Dark Sarah - The PuzzleI’ll be honest with you, my first blush with Finland’s Dark Sarah, upon receiving their promo folder had me wallowing in despair, my lamentation palpable through gritted teeth for the seemingly poor choice I had made. Wading through publicity photos with the aesthetic charm of an easel that has been beaten to death by a rainbow, reading the insufferably trite album bio that speaks of mysterious caves and split personalities and the aforementioned laughable album cover all served to shrivel my hopes that I had discovered a ziggurat filled with wondrous music. Having now listened to the album a multitude of times I can confirm that this isn’t the tire-fire I was expecting but neither will I be writing the band into my will.

First light is an astronomical term used to describe the first image taken by a telescope after it has been constructed. Typically of a lower quality due to the lack of calibration and fine adjustments, a first light image is still important in assessing the efficacy of the telescope and a gauge of what’s to come. The first light captured from The Puzzle presents a perfectly agreeable record cut liberally from the symphonic cloth of Nightwish and similar bands that paste soaring female vocals over chunky but unadventurous riffs. Funded on a crowd-sourced website, The Puzzle makes good on its film, opera and musical theater influences throughout the album’s 48-minutes. Opener “Breath,” a brief aperitif of orchestral swelling bearing a mawkish soliloquy by vocalist Heidi Parviainen sets the tone for what’s to come. “Island In The Mist,” “Ash Grove” and “Deep And Deeper” offer up the meat ‘n’ potatoes of the symphonic genre, namely mid-pace chugging by guitarists wishing they were in a heavier band and a female vocalist wishing she were the next Joan Sutherland or Kiri Te Kanawa. Rote, by-the-numbers music that is reasonably enjoyable but the sort of thing you’ve heard countless times before.

Dark Sarah 2016It’s when Dark Sarah gets adventurous that the music becomes engaging, lifting it from a rolling fog of ambivalence. “For The Birds” starts and ends with the trill of a flute, a uniquely penetrating ditty that has lodged itself so firmly in my head that the song now has squatter’s rights under common law. “Aquarium” brings with it a faster, more energetic pace and features Delain’s Charlotte Wessels whose combative, biting vocals contrast nicely with Parvianen’s more mellifluous tone. For me, the stand-out track on The Puzzle is “Little Men” a whimsical and outright fun number that draws from the playful pool of Diablo Swing Orchestra and Finntroll. Here Parvianen hypnotizes with her siren vocals while the guitars bombastically flash their Cheshire cat grin.

If only the whole album was so appealing. “Dance With The Dragon” is an example of a colossal misfire. I was initially overjoyed to read that former Charon vocalist JP Leppäluoto was a guest on the track but my enthusiasm soon turned to ashes hearing his talents wasted on a coquettish duet so eye-rollingly mawkish that my teeth itched just listening to it.

Pompous theatrics aside, The Puzzle’s biggest struggle is simply that it lacks impact. Too often the songs drift in-and-out of my consciousness, pleasurable in situ but utterly forgettable once the music has stopped. Tonally, Parvianen has a lovely voice but she lacks the sheer power of similar singers like Floor Jansen or Sarah Jezebel Deva who have the ability to rivet you in place and command your attention.

Maybe this doesn’t matter to you, maybe when you see the words “symphonic,” “theatrical,” and “dragons” currency leaps from your wallet for the exchange of goods and services faster than I can type this labored sentence. For the rest of us, The Puzzle offers no more than a passing fancy.

Like fairy floss — cotton candy to you northern hemispherites — the sugary and diaphanous music of Dark Sarah tantalizes the taste buds but holds no nutritional value.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Inner Wound Recordings
Websites: darksarah.com | facebook.com/darksarahofficial
Releases Worldwide: November 18th, 2016

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  • Wow, this is a lot like Stortyime era Nightwish.

    • Morgoth

      I’d argue it was a better time than the Pretentious Forms Most Beautiful era or something like that. Jeez, did that album put me to sleep.

      • Ugo Poifol

        I’m personally partial to Endless Forms Most Pretentious as the moniker of choice for this album.

    • Oscar Albretsen


    • AnnieK13

      For me the embedded track is like Renaissance (80’s incarnation) meets Nightwish but not as good as either…

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    Very well done and balanced review, with one minor quibble. First light isn’t the telescope thing, it’s zero hour and/or when the fires of the enemy dead will burn bright.

    • Treble Yell

      That’s interesting. I’m only familiar with the term in the astronomical sense.

      • Feytalist

        I really thought it was just, y’know… the first light of day.

        I’m simple like that.

    • eleven.eight

      That Bolt Thrower reference in a comment for a power-symphonic metal album is like slipping in MRE’s at a cheese-tasting party.

      You know from the get-go that Bolt Thrower and Dark Sarah are two *very* different food groups. You might even say you would know it… “At… first… bite!”

      *Starts headbanging wildly.*

  • radava

    On first listen there are some similarities with Devin Townsend.

  • Stefunal

    This has got to be one of the most moronic band names I’ve ever seen.

    • GardensTale

      Oh man I agree. I can see how that naming session went.
      “Okay, the band’s name. Ready? It’ll be ‘Dark’…”
      “Ohhh, Dark Dragons? Dark Magic? Dark Fire?”

      • Stefunal

        And then, awkward silence.

