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Monday, December 14, 2015

Review: Scarleth - The Silver Lining

Scarleth is a symphonic power/gothic metal band hailing from Ukraine, founded in 2005 by guitarist Victor Morozov. To say they have a turbulent history would be the understatement of the year. Throughout their 10 years of existence they have had a staggering amount of changes in their line-up with people coming, going, coming back and going again. Add to that at least as many other band-, and music related problems, such as moving from rehearsal space to rehearsal space, and, on a whole different level, the war in Ukraine and you will find more than enough ingredients to make many bands quit. But not Scarleth. If anything they have proven to be resilient, a virtue for a band in an overcrowded genre. Being rebuild after a collapse in 2014, they are now in the middle of rehearsing for the live performance of their third full-length ‘The silver lining’, a symbolic name in more than one way. Let’s hope this release marks the (re-)birth of a new, stable Scarleth and that calmer times lay ahead of them. The current line-up sadly has had little to do with this release, since only guitarist Morozov and extreme vocalist lady Oksana ‘Element’ Fesenko were involved in recording it. The rest has been recorded by former band members and/or session musicians, so only time will tell how the new formation will sound compared to this production.

Opener ‘Night of lies’ is best described as a power metal song, spiced up with folk metal vocal lines, defined by a supporting grunt in the chorus. These grunts apparently are the work of new front lady Fesenko, as they are throughout the entire album, which makes me extremely curious to hear her sing the main vocal lines. If I hadn’t read it on the band’s official website I would never have guessed it was a female doing the grunts all the time, and to be perfectly honest I still have doubts here and there. The main vocal lines, again throughout the entire album, are courtesy of Irina Makukha, who has a voice that lacks a bit of power and depth at times, although she definitely gets credits for trying. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good vocalist, but Scarleth’s music demands a tad more aggression here and there, which I’m not sure she can deliver. Perhaps the new lead singer Element can.

Anyway, back to ‘Night of lies’. As to be expected the music is led by the keys, but they never get too dominant. A good song to open an album with I’d say. Song number two, ‘Double memory’ is a rougher song. This is where it becomes clear Makukha’s voice appears not to be heavy enough to match the music. Musically it borrows parts from death metal, a genre in which Scarleth’s musicians apparently feel at ease as well, making it the heaviest song on the album. When it comes to feeling at ease within a genre, Scarleth is so in many. After straying from the power metal path by touching death metal in 'Double memory’, yet another path is chosen in ‘The gates of dark sun’. The oriental atmosphere, the slower pace of the song and the excellent, haunting solo make this song one of the best compositions of the album. Unlike in the heavier work, this is the perfect song for Makukha’s soothing voice, which is exactly what she displays here.

This style is quickly abandoned, ‘Voices’ takes you right back to Scarleth’s current roots of power metal. Starting with a duel between keys and guitar and maintaining a much higher pace, this song is sure to wake you from your atmosphere-induced relaxed state of mind. However, this style too is short lived. Once again another path is chosen, although this one is a well-trodden path in the power metal world. ‘Dying alone’ is a ballad, cutting the album in half. Most ballads usually get a bit cheesy after a minute or two, and even though that feeling surfaces in this song every now and then as well, it still is worth a listen, thanks to the solo, the strong end and drummer Dmitry Smotrov’s work.

As if we haven’t had enough different styles already, we can welcome yet another style in ‘One short life’. This time they take a shot at folk metal, with, as it sounds to me, some native influences. An entertaining song with a solo that does not seem match the style but nevertheless fits the song like a glove. Great work from the rhythm section as well. Next up is ‘Before the night falls’, a run of the mill kind of song, with a somewhat psychedelic touch in the end. Here too, Makukha’s voice is at times not powerful enough, although she shows she gets close here and there. In my opinion the weakest song on the album. Luckily its successor, ‘Pure desire’ makes up for that and then some. This is a song on steroids, played by musicians on steroids (Go Max Morton on bass) and accompanied by a vocalist that sounds as if she has remarkably little problems keeping up. This song definitely gets you fired up for the album’s epilogue ‘Last hope’, which is in fact a mini version of the entire album. A varied piece of work filled with highlights, in which almost all styles come together in an epic song with leading roles for every single member. A worthy end to a surprising album.

I’m not sure if it is coincidence or intended, but to me it feels as if ‘The silver lining’ is a reflection of the band’s turbulent history. Even though power metal seems to be the overall main course, every song has a different structure as if they still are in the process of experimenting which style fits them best and they haven’t decided on the definitive path yet. I personally have no problem with that, I can appreciate a very wide range of music, so this album is right up my alley, but if they want to build a steady fan base, they should probably stick to a more recognizable style. Maybe when the dust has settled around them and they manage to compose new material with a stable line up they’ll find their way, although you won’t hear me complain when they keep delivering music like they did on this album. I’m certain to keep track of them in the future. Highly recommended album in my opinion, with the footnote that it has been recorded with many musicians that are no longer part of the band and thus is no indication of what Scarleth currently sounds. Somehow I feel they’ll be fine with the new line up as well, though…

Written by Henric van Essen

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