Review by Jeff Maki
Norway’s Sirenia, masterminded by founding member Morten Veland (ex-Tristania), is now on its fourth femalelead vocalist (if I’m not forgetting anyone). But not only has the band found its best one yet in French singer and former Sirenia Choir member Emmanuelle Zoldan, but it also has just composed its ninth “destiny” and strongest album to date in “Arcane Astral Aeons.”
Veland ought to know what he’s doing, after all. Having been in the symphonic metal scene since the early days with Tristania, he and others practically shaped the musical subgenre, and he’s gone on to be fairly successful with Sirenia despite the lineup changes. “Arcane Astral Aeons” is Zoldan’s second album as lead (following 2016’s “Dim Days of Dolor”), and she just feels like part of and has a chemistry with the band now, while the former vocalists, all talented, seemed to have a separation. This makes sense, having been part of the Sirenia Choir for over a decade she joined the band. Zoldan is a mezzo-soprano, and I would compare her most to Tarja (ex-Nightwish), reaching a pivotal point of comparison in the operatic call and response of “Twilight Hour.”
“Arcane Astral Aeons” is a thrilling, wild, melodic and unpredictable album that kept my attention throughout its 12 songs. Symphonic metal is, of course, what binds it from beginning to end, but within its chapters, there are black, folk and modern metal elements, not unlike Epica, but not nearly like them either. But come to think of it, though, do “Arcane Astral Aeons” lie “Beyond the Matrix?” I think they might, because this is otherworldly, from an ancient world far, far away.
“Into the Night” is the best song Epica never wrote and one Powerwolf wishes it had. It’s a high-speed, operatic power metal anthem meant to get fists pumping and heads banging.
“Love Like Cyanide” is the infectious lead single, which to my surprise, features a black metal blast around the 2:45 mark. This isn’t the only time on the album this happens. Veland lends his backing growls to one of Zoldan’s strongest performances, mixing cutting-edge modern vocals in the chorus. Additional guest vocals are by Yannis Papadopoulos from the Finnish band Beast in Black (which is the new band of Anton Kabanen, formerly of Battlebeast).
The aforementioned choirs and samples heighten the songs and make them more captivating, while the spoken word parts by Zoldan are seductive, particularly on “Desire.” This song takes several unexpected turns around the main bouncy riff and soaring chorus. “The Voyage,” features an ’80s-style Metallica riff, and the title suits it, as this song, like the rest of the album, feels like Sirenia is taking us across the seven seas.
One of my favorites here is “Nos Heures Sombres” (which translates in French to “Our Dark Hours”), the only song written solely by Zoldan, the rest written completely by Veland. Sung in her native language, this is one sexy tune that, oddly enough, sounds more like a Latin American melody. It could be part of a movie soundtrack or a metalled-up Lady Gaga song—in either context, it still would make your body move.
“Arcane Astral Aeons” is an extraordinary album from start to finish for fans of symphonic metal. Along with Delain’s “Moonbathers,” Tarja’s “The Shadow Self” and Epica’s “The Holographic Principle” (all released in 2016), this is equal to and the best album of the subgenre since.
October 26, 2018, Napalm Records