Ho boy. I signed up for this review based on my experience with Meden Agan’s 2014 release, Lacrima Dei, which I thought was pretty stomachable – commenting as a fellow who has little patience for generic female-fronted sympho-goth outfits. However, I’ll admit that almost all of my immediate impressions of Catharsis were negative, both musically and thematically. The album is largely inspired by novelist and self-proclaimed philosopher Umberto Eco’s most famous work, The Name of the Rose, a (very) fictional murder mystery set in a 14th century Italian Benedictine monastery. As someone who’s dissected that novel as an academic exercise, and has studied both period music and the history of the Catholic Church, well… let’s remember this is a metal album – a genre not precisely reknowned for its ideological/philosophical expertise or impartiality, and focus on the album’s musical merits.
One thing is immediately noticeable about Catharsis from the first moments of opener “The Purge,” and it’s the band’s newfound rhythmic intensity, which re-asserts itself repeatedly throughout the album. One remarkable aspect of Meden Agan’s work in the past has been its fairly exceptional (for its chosen niche, at least) lead and solo guitar work, which has assisted the band in maintaining its truly metal identity while many of its “gothic metal” contemporaries have drifted into the realms of industrial metal or lighter, symphonic rock. However, Diman Koutsogiannopoulos’ guitar work decidedly takes a back seat throughout this album, and as a general rule, when anyone anywhere reduces the role of guitar in heavy metal, bad things happen.
Songs like “The Purge” and “Veil of Faith” put the best side of this newer, more intense incarnation of the band on display with energy and good chorus lines, along with the best of the album’s guitar work. Others, like “Cleanse Their Sins” and “Whispers in the Dark,” however, exhibit a stylistic stagnancy that, in my experience, is rather typical for the symphonic/gothic scene. When combined, we get a strange mixture that sounds most like mediocre power metal, toward which Catharsis as a whole trends when compared to Lacrima Dei and Erevos Aenaon. While I’ve previously assessed Meden Agan as a more-than-passable sympho/goth outfit, their talent for power metal is underwhelming. It occurs to me that this is because the band has strayed a bit too far over subgenre lines and doesn’t quite know what it is collectively doing. In the process, something about the band’s identity has been lost.
Take new singer Dimitra Panariti as a primary example. I find her full-voiced alto I/soprano II delivery to be exceedingly generic in a subgenre that struggles with the trite sound of classically trained female vocalists attempting to blend with metal instrumentation in a style that has become the modern, popular music attempt to ape a cantata or opera. Her more conventional, popularly-styled vocals are painfully over-emotive and even more badly colored by her (presumably) Greek accent. The backing male vocals, of which brief glimpses are captured here and there, are much less wearying, and their strong presence on closer “Weaver of Destiny” helps make it my pick for best song on this otherwise tepid album.
I feel little else remains for me to comment on. Catharsis may continue to appeal to fans of the likes of Epica, After Forever, ReVamp, and others on the “heavier” side of symphonic female-fronted metal, but I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would choose to listen to this album rather than any of the above. In brief, I think Meden Agan has been creatively watered down, vocally kneecapped, and become rhythmically imitative of more neutered mainstream acts. Some are (of course) calling this Meden Agan’s heaviest, darkest, most intense effort to date. I suppose it might be that, but those were never the band’s strengths in the past, and they aren’t now. More than anything, Catharsis will be known as the point that Swordborn stopped paying attention to Meden Agan. Forever.