Selene are a relatively new symphonic metal band based in Belfast, Ireland. I’m not going to get on a high (or low) horse about the genre: if you like symphonic metal, you’ll read this review, and if you don’t you’ll scroll down and look for something nastier. It’s all good to me. Anyhow, Selene started off as a duo, featuring operatic tenor Shonagh Lyons and songwriter/multi-instrumentalist John Connor (not the leader of the Resistance from The Terminator). Despite only kicking around for four years, these two have managed to put out two EPs and now The Ravages of Time, their second full-length, recorded with a couple new bandmates. Busy symphonic metallers!
Opener “New Era” starts oddly, with one tap of the ride cymbal leading straight into a majestic orchestral intro before the song proper starts, a driving beat that sounds somewhat subdued behind Lyons’ classical singing. It’s not a bad song, but something isn’t right. This uncomfortable feeling continues with “The Great Heart,” another song that seems well-written but sounds off somehow. I knew what it was ten seconds into the first song, but a couple songs in I’m sure now: the production and mix are awful. More on that later, because if we can get past it there’s a number of good songs on here. Selene claim to be influenced by bands from Nightwish to Avantasia, and from Evanescence to Sonata Arctica. If only they were also influenced by those bands’ production values.
“Burning Bridges” is a duet with Maverick’s David Balfour, who quite honestly brings nothing to the mix. His voice neither matches nor contrasts Lyons’, instead providing us with an irritating juxtaposition that just doesn’t work. But while this duet fails and the sound of the album is a huge turnoff, there are a few songs that show excellent potential, such as the pensive “This Life,” with Lyons’ best vocal of the record, and album closer “The End of Time,” which is the token epic track of The Ravages of Time, running nearly eleven minutes. It’s well-arranged and at times even sounds good (although not often enough), with a three-minute orchestral intro, big guitars, and a lot of epic symphonic metal as we should expect. If Selene can connect all the dots they’ll have something good going.
The biggest problem with The Ravages of Time is the production and mix. Simply put, the mix has fewer teeth than all the elderly ladies employed to chew apples down at the applesauce factory. Everything musically is just a wash beneath the way-too-loud and never-changing tenor of Lyons. Careful listening to each instrument is required to really get a feel for what’s going on, and it’s only then that one can tell there’s actually some decent talent and songwriting behind a mix that can only be described as boring. Drums sound boxy, bass is practically nonexistent, and the orchestral flairs are cheesy and awash in reverb. On top of that, Lyons’ vocals are also drenched in reverb, and although she’s got a pretty good tenor voice, there’s no deviation from this, which turns her into a one trick opera pony. Essentially, The Ravages of Time reeks of potential undone by amateur hour behind the mixing board.
If you can force yourself to see through the haze of the poor DIY production and focus on the songs and performances, there’s a lot of potential lurking under the water. Shonagh Lyons undoubtedly has a heckuva voice, but some variance in her delivery, some more emotion, and characterization, will go a long way for her. And John Connor has written some damn good songs here — it’s just hard to believe it when listening. If this album was produced by, say, Tero Kinnunen (Nightwish), it would be at least a full point higher. I’ll be keeping my eye out for Selene’s follow-up to The Ravages of Time, and hopefully, the songwriting and vocals continue to move forward, and the band relieves Connor of his production duties1 and spends some money on a pro.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Websites: seleneni.bandcamp.com/album/the-ravages-of-time | selene-theband.co.uk | facebook.com/SeleneNI
Releases Worldwide: June 23rd, 2017