Daidalos – The Expedition Review

Symphonic black metal has never been a genre I’ve spent much time exploring. While I appreciate the determination it takes to wed two disparate musical approaches together, I’ve often found the execution to be lacking. Either the orchestration feels tacked on and superfluous, or it defangs the blackened assault entirely. But this year has proven an exploratory one (at least musically), and I’ve made an effort to pluck a few albums from the bin that I’d usually avoid. So it was with mixed apprehension and excitement that I nabbed The Expedition, the debut album from Daidalos, described as a “one-man symphonic dark metal band” established just two years ago by German drummer and pianist Tobias Püschner. Whether the metal in question is “dark” or “black,” the question remains: Does this symphonic slab prove my preconceived notions correct, or does it force me to question my assumptions about a genre which I’ve so unfairly maligned?

The Expedition is a concept album that tells the story of the doomed 1845 voyage of Captain John Franklin and his crew of 129 men and their frost-filled journey through undiscovered portions of the northwest passage. Grizzled sea captains? Ice pirates? Adventure? Excitement? A Jedi may not crave such things, but I sure do. Daidalos have certainly plucked a worthy story from the annals of history on which to base their album. And as is their right, the band has chosen the soothing sounds of symphonic, epic black metal to tale this tale. While I am not as familiar with this genre as others, I was not surprised to see comparisons to Dimmu Borgir and Wintersun in the promo material. Although considering the specific blackened symphonic approach I’ve grown to appreciate, I would have also liked to spot a Zornheym name drop, or a reference to the insanity of Imperial Circus Dead Decadence. But we’re here to deal with the album as it is, not the album as I was hoping it would be.

The Expedition cranks the orchestration to 11, snaps off the knob, and encases the crackling cavity in concrete, just in case anyone attempts to fiddle with the setting. This approach is an unfortunate constant and serves as the rusty anchor weighing down this floating coffin of a record. Things open with the titular “The Expedition,” a bombastic number melding movie score grandiosity with blackened vocals and fierce blast beats. Fortunately, there are a few fleeting moments where the orchestration is mercifully reigned in, setting the stage for subtler, more interesting sequences. Whether it’s resolute choral chants (“Icewind,” “Sail into the Stars,” “Stormwind”) or sparse plucking and evocative piano (“Icewind,” “Stormwind,” “Married to the Sea”), it’s clear an attempt was made to let these songs breath, if only to choke them off soon after with another bombardment of strings, woodwinds and brass. Indeed, these refreshing interludes are few and far between, crammed as they are between over-the-top orchestration, energetic but uninspired BM drumming and heaps of cinematic sound effects.

I haven’t had much to say about the guitar work on this album, and that’s mostly because it’s nearly wiped from existence by the crushing tedium of the generic film score orchestration. When the guitar is allowed out to play though, it’s a revelation, although I’m not sure if it’s because the playing is impressive or if it’s because its absence has made my heart grow fonder. Closing track “Northlight” is perhaps one of the biggest disappointments on The Expedition because it showcases just how effective the guitar and vocals on this album could have been. That same track also highlights some mighty bass work, although this talent is driven back again and again, washed away by yet another forgettable and wholly unnecessary orchestral tidal wave.

It’s clear I didn’t much care for Daidalos’ debut, but maybe this genre just isn’t for me. Others may find this to be right up their alley. For me, this album feels like it began as an instrumental piece, and only at the last minute were the black metal elements shoehorned in, adding a gritty edge to the proceedings without allowing its essential ferocity to carry any emotional weight. This album hasn’t completely soured me on symphonic black metal, but it has taught me a valuable lesson: when unable to effectively wed two disparate genres, you end up doing a disservice to both. Like poor Captain Franklin’s crew, The Expedition was doomed from the start.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Extreme Metal Music
Websites: daidalosmusic.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/daidalosband
Releases Worldwide: July 29th, 2022

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