2014 A Year of Symphonic Metal
Symphonic Metal is a constantly growing genre that mixes classical music and Modern Metal. Characteristics of Symphonic Metal are typically a mix of classical piano composition, orchestral music, and synthesizers, mixed with heavy distorted guitars and heavy double bass drums. The vocals can be Power Metal vocals or more commonly and preferably, female Operatic vocals. The genre started in Europe in the late 80s when a Swedish Metal band called Therion began incorporating orchestral music into Death Metal, marrying classical music and modern metal. Although Therion are coined with creating Symphonic Metal, it was a Finnish band in 1997 that began a crusade. Nightwish took the world by storm with their take on Symphonic Metal and changed music forever. Tuomas Holopainen is the mastermind behind Nightwish. He took the genre and integrated in some of the most talented musicians in metal ever, with spectacular writing and phenomenal female vocalists. Symphonic Metal has grown exponentially since Nightwish became a big influence in metal, keeping this new genre growing over the years.
Symphonic Metal typically includes fantasy based lyrics. The ideals can include anything awesome to dragons, magical utopias or dark dystopias, Viking folklore, and local folklore. These characteristics mixed together creates some of the most complex and the most beautiful music written in modern times. There’s truly a band for every listener’s tastes, for metal fans anyway. Other influential bands of the genre include Epica, Within Temptation, Avantasia, and Kamelot. Every band under the Symphonic Metal category is incredibly unique and brilliant in their own way.
Now that you have a bit of an understanding to what Symphonic Metal is, you can appreciate the genre’s powerful uprising in 2014. This year has been great for the genre as it has grown exponentially in popularity. The buzz is certainly unavoidable thanks to Within Temptation’s Hydra and their popular world touring, as well as new releases from Epica, Delain, and Xandria. Obviously this list I have made mostly covers female lead Symphonic Metal, because this is “Metal Valkyrie”, but I added some other bands that aren’t female lead to the list too.
Below is a detailed timeline of Symphonic Metal releases and events in 2014 and a quick review of new releases.
January 22- Within Temptation put out highly anticipated collaboration album, creating some of the most world wide radio played tracks ever for Symphonic Metal. While HYDRA is probably the most popular album of the genre in 2014, it is not the whole of the talent of Within Temptation. This album is considered a tribute to the fans and is not a formal album for the band, lacking their traditional concept and long composition. However, Paradise (What About Us?) is one of the best songs of 2014 and maybe one of the best collaborations ever featuring Tarja and her huge operatic range. I see Hydra as a mere appetite whetter to bring old fans closer and to pull new fans in, and it has certainly worked this year. Hydra also contains brilliant covers like Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Ray. Once you accept it is merely a collaboration album, it is fantastic and exciting. The new album also sparked a well respected world tour, featuring other Symphonic Metal bands like Delain, Amaranthe, and Serenity. Next on the docket for Within Temptation is a live DVD Let Us Burn featuring two shows, one paying tribute to their first release Elements. Within Temptation is surely exploding worldwide and spreading Symphonic Metal through all ages.
March 26th- The legendary and cherished Finnish Power/Symphonic Metal band, Sonata Arctica, release a new album in honor of it being 15 years since their first album was released. The band is notorious for mixing chugging guitars with operatic and theatrical style male vocals, all following a sort of mystical fairytale and lore theme. The band also touches on the slow and gloomy characteristics on Doom Metal. Pariah’s Child is the typical beautifully composed and jamming album from Sonata, turned up to epic proportions. Its hit after hit pace is paralleled by none. Cloud Factory is the catchiest song on the album, impossible to get out of your head upon five seconds of the first listen. The Wolves Die Young is a fast theatrical track that hints at the concept of The Emperor’s New Clothes and is a fun jam. Love is a ballad reminiscent of Letter to Dana with epic building vocals, setting a romantic and everlasting mood. This album is something only a band with 15 years of writing experience could create. Each song is a perfect mix of Folk Metal and Power Metal, masterfully composed. This album proves Sonata Arctica is here to stay at the top of Power Metal.
THE HUMAN CONTRADICTION
April 4th- Delain, a Symphonic Metal band hailing from The Netherlands, oriented with catchy pop themes, releases The Human Contradiction. This album is one of the most solid releases of 2014, despite it’s lack of large reception and critical flack. The album doesn’t illustrate 100% of singer Charlotte Wessels range and lacks anything truly new from the band, but it is however an incredibly influential and powerful album. I feel like this album was more of a concept album, centered around ideas rather than an all out Symphonic slugger. It contains catchy and headbanging gems like Stardust, Army of Dolls, and Here Come the Vultures, and a heavy well orchestrated anthem Tragedy of the Commons. The deluxe double CD edition also has some amazing bonus tracks as well as perfectly performed live tracks. The bonus track, Scarlet, is a powerfully ballad with absolutely stunning vocals and touching piano. While the reception for the album has been dull, it doesn’t truly reflect the brilliant musicianship and composition quality for the album. I see Delain as a very underrated and overlooked band in Symphonic Metal, especially considering their powerhouse live performances. While Charlotte’s range wasn’t fully harnessed, her vocal delivery and control on this album prove to be mesmerising and unlike anything I’ve heard. I consider the writing duo of Charlotte Wessels and Martijn Westerholt to be incredibly innovative and their own strand of Metal that can’t be heard anywhere else. The Human Contradiction still stands as my favorite album of 2014.
