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2006 - The Year In Review

It’s not strictly fair to call the femme metal scene uninventive. If any noteworthy phenomenon came about in 2006, it was that while the top end of the genre continued to churn out middle-of-the-road money-spinners, something altogether more interesting was happening under the hood. If you weren’t au fait with how things were even starting to develop, you would have missed a whole host of interesting occurrences. Down in the busied guts of the femme metal machine, a multitude of bands were putting out some ingenious albums and it was refreshing to see a musical genus that was beginning to look somewhat like a wheezing, asthmatic emphysema patient getting a dose of well-needed oxygen. 2006 was the year when the femme metal scene started to get innovative, progressive, experimental and avant-garde, and after two years of semi-interesting drivel, it was great to see such life being breathed into it.

As is always the way, the top of the pyramid was where the most user-friendly and easily-digestible music was fermenting. Though whether every listener of LACUNA COIL’s new effort would agree with its being ‘user-friendly’ is debateable. The band, after four years of incessant touring and hard work, put out their long-awaiting Karmacode album in April. The main concept behind the album was to retain a sizeable range of the old fanbase but more than anything it. was to gather new younger fans. The band, already being fans of Korn, decided with their label that the best way of garnering further interest was to slap in as many chuggy riffs as possible with some basic yet catchy melodies riding the top. The idea didn’t so much shunt them forward as propel them much faster in the direction they were already going. Yes, a lot of fans hated the album but Karmacode did exactly what it was supposed to do, reap sales and get them well-known in the USA. Karmacode sold over 301,000 copies before its first year was out, whereas Comalies did not even manage an eighth of that figure twelve months into its release.

Another band to put out a long-awaited album was the empress of the Gothic rock scene EVANESCENCE. September’s The Open Door was in many ways a difficult album for the band to make. The departure of main songwriter Ben Moody along with immense pressure to make a successful follow-up to the hugely popular Fallen resulted in an album which managed to retain a lot of the vibe of its predecessor though not introducing any new elements. The Open Door is certainly a perfect reflections of Evanescence’s sound though it’s hard to see just how they will be able to top Fallen in terms of popularity and notoriety. In spite of this the album sold very respectably, managing to shift 3 million copies within the first six months of its release and going Platinum in over ten countries.

A step down from the mainstream, THEATRE OF TRAGEDY also had a lot to live up to by releasing their Storm album with THE CREST singer Nell on vocals. In spite of having some half-decent numbers in the form of Fade and Begin And End, Storm ended up sounding very much like another Crest album with no vast difference between the two bands’ styles. For no known reason to man or beast Raymond still insisted on using his trademark style of ‘vocals’ with a lot of people remaining unimpressed overall, especially since the band maintained that the album would be another Aegis. ANGTORIA and DELAIN released two similar Gothic metal/rock albums, both debuts which, though welcomed at the more popular end of the spectrum, were let-downs to those more aware of what femme metal could offer. Their adherence to routine, typical formulae became predictable and unoriginal after a couple of listens, with neither having any kind of reputable lasting appeal.

Slightly more interesting were the new releases by Belgians SENGIR and the French group THE LAST EMBRACE. Both bands put out respectable offerings with some appealing songs and competent vocals. MORTAL LOVE completed their album trilogy with Forever Will Be Gone - a good album but not quite as strong as its predecessor, and SILENTIUM put out a much better album then expected with the marvellous Seducia. This was indeed an album of two halves since though the female-only tracks were very good, the male vocals almost totally ruined each song they were integrated in. This was a big shame indeed since without them this would undoubtedly have been one of my albums of the year.

Poland, though normally one of the more productive countries with regard to the rawer side of Gothic metal, didn’t produce too much of interest. With bands like NAAMAH and DESDEMONA not releasing anything it was down to MOONLIGHT to bear the standard along with ARTROSIS, whose Con Trust album was less synth-based than others and though it had one or two notable tracks, it was nothing like the quality of the band’s previous releases. Artrosis really need to release a strong album next since Con Trust did little, in my mind at least, to consider them worthy contemporary competitors inside the genre. For those luckier to get on the larger labels, DELIGHT was still working on its Breaking Ground album, without a doubt its most accessible release yet. Short songs with punchy, think guitars and bags of reverb on the vocals made the album bearable to listen to in pieces, though very sickly and samey should you try it all in one go.