      • Morgoth

        What’s even a “Dark Sarah”? You’d think it’s kind of a narcissistic band name, but there’s not an actual Sarah in the band’s line-up.
        So, is it a character? Is it evil? If not, then why is it dark? I feel like I’ve put more thought into this dumb name than the band members themselves.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Dark Sarah… Palin?

          • Wilhelm

            That would be Bat Shit Crazy Sarah

          • Name’s Dalton


        • CarvedInStone

          Apparently their debut was a concept album about a women who discovers the dark side after having a mental breakdown because she was left at the alter by her fiancé. And that women’s name is Sarah. It’s really stupid.

          • Chigo

            Decision tree for naming your metal band/concept album after a fictitious person with an ordinary name:
            Are you King Diamond?
            Yes — OK then
            No — Just don’t

          • Phil Daly

            Could probably add Annihilator to the “YES” branch?

    • CarvedInStone

      I was aware of this band because the vocalist used to ba a member of another band I enjoyed called Amberian Dawn. But until this day I always thought their name was “Dark Sahara”.

  • Morgoth

    “maybe when you see the words “symphonic,” “theatrical,” and “dragons” currency leaps from your wallet for the exchange of goods and services faster than I can type this labored sentence.”

    Hey, now. Us cheese-connoisseurs who actually know something about fine cheeses are not so easily swayed by such words.
    Only the finest italian cheeses for most of us. Like a slice of Rhapsodycotta al peperoncino or Formaggio di Elvenking.
    Dark Sarah isn’t part of the menu. Thank you.

  • Scourge

    Good for these guys using crowdfunding to record the album they wanted to. It’s not my cup of tea, but I was pleasantly surprised to not be repulsed by the embedded track. That being said, regarding the video: worst dance party ever.

  • Reese Burns

    You could have given this a perfect 5 and I wouldn’t have checked it out. Dark. Fucking. Sarah.

    • Nag Dammit

      The race is on to find the most ridiculous “shade + Christian name” band name. I’m going for ‘Charcoal Andrew’.

      • Fuzzybunny

        Vantablack Charles

        • Nag Dammit

          He’s definitely a one man avant garde post black band.

          • Fuzzybunny

            The perfect genre(s)!

      • Grymm

        Blasphemous Skip.

        • AlphaBetaFoxface

          Sacrilegious Dave

          • Grymm

            Malevolent Bailey
            Satanic Tyler
            Sacrificial Biff

          • AlphaBetaFoxface

            Insidious Bethany
            Putrid Amanda
            Malicious Greg

          • Nag Dammit

            All of these are better than Dark Sarah.

          • [not a Dr]

            Also, I discovered some very kvlt shades.

      • manimal

        Deplorable Donald

      • Grymm

        Unrelenting Addison
        Cavernous Lance
        Inflammatory Bob

      • markus o

        Dim Herbert
        or, departing for a moment from the strict “shade” thing,
        Questionable Roberta could even make a decent pornstar stage name

      • Nukenado

        6 months late, but Atomic Abel would be a pretty stupid band name.
        But ridiculous…
        Bittersweet Paul sounds similar to “Dark Sarah”.

    • Name’s Dalton

      Opaque Obediah

    • Tofu muncher

      Jazzy Jaaziah
      Purplish Priscilla
      Pale Paulus

  • The Unicorn
    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      She has two horns! You could have used a cow’s head.

    • Norfair Legend

      I just don’t know where you go from here, this is the pinnacle, this picture and that unicorn head were made to eventually meet.

  • JL

    sounds like a second rate Karnataka

  • flashgordon

    Too much keyboard

  • Bruce Jones

    That video looks like it could be a promo for an Andrew Lloyd Webber Black Metal musical. Hell, all that’s missing is ALW himself sitting in his throne peering down at the them.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    wow so illuminati, the song is not bad but of course is not the style of what they hear here

  • herrschobel

    i love the Video ! it´s like Trolls on Acid. hm. There is a name for my next musical Endeavor … also reminds me a bit of the Mighty Boosh (anyone ???) Of course it´s nonsense but in Times like these very much needed. Trump is President and my Home country is going to vote for a Nazi in the next Presidential Election. I need all the comedy i can get to survive the next few weeks.

    • eloli

      Love the Might Boosh (have the DVDs and laugh to them to this day). :D

      • Reese Burns

        My experience with Mighty Boosh begins and ends with Old Greg, but I mean, isn’t that all a man needs anyways?

        • eloli

          Once you see Sammy the Crab in A Streetcar Named Desire, you can never go back to Brando.

    • Lars Barres

      Definitely reminded me of the Boosh. Too bad it’s so bloody awful, since a Boosh-inspired video could have been fun.

  • Wilhelm

    The only good thing about this is her vocals, there are people though who would call this gothic metal, which it isn’t, or maybe it’s the broadway version of goth metal lol

  • eloli

    The singer reminds me of this really annoying goth chick my younger brother used to date about two decades ago.
    Anyone else notice the atrocious photoshop on the album cover? The position of the neck doesn’t match the head…

    • [not a Dr]

      It’s a puzzle….

  • Elton Chagas

    Still trying to figure out what the fuck is this video about…

  • This article was quite hilarious, but I guess you were trying hard not to be a comedian.