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There seems to be a dearth of sci-fi themed albums in epic metal, a heavy metal fiefdom that has always showed a clear preference to the historical and fantasy aspects of said narrative art genre, as far as inspirational sources are concerned – with some glorious exceptions such as The Lord Weird Slough Feg’s Traveller. This hesitant attitude towards science fiction is not necessarily restricted to music; I know quite a few people who worship the epic in its classic manifestations, yet cannot bring themselves to accept such epics as Star Wars (an extreme case which is essentially fantasy epic with a sci-fi cloak) or Foundation, despite the obvious resonating elements, scope and underlying spirit. This may have to do with a number of reasons; the degree to which science fiction seems to be intertwined with the contemporary world, thus rendering it more difficult to use as an escape pod; its lying in the future which somehow grounds it, by means of the possibility of its becoming reality; its focus and reliance on science (despite its advanced, almost magic-like nature) which tends to reduce the essence of wonder and otherworldly; and just plain old superficial absence of classic fantasy tropes.
Germany’s Lord Vigo have been active for the last 6 years or so, but had not really grasped my attention before; I hazily remember finding their previous album, Six Must Die, quite mediocre. This year they released their third full length, Danse de Noir, which is a concept album based on Blade Runner, a movie that undoubtedly has all the elements of an epic story (especially tragic majestic characters) despite it verging on the noir cyberpunk edge of the sci-fi spectrum. Out of this opus the band crafts an unexpected work of true epicness which brims with originality.
The album could be described as meticulously cast mid-tempo epic metal, interspersed with ‘80s synths and interludes with spoken parts pertaining to Blade Runner; its music is always quick to change mood, yet the transitions are always organically integrated in the song structures. This rich terrain is plowed by a heavy, imposing bass guitar which occasionally overflows with energy, bursting into galloping trajectories. The guitars are multifaceted, mirroring the song structures, sometimes enforcing the voluminous doom extravagance, and on other occasions streaming into melodic leads. Finally, the vocalist, Vinz Clortho, is apocalyptic; his main vocal style verges on the dramatic side of the spectrum, with an oscillating vibration that makes excellent use of echo, while also foraying into Peter Steele baritone (As Silence Grows Old) and some backing vocals reminiscent of epic-era Quorthon (And then the Planets will Align).
Sound-wise Danse de Noire sounds like many things: the band combines Veni Domine’s bigger-than-heaven solemn majesty with Atlantean Kodex’s anguished autumnal lyricism, Queensrÿche and Solitude Aeturnus with Bathory and Saviour Machine. Structure-wise, though, the album feels innovative, with theme sequences which reflect the multitude of moods, a non-discouraging structural complexity and several unexpected twists, all reminiscent of US power metal. The sci-fi theme seems also to contribute to the originality, not only lyrically, but in the sound arrangements which feel futuristic without sounding modern.
From the epic doom solemnity of the namesake which kicks off the album after the short intro and the galloping power metal of Shoulder of Orion, to the triumphant hard-rock of Between Despair and Ecstasy and the outright genius and theatrical majesty of the unquestioned album’s peak, Memento Mori, (with its hints of Bathory’s Ode) this is a monumental release. Leading with inspired song-writing and taking full advantage of the sci-fi themes, the band seems to have hit gold here, sculpting a release that succeeds to stand out in an era of great releases for the genre to which it belongs. Innovative epic metal of the highest caliber.
Aesthetical and spiritual relatives: Saviour Machine - Saviour Machine I, Queensrÿche - Rage for Order, Veni Domine - Fall Babylon Fall, Atlantean Kodex - The Golden Bough, Bathory - Destroyer of Worlds