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Sunterra - Graceful Tunes

Sunterra -  CD Review
Graceful Tunes

CD Info
Label: CCP Records
8 Tracks
Language: English

Upon first listening to the newest output from Austrian metallers Sunterra I was stricken with a case of FLR Syndrome. What, you’ve never heard of it? First Listen Resistance: you’re listening to a favorite band’s new album but it’s just not quite that old style you know and love, so your mind resists what it hears. Hey, it’s only natural and it happens to all of us, especially when the album in question has been highly anticipated (as this one was for me). Well, fortunately it didn’t take long to cure this ailment. All it took to get over this resistance was a second and third listen and everything promptly clicked into place. Further listens only clarified the feeling that this is a great album, sounding both like and unlike the previous one.

I loved the sound of 2002’s Lost Time -- the furious guitar riffs, the fast technical drumming, the stratospheric out-of-this-world keyboards, and the wild unrestrained energy of it all. Let’s face it, Lost Time was one beautiful beast of an album. Graceful Tunes doesn’t have that same kind of energy, not exactly, but it does have its own kind of satisfaction. This album seems to say that the band has had their fun and now they’ve settled down to do something slightly more serious. And I think this can only be a good thing. There’s a feeling that a certain maturation has occurred here. This is still the powerful music we’d expect from Sunterra, but they have shed some of their earlier flamboyance, opting instead for a more subtle and thoughtful approach. The band hasn’t simply repeated their past formula, nor have they (like some other bands) taken their sound off on some strange and unexpected tangent. What they’ve done is what a good band should do, which is to build on and extend their sound, adding new dimensions to it while still retaining a good deal of their earlier essence.

Still firmly within the boundaries of “beauty & beast” gothic metal, Sunterra retains all the elements they’ve put to such good use before, but they have changed the recipe somewhat. The most noticeable change is the reduced emphasis on the keyboards. The rip-roaring key-wizardry of Lost Time has been modified to more finely mesh into the music without dominating it; and there is a wider variety in the style. The flute is still put to excellent use as well, likewise a bit toned down, flowing nicely within the music rather than floating above it. On the other hand it seems that the guitar is more prominent than before, but this is possibly an illusion caused by the lighter touch of the other instruments. If I have one minor complaint it’s that the guitar often sounds distorted, and while that works in some places it’s used just a bit too much. In any case there are plenty of headbangingly good riffs and solos to keep the metal-head in all of us happy.

Another thing keeping me happy is the beautiful voice of Libusa (Lilly) Hruska, sounding as good as ever -- no, even better. Her performance on Lost Time was excellent, but only now do I realize how the fast-paced style of that album put certain constraints on her singing and kept us from hearing her true potential. The new album, with its more mature sense of pace and melody, allows Lilly to sing in what sounds more like her natural range, and the result is impressive. On the other hand, the male growling-style vocals feel just a tad ill-at-ease in this new format. Not that they’re necessarily bad, but if Sunterra ends up following the common gothic metal trend of phasing out the growling over the next few albums, I won’t be too disappointed.

The album is a little on the short side with eight tracks clocking in around thirty-eight minutes. But that’s all right, at least it won’t overstay its welcome. It’s an album that knows how to get in, do its thing, and get out. The songs are similar enough to present a well-flowing unified album, but with the right amount of variation to keep things interesting -- always a fine line to walk but this is just the right balance, I’d say. This is easily a straight-through listen with no songs requiring a skip. The opener, Confusion, sets things off right, but it’s not until you get to the second song, the well-named title track, that you get an idea of the kind of quality offered here. But if there’s one song that justifies the album’s title, it’s the slightly Broadway-sounding ballad Somewhere, featuring one of the most beautifully somber melodies ever to grace my ears, with heart-wrenchingly bittersweet lyrics to match. Other highly notable songs are The Spirit of Light -- nice synthesizer on this one -- and Veil of Darkness, which reminds me a lot of Even Song’s first album (and that‘s a good thing). The weakest song, and the longest, is the 6-minute-plus Quid Est Libertas, which suffers from overuse of male vocals and drags on slightly too long, but for all that it’s not too bad. The other weaker song is the shortest, Charon’s Pond, at just over three minutes, and I only say its weak because of one small part (a bland guitar segment) which annoys me; otherwise it’s a decent song. Unlike the previous album there is no Falco cover this time around -- and I was so looking forward to a stirring BnB rendition of Rock Me Amadeus, weren’t you? Oh well, maybe another time?

Forced to choose at gunpoint I’d probably pick Lost Time as my preference, but fortunately I’m not being held at gunpoint (and let me tell you what a relief that is). While that album has a particular unique sound I can’t help but love, this new offering also has its own strengths which I have come to admire. It will be interesting to see where the band takes it from here.