Hope is a curious thing. It is sustenance where nourishment is absent; light where darkness broods; a rope thrown into a pit where escape is unfathomable. When I was saddled with Dark Sarah’s previous album, The Puzzle, back in 2016, I was little more than a whelp on this venerable site. I was tasked with making hay from a record hewn from gaudy symphonic metal, a genre I had little appetite for and went about my assignment with scant enthusiasm. Hope is what I clung to, the hope that The Puzzle would be the exception to the rule. The end result was an album of middling quality that held potential for much more. So here we are with Dark Sarah’s new release, The Golden Moth, and again I find myself turning to hope, crossing my fingers that the band has pulled their collective socks up and produced an album free of the issues that bogged down their last one. Here’s hoping.
Symphonic metal has always had the flair and subtlety of a mardi gras hosted in a spluttering volcano, and Dark Sarah are in no hurry to break with tradition with their third album. Whether you have the stomach for the type of music paraded by this troupe of Finnish minstrels is dependent on your tolerance of Disney musical numbers and the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Golden Moth is cloying, overwrought and teeming with musicians in ‘character’ chewing scenery while spinning tales of pomp and circumstance. Again, not anything the genre hasn’t heard before but a level of caution is advised for anyone searching for slabs of crushing metal, as The Golden Moth is as far removed from that as one can get.
The duality between operatic female vocals and theatrical male chest-puffing continues from The Puzzle, only here, JP Leppäluoto has taken a more central role, playing off Heidi Parviainen every chance he gets. When the two focus on singing and not engaging in hoary dialog, like on “Wheel” and “My Beautiful Enemy,” their entwined vocals are pleasing and carries the listener through the twists and turns in the songs. Parviainen’s vocals are powerful and clear as ever, but her diminished role to make room for Leppäluoto hurts the music. She is the strongest aspect of Dark Sarah and slices a few slivers of identity from the group in the process of stepping back. In fairness, Leppäluoto is an accomplished singer in his own right and deserves praise but when you start scaling back the main selling point of your band you have to wonder where exactly the value proposition remains for listeners.
In fact, once Dark Sarah revs up the musical numbers, the strained dialog between the singers that bookends most of the tracks will make you wonder why exactly you threw a few sheckles at the album in the first place. Tracks like “I Once Had Wings” and “Pirates” are musical dreck, weighed down by awkward banter that churns the stomach. The onslaught of cringe would be mitigated somewhat If the cheesy performances were deployed with a wink at the camera and tongues burrowed into cheeks. Alas, the roles are played straighter than a German ruler and you’re left with an album that’s about as self-aware as an electric toothbrush with its battery removed.
I was hoping that Dark Sarah would learn from the missteps of The Puzzle and right the ship with The Golden Moth. Instead, previous twee, eye-rolling tendencies have not been excised and if anything, have been leaned into, elevating the theatrics while moving away from the heavier elements. The rest of the musicians are relegated to an anaemic backing band and in doing so offer instrumental wallpaper so bland that even an elephant would have difficulty recalling a skerrick of what transpired. “Wish” for example, is only missing a talking lobster to complete the transition from metal band to lurid cartoon. The Puzzle wasn’t without these issues but it did on occasion churn out a few impressive, blood-pumping numbers such as “Little Men,” a track I still listen to on a regular basis. Do I think that Dark Sarah can find their footing on their next release? Hope springs eternal, or so the saying goes, but the well has run dry and I’m in no rush to dust off the dowsing rod.