A War of Our Own
April 18th- Dutch Symphonic Metallers, Stream of Passion, are back in 2014 with a moving and Gothic solid album. Stream of Passion originally was one of Arjen Lucassen’s projects, but the band became too big for his recluse way of life. Marcela Bovio carries this band and album to greatness with powerful and moving performances from the dramatic Monster to the epic title track A War of Our Own. Her range and vocal capabilities really blow me away on this album, more than past Stream of Passion albums. Her vocal control has really progressed over the years, making her vibrato much easier to listen to. Gothic Metal is seriously lacking these days in quantity, but this album filled that niche. Every song is haunting and dark, with this undertone of a hopeful outcome; The mood is spot on with modern Gothic Music. The musicianship on this album isn’t foreshadowed either, but perfectly balanced with Marcela’s powerful vocals. I found the piano arrangements to be my favorite part of A War of Our Own. I highly suggest this album for Evanescence fans.
May 2nd- Xandria, an absolutely epic German Symphonic Metal band, comes out raging in 2014 with Sacrificium. The album is an operatic masterpiece that is unparalleled. Sacrificium flows and ebbs perfectly with a powerful symphonic sound, pairing orchestral work with soprano vocals and the occasional choir. Dianne Van Giersbergen (no relation to Anneke) is absolutely spectacular on this album, showing supernatural vocal control. Nightfall is a raging anthemic track with absolutely captivating vocals. Little Red Relish is an addictive jamming track, heavier than other tracks off the album. Sweet Atonement is an epic end gamer, showing the dynamics of the band in full force. The album reminds me of older Epica like “Design Your Universe”, because of the technical drumming paired with smooth operatic vocals. The guitar work is also brilliant and mesmerising, adding a complex depth and catchiness to the album. I find the writing to be solid, very little space between each track making the album like an epic soundtrack. Xandria has never sounded better.
The Quantum Enigma
May 2nd- Epica came back in 2014 after the highly cherished “Requiem for the Indifferent”, with a much different and unique album. The Quantum Enigma is a slightly controversial album, as it is quite a contrast to the previous release and not quite what Epica fans expected. Fan mania aside, The Quantum Enigma is a beautiful and dynamic symphonic metal album that may be one of their strongest albums to date lyrically. The incredibly fascinating theme is laced throughout every track. The lyrics harness a story about modern government and corporations in such a poetic and classical way, making the album deeper than your typical metal album. The album flows in and out of old Epica influences and a much more modern version of Epica, making it a more full and interesting sounding album than earlier works from Epica. Upon each listen of the album, it becomes more enjoyable as you notice more and more complexities. “The Essence of Silence” and “Unchain Utopia” are two of the best tracks of 2014 and stand out to me as two of the best Epica jams. I do think Epica’s future endeavors will top The Quantum Enigma vastly, so I can’t wait to follow their progression.
For the Journey
September 9th- Damian Wilson lead Symphonic Power Metal band, Threshold, blows all expectations away in 2014 with epic For the Journey. The album is a mix of Space, Power, Symphonic, and Power Metal into one very well driven album. The album also has Progressive tracks like “I Wish I Could” and “Autumn Red”. The energy throughout each track on the album is absolutely incredible. There isn’t one dead song on the album, making for a solid and captivating listening experience. Some songs hint on Peter Gabriel and Rush influences, while maintaining an intensity of Kamelot’s talents. This may be one of Damian’s best album performances yet, because of how dynamic his vocals are throughout each track. The contrast of Theatrical, Power, and Ballad vocals prove Damian is an extraordinarily underrated vocalist in metal. The quality of each instrument is vast however, laced somewhere at the threshold of Power Metal and something more unique. “Lost in Your Memory” is an example of mixing Symphonic with many influences, creating a piano driven ballad that Meatloaf himself would appreciate. I really enjoyed every track on this album. For the Journey is a truly well done album that should be more in the spotlight.
Skin and Bones
September 29th- German Folk Symphonic Metal band, Lyriel, is back with their heaviest and best album yet. Skin and Bones is an incredible mix of beautiful strings, heavy guitars and drums, and powerful Theatrical vocals. Lyriel has written some of the most unique and interesting music, ranging from pure Folk to the occasional Metal jam. Luckily for us Symphonic Metal fans, they’ve gone full Symphonic Metal with Skin and Bones. Jessica and Linda’s dueling vocals on this album are so catchy and addictive, making Lyriel unique and full of depth upfront. Linda also plays the Cello beautifully, an instrument rarely used in Symphonic Metal. I like the subtlety of strings in metal and no one does it better than Lyriel, especially on this album. Skin and Bones is absolutely Lyriel’s best release yet! I highly suggest this album for fans of Apocalyptica, Eluveitie, and Delain.
Within Tempation Let Us Burn DVD November 14, 2014 http://www.within-temptation.com/orderletusburn/
Nightwish TBA Spring 2015
Nightwish/Delain North American Tour April 2015 http://enterthevault.com/artist.php?id=43
Kamelot/Dragonforce North American Tour http://enterthevault.com/artist.php?id=47