A few weeks ago, I described the latest Arch Enemy album as the bad kind of pop metal: too slick, too loud, too focused on choruses and too conscious about image. But there’s a different, less negative definition possible of pop metal: not afraid of loading the songs with easily digestible hooks, catchy melodies, EDM influences, simplistic structure and a focus on vocals. It’s daring, because it seems to aim at a gap between fandoms: too slick and not challenging enough for metalheads, but too heavy for the mainstream. Devin Townsend experimented with this on Addicted! and the Norwegian Shining has taken a leaflet on their last two albums. But with The Rabbit Hole, self-described progressive death pop band The Great Discord takes it a step further, and as far as I’m concerned, this might become the definitive album on the style.

The central figure in The Great Discord is Fia Kempe, who collaborated with Ghost on Popestar, and performs in an extravagant androgynous costume complete with buzzcut, wings on her head and white facial make-up. With her powerful contralto voice she elevates the music, wielding a clean tone that displays the pop sensibilities of the album without sacrificing the emotional depth that makes the music engaging. There’s a very loose Alice in Wonderland concept to the album, but it feels irrelevant to the execution: regardless, the payload of emotion is delivered with verve. Fia’s voice control is perfect, from the sardonic sneer of “Gadget” to the whispy “Neon Dreaming” where she shows she can use a husky timbre just as well as her belting on the catchy choruses of prior songs. Though momentum takes a hit there, it’s swiftly re-established with the empowering Eurovision-ready boomer “Cadence,” which is catchy enough to make all the kvlt flee into dark basements.

The compositions rely entirely on Fia’s myriad of vocal hooks and soaring leads, and as such, the instrumentation is sufficient but not as remarkable. The guitar is mostly confined to chugging power chords and familiar semi-acoustic noodling, aside from the occasional solo. On occasion, the sound does veer a bit closer to nu-metal, particularly on minor dud “Tell-tale Heart,” and this will likely be the most contentious element of The Rabbit Hole, but the well-constructed songwriting and Fia’s performance make it a moot point. The drums, courtesy of ex-Ghost ghoul Aksel Holmgren, are not complicated but hit hard and act as a driving force, and the bass provides a solid low end. It’s a reality of more pop-oriented music that the instruments are second fiddle to the vocals, but the band is geared towards supporting Fia and this way the band accentuate their strongest point.

One thing pop music has a love-hate relationship with is production. Oftentimes, the sound is slick and clean, the vocalist is thrust forward above all else, and the mastering is way too loud (the loudness war did not come from the underground after all, it came from competition on the radio.) The Great Discord don’t do too bad on this area, however. The mix does still favor the vocals, but this is hard to avoid when she’s the lynchpin of the band. The other instruments are not underscored too much, however, and the audible bass and big drums crackle with energy. By avoiding too loud a master and writing the songs with solid dynamics firmly in place, the The Rabbit Hole is easy on the ears and makes repeat spins a breeze.

I have no doubt this will be a divisive album. Many metalheads are highly allergic to anything that sounds remotely commercially acceptable. Some of the worst examples, like the similarly female-fronted pop metal band In This Moment, have left permanent scars. The poppy execution of The Great Discord is antithetical to the kvlt and brutal. I’ll count myself among the proselytizers, however. Fia’s massive voice, catchy songwriting that doesn’t lack depth, dependable production and flawless execution are evidence of a band with a laser-aligned focus and whose every move builds upon their core strengths. Like Ghost, their accessibility may soon see the band take on bigger stages, but it’s sheer talent and sense of identity that earned them the spot.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Sign Records
Websites: thegreatdiscord.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/thegreatdiscord
Releases Worldwide: September 8th, 2017

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  • Lou Daz

    I’m here early just to see what you all do to that band photo.

    • Joshua Walker

      It already has a unicorn on it. Wait a second…what the hell is that!?!

      • Lou Daz

        Looks like an anime villain or something out of a Miyazaki film.

        • GardensTale

          I already described Fia’s outfit, what more do you want from me?!

        • Name’s Dalton

          Weren’t those band members in one of the Hunger Games?

  • Huck N’ Roll

    This is a good record.

    • Best color man in the business, that Huckster.

      • Name’s Dalton

        “See, what you got right there is a guitar and BOOM – there’s a melody right there. Now in comes the other guitar. BOOM – counter-melody. And if you look right here, the drummer really sells the whole song with his THWAP THWAP TSS TSS TSS THWAP THWAP thing he’s got goin’ on. I tell ya, that’s how you play music right there.”

      • Huck N’ Roll

        It’s how most of my reviews start, and then I have to embellish.

  • brutal_sushi

    Man oh man, that embedded track was tasty, will check this out for sure

  • AgonMcDuck

    This is pretty damn catchy. Might just have to check the whole thing out.

  • Goldicot

    Is this not just what a modern-day Evanescence would sound like? It’s not bad by any means, and I realize the line between metal and hard rock is arbitrary, but this is something I would expect to hear on the local hard rock FM station that plays Three Days Grace and Fireflight.

    • Marc Brown

      The embedded track sees me agreeing with you.

    • GardensTale

      I find the songwriting much stronger here than Evanescence ever managed, and I much prefer Fia’s voice. Genre-wise though, I guess it’s arguable.

  • ronin1572

    Kinda reminds me of Lullacry

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      So, I’m not the only one who knows about Lullacry…

  • Septic
  • beurbs

    Addicted! doesn’t get enough love

  • Thatguy

    Music by numbers. This isn’t pop metal – it’s pop.

    There you go – predictable hating as predicted. You’re welcome.