For the softer and slower albums on the metal side, there are two which definitely deserve a mention. THE GATHERING put out one of the best of their career with the fantastic Home - an excellent offering featuring great inventive songs and outstanding vocals. Home very much became what Souvenirs and even How To Measure A Planet hinted at, with the band finally sharpening and honing their trip rock round to a perfect point. The band had certainly made a rounded, complete and confident album: locking themselves away in a church for a week obviously did them some good. Another album that springs to mind at the same time if the marvellous AVA INFERI whose debut humbly crept on the market under Seasons of Mist. Even though the album has had few mentions in the press, it is a light, shimmering and warm offering of doom metal with mesmerising vocals and tons of atmosphere. For those who thought that the femme metal genre couldn’t produce original doom, Ava Inferi were the exception.

However, it was at the more progressive side that things really took off. It’s hard for me to think of a year in which there was so much good and imaginative music in the more creative side of the genre. MADDER MORTEM and THE PROVENANCE both put out excellent albums, Red Flags being arguably the best thing that The Provenance have done. In spite of its lack of growls the songs were far more pacey and energised, and there was much there to suggest that the best from the band was yet to come. HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE, who don’t generally seem to be mentioned all that often in the femme metal scene, put out the fantastic The Locust Years. One of the reasons why this band doesn’t get lumped into the category of other femme metal is because they sound so different from it. Hammers Of Misfortune seem to harbour an old school progressive metal influence, and since the genre only took off in the 21st century it’s not surprising that they’re not massed together with the rest of the femme metal mob. AGHORA released their first full-length album for six years and it’s a very good piece of work indeed. Highly progressive, jazzy in places, very heavy guitars and the almost ethereal vocals of Dianna Serra. All these albums alone made 2006 very worthwhile musically.

There were a few very noteworthy debuts in the progressive side of the genre too, with the highly talented TO-MERA releasing their debut with Julie Kiss on vocals. The band took nearly all their influences from male vocal bands which gave their sound a more complex, heavy and refined air than a lot of other femme metal, and the album was very well received. Another astoundingly good debut was that from DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRO whose novel and inimitable The Butcher’s Ballroom brought them much acclaim due to its use of excellent operatic vocals, varied songs and high originality. DISTORTED from Israel also brought out their debut with its influences from Nevermore/Opeth and Miri’s beautiful singing holding a heavy middle-eastern slant. Its uncompromising style of progressive death metal was remarkably good, and for me, unexpected, whereas UNEXPECT’s In a Flesh Aquarium was an immature and ostentatious contribution to the avant-garde side. The same could certainly not be said for STOLEN BABIES whose debut There Be Squabbles Ahead with its fine use of excellent clean vocals and screams, jaunty songs and rhythmic, slick basslines made it certainly one of the best albums of the year.

There’s already much in 2007 to get absorbed in and it does seem that the femme metal scene is righting itself. In the past couple of years it mostly seemed to be about standard metal riffs and acceptable rock, though as it now roots itself more sturdily under the metal umbrella it has become more aware of what it can do. Though the first half of 2006 wasn’t much to write home about, the second warranted a meaty tome. It’s great to see such good things happening in femme metal, and with so many more inventive bands around, it will be intriguing to see just how far we’ve come in another twelve months.

Bands to watch in 2007:

Epica [Netherlands]

After Forever [Netherlands]

Night wish [Finland]

Tristania [Norway]

Lumsk [Noway]

Akin [France]

Xandria [Germany]

The Project Hate [Sweden]

Penumbra [France]

Madder Mortem [Norway]

Virgin Black [Australia]

Soul grind [Sweden]

Nemesea [Netherlands]

Catafalque [Turkey]

Diluvium [Serbia]

Dylath-Leen [France]

Asrai [Netherlands]

Shadow play [Ermmm somewhere]

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