradoxically, the moments where the group attempts to adhere to their professed style of choice come across as pedestrian and a little rote, in stark contrast with the infinitely more interesting (If not particularly memorable) doom-tinged passages. Not helping matters any is Di Giorgio’s unvarying -Kokko-meets-Liiva rasp, which proves far too one-dimensional for the otherwise complex and layered sound the group attempt to create on their third full-length effort. Many moments throughout these nine tracks are just begging for a vocal variation, and the appearance of clean vocals on closer Ruins
makes it painfully obvious to just how large an extent the permanent implementation of such a dichotomy would help the band’s sound. As things stand, however, the vocal performance lets the group down somewhat – as made abundantly clear by the fact that, while the majority of the music-driven instances on Echoes of Dying Memories
are decidedly above-average, the majority of the vocal-centric instances are decidedly not
Even these factors would, however, have been negligible, had the group’s songwriting been just a little better; unfortunately, Black Therapy falter in this regard as well, presenting far too few memorable choruses (and a few too many amateur song-structure choices) to make these forty-five minutes anything more than a throwaway diversion. The moments that work really do
work, but the lack of anything to cling on to or scream along with causes a solid half of the songs on the album to go by unacknowledged, and fade from memory shortly after they finish. Dreaming, Ideal
and Burning Abyss
all suffer from the lack of any sort of memorable section, as well as from the puzzling decision to end nearly every song on the album either abruptly or in a fade-out, leaving a sense of incompletion; the latter is particularly egregious in this regard, fading out while the band is still in full flow (vocals included) and thus coming across less like a finished track, and more like one of those unfinished song samples bands used to put up as previews on their website. The placement of what should clearly have been an intro or an outro halfway through the tracklist (The Winter Of Your Suffering
, three minutes of atmospheric piano with minimal backing) further comes across as a baffling and amateurish decision, turning what could have been a great mood-setting or wind-down piece into little more than a pointless (if pleasant) breather, which breaks up the flow of aggression just as it is reaching its climax.
As frustrating as these shortcomings are, however, they are far from making the group’s sound worthless; on the contrary, the fact that Black Therapy do
have the potential to be a decidedly interesting band is what makes them so frustrating to begin with. As noted, the group are fairly adept at creating a melancholy and atmospheric blend of death and doom metal, peppered here and there with the odd external influence; the title track’s verse sections place djenty riffs over a post-metal-esque rhythmic ambiance, Ruins
throws in a few seconds of mathcore tremolos midway through, and some of the guitar solos heard throughout would not sound out of place in a more melodic heavy/power metal album). Likewise, they prove capable of writing an above-average song at least once across these forty-five minutes - Rejecting Me
sees the group finally achieve the right balance for their Kalmah-meets-Katatonia sound, resulting in six minutes of near-perfect melodeath songwriting, and certainly a much better calling card than pedestrian opener Phoenix Rising
. The title track and Scars
also prove catchy and memorable enough to warrant a second spin, if only in the context of this album, further cementing the belief that, with only a few tweaks to their compositional prowess, Black Therapy truly could aim for loftier goals.
To achieve them, however, the group would first have to give up the pretence of being any sort of melodic death metal band, and embrace what they truly are – a potentially above-average dark/death/doom metal act. Their staunch refusal to do causes most of Echoes Of Dying Memories
to come across as the work of a really good doom metal band trying to pass for a melodeath band – and being all the worse off for it. Three albums into their career, it is still not too late for these Italians to address and correct some of their problems, but they need to act sooner rather than later; further refusal to fully commit to either of the two genres presented here will only result in the continued alienation of both fanbases, leaving the group in the same limbo they find themselves in with their latest full length – appealing for fans of Insomnium, Moonspell and early Paradise Lost and Katatonia, but coming up short for everyone else.
Echoes of Dying Memories