Well, look who wandered off the homage reservation. Sweden’s In Solitude made their mark with 2011’s The World. the Flesh. the Devil. and its uncannily accurate aping of vintage Mercyful Fate. So close was the sound to albums like Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath, that several people I played it for thought it was a reunion album or re-recorded demo material. While homage bands are all well and good, it seems these chaps wanted to shake off that image and on Sister, they’ve done so quite impressively. While the Mercyful Fate influence is still apparent (especially in the vocals), the new material takes their Fate worship and coats it with scads of gothic and doom sensibility while adding a strong Danzig vibe as well. In a nutshell, Sister sounds like Kind Diamond and Danzig recording an album with To Die For after a long weekend of listening to Ghost, The Cure and Swans. Progression and evolution is all fine and dandy and I commend any band that seeks to develop a singular, unique style, but without good songs it really doesn’t matter what they sound like. Fortunately, Sister is absolutely loaded with excellent music and it’s a near perfect marriage of their Mercyful Fate style with gloomy doom and simmering emo-goth. Sometimes this “progression thing” actually works out, huh?
This is one of those albums that reeks of quality from the first note and ethereal acoustic opener “He Comes” sets the stage nicely before things blast off with “Death Knows Where” and its King Diamond meets To Die For goth-rock. The music is stripped-down and direct and the riffs are addicting while also feeling remote and cold like good goth should. Pelle Ahman is still a dead ringer for olden days King Diamond when he relied on his mid-range croon instead of his glass shattering falsetto, and there’s no arguing this impersonation (intentional or not) makes the music more interesting for old timers like myself. They go for a Saint Vitus-esque style of doom on “A Buried Sun” and Ahman splits time copying King and Glenn Danzig and it actually sounds like a duet of metal legends, which is pretty freaking cool. On top of that, it’s a really good tune with loads of edgy, dramatic and discordant riffs that jump effortlessly between doom, black metal and post-rock.
Things keep getting better as Sister unfolds and “Pallid Hands” is quite the show-stopper – blending goth-rock ideas with their Fate-worshipping inclinations for maximum effect. It’s a song that pulls you in at first listen and keeps getting better with each spin. Ahman’s vocals are earworm city and the riffs are the soul of simplicity, but really hum with urgency and energy. They bring in a weird retro-doom sensibility during “Lavender” and the song structure and off-kilter riffs remind me of Castle‘s Blacklands album. The title track smacks of straight-ahead, early 80s metal like Jag Panzer and Cities, but with more dramatic goth-rock ideas and Ahman really sells the song with great vocal placement. The guitars are let loose to run free and it’s a true delight as the riffs and solos spin through metal genres and time periods.
I love “Horses in the Ground” which sounds like something off an early Fate demo or maybe their Nuns Have No Fun EP and things end on a high note with the weird, but enjoyably dark “Inmost Nigredo” which brings back the King vs. Danzig vocal trade offs and adds Agalloch-flavored, icy trem-riffs which work amazingly well in the context of the song’s overall grimness.
While I know Pelle Ahman earned his keep by ripping off one metal legend (and now adds another), I can’t help but love his singing and the way he channels the ghosts of metal’s past. He’s quite adept at channeling emotion and his vocal placement and patterns are at the top of the food chain. Even if you have issues with his mimicry, you can’t deny the man’s talent. Henrik Palm and Niklas Lindstrom also step things up several notches from The World and ply the listener with one hooky riff after another. They shred up a storm all over Sisters and while the variety of styles they dabble in is impressive, the way they make it all flow so smoothly is what really floors me. None of the songs feel cobbled together and with so many different ideas and influences included herein, that’s a real accomplishment.
I would have been totally happy with In Solitude remaining a shameless Mercyful Fate copycat, but what they’ve become on Sisters is so much more interesting. There isn’t an off moment to be found and every song is a killer. More evidence that 2013 is back-loaded, Sisters is a big winner and another contender for Album of the Year. BUY EET!