    At least we can all hear the bass.

    • Solrac Avan

      HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU!….

      (The song is self-aware!!!)

      • Thatguy

        Nice

      • AgonMcDuck

        I hate to be that guy (not Thatguy) but she’s actually singing “I dare you.”

    • GardensTale

      I didn’t predict only hate, I predicted divisiveness, and people seem pretty evenly split here. So yeah, prediction confirmed!

      Next I predict a million bucks will appear in my bank account overnight…

      • Thatguy

        Far enough, although you could have predicted my hate. It’s love or hate, but the lovers are simply wrong.

        • GardensTale

          I always predict your hate, regardless of the album. I’m usually right.

  • Eli Valcik

    So what are yall’s favorite traditional metal bands? Just curious. I’m a big Diamond Head and Manilla Road fan.

    • welyyt

      Mercyful Fate are the be all end all for me.

    • Lou Daz

      Judas Priest and Dio.

      • Eli Valcik

        Ooooo good ones, I’ve been jamming out to Rainbow’s Rising all week.

        • Ivan E. Rection

          Eli- if you have not yet, try
          Scorpions-Blackout,
          B.O.C.- Cultosaurus Erectus,
          And don’t get me started on 70’s Rush.
          Also for a modern band that nails the trad metal vibe, you can’t beat Slough Feg.

          • Eli Valcik

            I’m more of a Fly to the Rainbow guy, but I’ll have to check all of that over stuff out.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            While we’re talking about Scorpions let me recommend “Taken by Force”. It’s awesome.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            70’s Rush is some of the greatest music ever made.

          • I may have to leave the hall but Rush is phenomenal in general. Their 70s work is certainly ground breaking but I enjoy almost every album they put out.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            No reason to leave the hall. Like you say, Rush is phenomenal in general. I just like their 70s stuff better, it was heavier and closer to my liking.

          • I knew no one would actually try to banish me seeing as how Rush is Rush, after all. But my favorite albums are actually their synth heavy 80’s albums like “Grace Under Pressure”.

        • Serjien

          Ritchie Blackmore is a God!!

        • Serjien

          And how about some Deep Purple? Burn and Machine Head are great albums imo.

    • Nukenado

      Never was really into traditional metal, but when the urge comes it’s Judas Priest/Primal Fear for me.

    • ToddRob64

      Not exactly traditional metal but for some great old school listening Annihilators first two albums are gold

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Try Angel Witch. Their first album is an All Time Metal Classic

  • The embedded tracked just sounds like bland power pop/rock that you hear on the radio all the time. Far less character than the album cover or even band photo would suggest. I like Ghost quite a bit, but this doesn’t stand out at all.

  • Lithophyte

    This is pretty good stuff but her voice carries it. Reminds me of a local band that was around until earlier this year – Sydonia. Great hooks and could put on blistering live shows.

    • Funny, I was thinking it sounded like Long Walk Home, who were a Melbourne band with similarly androgynous lead singer…

  • Mark Z

    Kind of cool. This sort of sounds like what Paradise Lost’s self titled album would be if they were a bit poppier and fronted by a female singer. Might have to look into this further.

  • Zadion

    I kinda hate using comment sections of one band to pitch related bands, but for people into “pop metal” who also happen to have a soft spot for EDM, I highly recommend Season of Ghosts’ album “The Human Paradox.” I’m certain most elitists would throw me into the furnace for it, but it’s one of the best albums to come out this decade for me. It’s poppy as fuck and some of the catchiest and tastiest music I’ve ever heard. Sophia is one of my favorite female vocalists in metal, so that helps a lot.

    • AgonMcDuck

      If it sounds like Blood Stain Child (you mean Sophia as in Sophia Aslanides right?) I might just check it out. Kind of a guilty pleasure of mine, though makes me sad to find that her band p much treated her like shit.

      • Zadion

        I do indeed. Season of Ghosts is definitely in the same mould as Blood Stain Child, but I enjoy her album with that project far more than anything Blood Stain Child ever released. I’d also say Season of Ghosts is composed with different intentions than BSC. It’s more melodic for sure, and axing the death metal elements makes the “trance metal” strengths shine, I guess.

        Epsilon was the only BSC album I could truly get into, and The Human Paradox is significantly better than even it IMO. It’s like a 4.5 for me and I couldn’t praise it enough.

  • Norpal Nordickson

    I have zero problem with poppy stuff (Arch Enemy’s War Eternal was one of my favourite albums that year) but this is just boring.

  • Planex

    Addicted! is the second best Devin Townsend Project album after Deconstruction. Would be nearly perfect without Ih-Ah!

  • Nukenado

    I hate to be that guy (or Thatguy), but this really needs more guitars. At least a rhythm guitar to give the track some hard rock swagger. Even a bit of chugging would be acceptable. Right now… This is a bit too bland.
    Rather just put “Skyfall” on repeat.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Album art > music found within

  • AnnieK13

    Well I don’t hate the embedded track…in fact I quite like the vocals but I doubt I will go looking to hear the album. Just a bit too pop for me.

  • Levly

    This isn’t bad by any mean, but for something supposed to be poppy, I find it surprisingly lacking in the hooks and melodies department. Too much chugging with the guitars too.
    Prevail from Kobra and the Lotus earlier this year was much better in a similar style.

  • Malhorne

    She has a great voice honestly.. but the rest is bland sadly. And it sounds louder than the DR suggests.

  • lennymccall

    I don’t hate this.

  • It’s nice. It’s too slick to visit too often, but I like it. Good songs. And it makes me think of Vuur and Oceans of Slumber.