Blodwen - Black symphony 3/5

Reviewed: 12-1-10


1. World as one
2. Midnight fairytales
3. Cry out to me
4. White noise
5. Pangakuanku
6. Into the darkness
7. Flower song
8. Night - Black symphony
9. Your wings (Japanese version)
10. Two notes
11. Your wings (instrumental version)
12. Night - Black symphony (orchestral version)

Full disclosure: This CD takes me a bit out of my stylistic comfort zone. I'm mostly a traditional, old-school, denim'n'leather, meat'n'potatoes metal guy. Although I own (and enjoy) the entire Nightwish discography, for example, I devote very little music-listening time to the female fronted gothic metal subgenre. This Blodwen 'Black symphony' CD lies firmly in that style. So, if I'm not an expert in this type of metal, why am I handling this assignment rather than entrusting it to a more qualified scribe such as Clint or Chris? The glib answer is that it's beneficial for all of us to leave our comfort zones and expand our horizons from time to time. The more complete answer is that I have enormously enjoyed other recent CD releases on Japan's Red Rivet Records (including Quelonio and Opera Magna), so I was curious to hear what that label came up with this time around. The validity of those explanations notwithstanding, please bear in mind that this review is coming from the perspective of one whose musical taste centers much more on bands like Candlemass and Stormwarrior than Within Temptation or Leaves' Eyes.

Blodwen score high points for uniqueness based on the fact that they are headquartered in Jakarta, Indonesia. Ever hear Indonesian heavy metal before? I certainly never had, but it obviously exists given that a recent Metal-Archives search revealed some 505 bands tagged to that nation. Unfortunately, you'd never guess Blodwen's exotic heritage by listening to them, as their music does not incorporate any perceptible Indonesian flavor other than the fact that one song is performed in the Indonesian language. (All other songs are sung in English, save a single track in Japanese.) If anything, the only nods to Blodwen's country of origin are revealed in the somewhat dodgy production values, with the muddy, thin sonic quality of 'Black symphony' being much more akin to a demo than a professional studio release. That's not a criticism by the way. This reviewer harbors tremendous respect for bands who persevere despite primitive recording conditions on substandard equipment. But the fact remains that if you're seeking a highly polished, layered and sophisticated sound to complement the pompous, lush gothic/neo-classical metal on display, this CD may be unsatisfying.

A pair of individual performances on 'Black symphony' deserve particular positive acclaim. Singer/composer Bernice Nikki has a striking, soaring, songbird voice that, to these unsophisticated ears at least, sounds competitive with those of many of the bigger-name operatic sirens in the genre. There are times where the production job doesn't do Nikki any favors (for example, the mix sometimes puts the vocals so loud compared to the other instruments that every imperfection in her performance is magnified), but she obviously has raw talent aplenty. Also catching my ear was the performance of lead guitarist Alexander Lexy. Despite being saddled with a flaccid guitar tone, Lexy delivers tasteful neo-classical flourishes that are both impressive and complementary to the music (check out the instrumental "White noise"). Without question, Blodwen sports able musicians in its ranks.

To my chagrin, 'Black symphony' is a bit too uneven to enjoy high replay value. Don't get me wrong, there's some fine material here. Opener "World as one" is a catchy tune that could would make a great single. The Indonesian song, "Pengakuanku", has a good sense of dynamics and a memorable chorus despite being sung in a foreign tongue. "Into the darkness" and "Night - black symphony" feature occasional uptempo bursts and strong melodic themes sounding not dissimilar from Kamelot in spots. And "Two notes" is a spartan ballad with a powerhouse emotive vocal from Nikki. But the flow of the CD is bogged down by the inclusion of way too many low-energy ballads (including one in the track 3 position - too early!), alternate versions of songs, a Japanese-language track, an instrumental, and so on. It just feels disjointed and choppy. And the lyrics sometimes become cringeworthy, such as in "Midnight fairyales" where the lines "Harry Potter and his little friends/... Fred, George, Ron and the cute Hermione" are all too audible.

Ultimately, I fear what happened here is that Blodwen went into the studio before they were ready. After all, their bio sheet says the band began in 2004 as a J-rock cover band and did not evolve into its present musical style until 2009. So it appears that Blodwen rushed to release a CD before they had sufficient quality material and sufficient resources to record it properly. That said, I strongly suspect that there enough promising nuggets on 'Black symphony' that fans of the genre will be able to overlook its shortcomings, and it would not surprise me in the slightest if Blodwen delivers a much more competitive sophomore CD when the time comes.




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