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Dark Sarah - Behind the Black Veil

Dark Sarah - CD Review
Behind the Black Veil

Dark Sarah



CD Info
Inner Wound Recordings
14 Tracks
English Lyrics

As a long-time fan of Amberian Dawn and their now former singer, Heidi Parviainen, I was really sad when when the band and singer split back in 2012.  It's always upsetting when this happens, but it seems like Heidi herself didn't miss a beat after the separation was announced, as a couple of months later, she went public with her new project, which she entitled Dark Sarah.  From there, Heidi launched a unique crowd funding campaign in 2013.  She didn't want funding for an entire project, but rather for a series of "episodes", three in all, where each episode would be individually crowd funded, with a full album being the final result down the line.  While I do flop around the internet quite a bit, I have not seen everything, but this approach to fan-funded campaigns seemed definitely unlike any other such endeavours I had seen before.

Episode I came out in 2013, consisting of four songs, including one duet with ex-Xandria vocalist, Manuella Kraller. This episode also produced two music videos, "Save Me" and "Memories Fall", the duet with Manuella.

The release for Episode II was again separately crowd-funded, with the CD including the four songs from Episode I, and four new songs - all available exclusively to contributors.  There was one video, "Hunting the Dreamer".  Episode III is the full album, and the first single from it is yet another duet, this time with Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko named "Light in You."  This final installment will be released May 8 in Europe and May 12 in North America.

Dark Sarah is quite the enterprise, complete with full web site, all kinds of merchandise, and a whole lot of lush photography.  And all of it is pretty gorgeously done.

But what about the music?  This is a CD review after all, so I do have to talk about that!  Behind the Black Veil is, very simply, phenomenal.  There is an awful lot of stuff going on in this CD, since there is a fairly involved story being told through the music, and luckily, Dark Sarah has provided a write-up of this story on her web site, which you can read here.  This is, obviously, a concept album, so it helps to know the framework we're dealing with, and that the story is up on the web site is very helpful. 

As you can probably figure out, this isn't a happy story whatsoever.  It's a story of betrayal, vengeance, violence, and insanity.  Starting things off, our protagonist, Sarah, is at her wedding - but she gets abandoned at the altar by her betrothed, who has left her for another woman.  Sarah blanks out and collapses on the church floor, in her white wedding dress, and some time later, wakes up transformed.  Her running mascara has formed the eye of Horus on her face.  "Save Me", the introductory song, starts off with some very mournful strains and moves us into the immediate aftermath of Sarah's desertion.  As usual, I pay a lot of attention to what happens in the first song of every album, because I believe that the first song is the most important song on the album - if you're an album listener and not just a selective song listener.  A slower paced piece, "Save Me" showcases for the listener what we can expect from Heidi and Dark Sarah in terms of sound, atmosphere, mood, and composition.  It's dark, but Heidi's gentle soprano soars above that darkness like a bright light; her voice is delectable, as we have come to expect from her.  Classing herself as "cinematic" metal, we get sweeping orchestral arrangements that create a sense of drama, heightened emotion, and tension.  There is aggressive drumming, which is an integral part of the overall sound Dark Sarah has created, and of course, heavy guitars. 

The pacing of this album is all over the place, with some songs being slow and dramatic, and others having a power metal influence.  Pacing is very important in any storytelling scenario, so I liked that there was a lot of variety in this area because it made for a very unpredictable, suspenseful listening experience.  Pacing also affects mood and atmosphere, and those are both things this album has in spades.

The writing on Behind the Black Veil is excellent.  Heidi penned the lyrics, which run the gamut of emotions, as you might expect given the storyline.  The song lyrics do a very good job of conveying the descent into madness Dark Sarah experiences, and tracks like "Violent Roses" and "A Grim Christmas Story" show the more evil, laughing mad woman side of Dark Sarah's new personality.  Those songs are also very whimsical in their composition and tone, and you know for sure that this woman has definitely got her cray-cray on.

Other notable songs are the three duets.  The "characters" the guest vocalists portray in the overall story add depth and complexity to the development of Dark Sarah and our understanding of her deteriorating mental state. The first one is "Memories Fall" which, as mentioned, features Manuella Kraller, formerly of Xandria, and Manuella takes on the role of the personification of Dark Sarah's fate, and it is in this song that our protagonist completes her transformation into Dark Sarah.  This is a powerful song, and the vocal performances in it are exactly what we would expect from these high caliber singers. In other words, awesome.  The second duet is with Van Canto's Inga Scharf, who plays the role of the Queen of Snakes in the song "Evil Roots".  Again, fantastic performances by both Heidi and Inga.  Finally, we have the duet with Tony Kakko, who personifies the moonlight in the song "Light In You."  This is a song of hope, as the moonlight has come to tell Sarah that there is another path available to her, if she would just take it - and they fall in love. 

I don't know what is going to be on the general release, but I got a few bonus tracks on  my promotional copy of Behind the Black Veil.  There is an instrumental piece called "Sarah's Theme", an orchestral version of "Memories Fall" and then a very cleverly done, kind of creepy, but really fun song I mentioned above called "A Grim Christmas Story."  Set to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", Dark Sarah crosses some serious lines by becoming a bit of a crazy serial murderer - or is it a fantasy?  The lyrics are hilarious.  I hope this song is released somewhere because it's such a great finale to the album with its playful whimsy combined with bloody acts.  It's perfect!

I am someone who definitely loves a good story and a literary focus in an album, and Behind the Black Veil checks off those boxes for me.  I thought the drama and atmospheres of the various scenes and scenarios portrayed on the album were very well done, and the songs were perfect accompaniments to those scenes and scenarios.  The storytelling is fantastic, and Heidi Parviainen outdid herself in that area.  The overall sound of Dark Sarah is nothing at all like Amberian Dawn, which is another testament to how great the writing on this album is as a whole:  Heidi has very successfully separated herself from the trappings of her previous band and come out with something unique to who she is as a writer and musician.  As a package, Behind the Black Veil has everything the metal connoisseur will be tickled over.  With this CD, I think Heidi has really set the bar high, in my books, for concept albums and, to be honest, for solo female metal singers.  This album outshines a lot of Heidi's own work with her former band, I think, and it even outshines some of the works by other female metal singers who have put out solo stuff (not mentioning any names).  I was very impressed with Behind the Black Veil, and I think it will stand up well against whatever my contenders wind up being for my top three of 2015.  In fact, if it isn't number two after The Gentle Storm, I'll very surprised.