Stronger Than Death



by Clifgard USER (16 Reviews)
February 22nd, 2023 | 0 replies

Release Date: 02/10/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Better Listen!

Suzahna Madsen, otherwise known as Zahna, was a fascinating under-the-radar act in the CCM hard rock genre back in 2018 when she and her band released their debut album Red For War back during the halcyon days of Rockfest Records, started by fellow rockers' Seventh Day Slumber. That album showcased a powerhouse of a vocalist and lyricist and the energy of a band with something to prove. While it suffered from some production shortcomings, it remains a fun, intriguing, and often surprisingly heavy listen from a female vocalist who was clearly not afraid to push the CCM envelope with a lot of thought-provoking lyrics.

Five years later, Zahna has released her now-independent follow-up in the form of Stronger Than Death. I would be tempted to call it a bit of an overcorrection from that rawer, angstier debut, but that would be under-selling what Zahna has accomplished here - this is a brisk, brilliant work of shiny, hook-laden pop-metal.

Nowhere is this more evident than the one-two punch of "This Is Your Calling" into single "Better Run!" The former is a mid-tempo rocker that calls to mind Lacey Sturm's post-Flyleaf work; It's one melodic hook after another on top of a solid foundation of huge, complex riffs. The latter retains the fantastic minor-into-major melodic motif but brings the speed and tempo up while tuning the guitars down. Zahna adds drama by layering brooding synths and distorted, effected vocals as effectively as Innocence And Instinct-era RED did with melodramatic string sections (A memorable snicker during a pause in the bridge of "Better Run!" is my favorite example). For whatever reason, I hear some of Falling Up's "Dawn Escapes" during "Erase," and the faith-forward message and riffs of the title track emulate Fireflight by way of Disciple. The slick production leaves nary a rough edge throughout, but hers is a sound that Zahna positively owns.

The real meat of the album comes in the synth-pop ballad "Prayers In The Dark," which is followed by the brooding interlude "Reaper." This leads seamlessly into the epic "Die For Something," which slowly transitions from the poppish and electronic elements into something more organic. Zhana's husband (under the stage name "NESDAM") brings an almost emo-like flair to the track with his expressive tenor, while the music builds in tension and drama until it culminates in a pounding rhythmic bridge and final chorus. The album closer, "Anything But Destiny" trades some of the electronic elements for strings in a finale that matches the theatre of "Die For Something," but with less intensity and more delicateness.

On the whole, Stronger Than Death feels a little short for an 11-track album - the opener, "Death at Dawn" is barely more than two minutes and feels oddly truncated, and "Reaper" is an artistically-interesting but rather short interlude - but it is certainly sweet. It rarely does anything I have not heard before, but it is equally rare that I hear it done so well. As intentionally over-produced as it may be, there's remarkably little to fault Zahna's sophomore effort, with catchy melodies, chunky riffs, and weighty synths aplenty through its 36-minute runtime. Zahna has my attention: I'd better listen.

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