Diablo Swing Orchestra // Pandora’s Piñata
Rating: 5.0/5.0 — Mixing the meathead with the egghead. Also opera. Mandatory purchase.
Label: Candlelight Records
Release Dates: EU: 2012.05.14 | US: 05.22.2012
Stockholm’s Diablo Swing Orchestra was one of those rare records that seriously took this Angry Metal Guy by surprise. One should emphasize from time to time just how much metal we get to review and how often it is simply easy to say: “Meh, I’ve heard this before.” This job is filled with highlights, for sure, every once in a while one gets a The 11th Hour or Sigh or Orphaned Land, but there’s a hell of a lot more Ravages and Diabulus in Musicas; records that just make you sigh and put your head down until you’ve given them their requisite listens. So when you get that record that really surprises you, well, you know you’re in luck. Early this year, I had Dodecahedron that really just surprised the hell out of me and creeped me out, but now I’ve got Diablo Swing Orchestra which is like an unholy union of meatheady groove metal, eggheaded orchestral arrangements and opera. All at a fervor more akin with satanic ska than most of their countrymen’s approach to metal and with a level of skill that is uncanny.
But what’s surprising about this album isn’t just the combination of these different styles into a coherent whole, it’s also how deftly they do it with the number of different tones, colors and textures they work with. For example, opening track “Voodoo Mon Amour” starts out with blaring, swinging horns and tom heavy drums with a crunchy, groovy guitar riff and all the retro pizzazz (feels like an appropriate time to break this word out) and vocal excess from Annluice Loegdlund you’d expect from a band playing a throwback kind of swing. But after a twisting and turning ride, they end up on “Justice for Saint Marie,” which is not only epic (8:17), but dark and sensual in its use of orchestral texture, with male vocalist Daniel Håkansson’s voice delicately texturing a masterfully dark song which ends with glich-like industrial beats and cuts out to end the 52 minute record. It is with a deft hand that a band must balance these kinds of contradictory styles and Diablo Swing Orchestra not only does it, but they do it masterfully.
In between these bookends, the album traverses through operatic, classical pieces (“Aurora”), groove laden samba (“Guerilla Laments”), a track that really reminds me of Beirut but with serious balls (“Kevlar Sweethearts”) and even some straight up thrash metal (What Would Slayer Do?) riffing on “Exit Strategy of a Wrecking Ball” before launching into chorus that if replaced by a female voice could be on a Nightwish record. All along the melodies and are subtle, often in non-traditional modes and keys, but don’t let that fool you: Pandora’s Piñata is infective in its poppiness and unapologetically pummels the listener with hook-laden track after hook-laden track.
I think that the use of an orchestra, swing and gypsy music—plus two different vocalists—gives the band a level of freedom that most bands just simply don’t have when they’re tied down by a single vocalist, two or three melodic instruments (guitars, keyboards, and bass). But not only that, the use of all of these instruments means that they’re able to take the one good thing that groovecore has to offer (the groove) and transfer it into this addictive blend of melodic genius and aural orgasms. There is literally not a track on here that I wouldn’t recommend, and there isn’t a single thing wrong with this album. From the musicianship, to the songwriting to the production, it’s a fucking riot.