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Sirenia - The Seventh Life Path

Sirenia - CD Review
The Seventh Life Path

The Seventh Life Path




CD Info
Napalm Records
11 Tracks
English Lyrics

This album from Norwegian Gothic Metal band Sirenia is about as moody, psychedelic, and muddled, as Ingmar Bergman’s infamous film, The Seventh Seal. If you have no familiarity with that film, the basic premise involves a disillusioned monk, competing in a metaphoric chess game with the very personage of death; it is meant to describe the adrenal rush and anxiety one feels, when they’re faced with the undeniable, harsh truth of their imminent death. The lead track “Serpent,” in Sirenia’s The Seventh Life Path musically describes this perpetual game of chase, continually unraveling in our psyches; that is where the band Sirenia ingeniously establishes the classic Beauty and the Beast formula, the feuding soprano female vocalist, and rage-filled harsh vocals of the male growler, to best effect, to mirror the ongoing battle between death and mortality. And mortal life is endlessly coiled in a sense of slipping mortality, which is why the lead track “Serpent,” exemplifies this with a strangulated, muddled sensation in the music. This muddled effect, though, quickly becomes a convenient pretense of artistic depth during the rather flat middle portion of the album.

As a whole, I am still uncertain, as to whether Sirenia consciously chose to rely on poor sound balance, to intentionally bring out a distorted, fuzzy quality to the sound, as if the music were meant to artfully lack clarity. If that was the band’s intention, I think my rather ambivalent feelings as a whole for this album will only improve, though I am still not too keen on it being so liberally used as a whole. The Seventh Life Path is a very experimental, daunting album, particularly for a well-established metal band. Any other band within the niche genre of female-fronted metal, or more gothic flavored metal would never endanger their music reputation by letting their own established sound be radically altered in this kind of nonplussed way. It may leave fans confused, or it may at least slightly disappoint fans that have certain rigid expectations, as to how exactly a band’s sound should remain. The fans that are more open-minded to a band’s artistic and stylistic changes may love this more nineties psychedelic-induced, semi-trance like metal sound, which can be easily differentiated from the sound of other bands in this genre. But sometimes, this experimental quality can quickly become stale very fast, especially if there is not artistic vigor behind it. There is vigor and direction with both the earlier tracks, as well as the final two tracks, but not so much with the middle tracks.

Further separating themselves from many other female-fronted metal bands, the whole album does not have a strong dependence upon the use of the band’s lead female vocalist, Ailyn, to really provide the high drama and theatrics of the sound. Curiously, the band allows the instrumentals and strange trance-like, hallucinatory background sounds to really provide the oppressive mood of the album, making the listener feel cagey, restricted, and on the verge of a mental breakdown, as Death rears its ugly face in songs like the third, lead single track “Once My Light.”

It is really quite a successful trippy album, in that the more classic-sounding songs, like “Sons of the North,” and “Elixir,” have a stronger inclusion of a vocal choir, and lyrics that sound more reminiscent of a Rhaspody of Fire album. These two tracks make stronger use of the harsher male vocals of the band, and there are only smaller moments of the main vocalist Ailyn, providing some soothing , lilting soprano notes, before being rudely interrupted by some harsh vocals, thunderous rounds of threatening drum beats, and piercing scratches of guitars, drunk with ragings of an insane mind.

It gets harder and harder to really separate the songs somewhere in-between “Concealed Disdain” and the aptly-titled “Insania.” At this point, the album becomes less pronounced, as to its intended style, and even more entrenched in a sort of lachrymose, though purposeless muddle. Strangely, the intention of the stylistic thrust of the sound feels increasingly elusive, as though the writers of the music do not know how to bridge these songs to cohere better with the earlier tracks. Yes, the middle songs still feature an alternation between the harsh male vocals, a choir, and Ailyn’s lilting soprano notes. Both songs have a tendency to blend into one another, though, as these two or three tracks are not as differentiated, in terms of sound, versus some of the earlier tracks on the album.

Finally, we return to a more thoughtful, restrained sound with the two final tracks, two of my favorite on this whole moody ensemble of a gothic metal album-“The Silver Eye” and “Tragedienne.” The former track has a much more conventional bombastic metal feel and structure, as it allows Ailyn to finally show off more of her vocal range. It is a most auspicious welcome for her terrific voice to be able to flex itself more, after being dragged through the harrowing circles of the tedious, overwrought middle tracks The middle portion of the album is really the weakest portion of the album, insofar that the poetic strength of the first part and symphonic verve of the end portion are irretrievably lost to a certain uninspired muddle of sound. This is where the poor sound balance and sloppy production values of the album really become more glaring as a result because there are no more interesting musical arrangements to deceive the careful listener.

Beautifully, the last track “Tragedienne” features a beautiful, prominent piano piece being played underneath even safer, more controlled panoply of interesting musical arrangements for both the guitar and drum players to play, besides featuring a much more interesting vocal arrangement for Ailyn. She is underused in this album, whereas the harsh vocals gain more unnecessary presence in the album. The harsh vocals are in of themselves fairly lackluster, lacking any of the real energy, power, true fierceness I would expect from bands like Epica. They’re used too liberally, in a way to fill the void of aimless noise, in some of the weaker middle tracks of the album, where there does not seem to be as much unity in terms of a intended theme or purpose behind all the tracks. It may be artistically nice to have the sound delve into a paroxysm of madness to reflect the embattled forces of “death” and “life” within the subconscious layer of your album, except you must still make your tracks contain a certain type of energy and tangible emotion. Otherwise, it just falls flat, and it becomes redundant and meaningless, which is how I feel about the middle tracks of the album, until finally the band returns triumphantly with some great, interesting tracks during the final two songs of the album. If the album were more consistently like the beginning and end of this album in terms of have tighter direction, I may be able to praise this album even more, but sadly, the middle portion just gets “lost in translation.”

In many ways, the whole album feels entirely unconventional in its presentation and overall impression left on the listener; it is perfectly Ingmar Bergman-esque to leave listeners suspended in a daze of confusion. The fog that settles over the mind, and sometimes causes us to have only fleeting impressions of lucidity, is part of the intended artistic effect of films like The Seventh Seal, and albums like the ominously-titled The Seventh Life Path. In many ways, Sirenian succeeds in creating the first metal album soundtrack, which pays homage to Ingmar Bergman’s iconic, philosophically-confused film, The Seventh Seal. Fans of moody Scandinavia films or music, or fans of the psychedelic progressive nineties trance music from bands like Nine Inch Nails, will want to check this newest album out from Sirenia, even if the middle portion felt a tad bit lackluster. Then again, that was my same opinion of the interminable, boring, drab film, The Seventh Seal, so perhaps there is an audience of listeners out there that will absolutely love this whole album.

For me though, I happen to somewhat appreciate the experimental nature of this album, but I still feel like something is lacking, as though this poorly-produced album really needs some more layers of refinement and sound-balancing to really be a truly good album. Therefore, I can only reasonably give this album a solid seven out of ten, while holding out hope that it has the potential to be an eight, especially since the artistic direction of the album is really quite interesting in its own right. Yet the album just lacks a certain substantive quality and clarity of direction that is needed to keep this album afloat in an otherwise pointless musical morass of fuzzy, trance-like sound distortion.

Final Score: 7.0/10