In the murky but highly lucrative food sciences industry there exists a term known as the “bliss point.” These deceptively innocuous words describe the exact combination of fat, salt, and sugar in our favorite snacks engineered by food boffins to trigger our dopamine receptors. The resultant release of Pavlovian endorphins slips the noose of addiction around consumers’ necks, ensuring a steady supply of repeat customers. Treacly melodies, sub-dermal hooks and pop-infused synths, Ember Falls are gunning for stardom by way of your mental taste buds with their debut, Welcome to Ember Falls. Fame is an elusive, fickle beast and Ember Falls is but another band hoping to stand out amongst a deluge of delicacies jostling to whet our collective appetite. It remains to be seen whether Welcome to Ember Falls sluices down an eager gullet, hitting the bliss point like an Olympic sharpshooter or is instead a bitter pill to swallow.
Spinefarm are certainly banking on the former, signing the Finnish band on the strength of a single released in late 2015 and that alone. This is a bold move by a major label, taking a gamble on relatively untested saplings in the hopes of getting in on the ground floor of The Next Big Thing™, even if that means confecting the hype yourself. Initial impressions did little to dissuade this notion: glossy band members playing glossy music backed by a glossy production. Sugar ‘n’ spice, and nary anything nice. It would be all too tempting to dismiss Ember Falls entirely out of hand but sublimate the desire to make a snap judgment and patience reveals a tasty morsel ready to be ground down beneath ravenous molars.
With Natural Born Chaos, Soilwork took the melo-death formula and tweaked it in such a way as to make the resultant sound all the more accessible. Ember Falls takes the approach even further, pushing saccharinely-sweet vocals alongside the harsh ones, leaning heavily on techno beats and including more hooks than a Peter Pan convention. Devin Townsend produced Natural Born Chaos so discovering that Welcome to Ember Falls has shades of the mercurial Canadian doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Townsend wrote the book on how to successfully blend pop and metal with Addicted, and Ember Falls doesn’t shy away from including Devy-isms like the Anneke Van Giersbergen-esque female vocals on “Rising Tide” or the jazzy “Bad Devil” breakdown on “The Lamb Lies Down in Sacrifice.” Opening track “The Cost of Doing Business” is a very fun slice of pop-metal, pushing harmony after harmony, managing to burrow under the skin like many of the tracks from Sentenced’s The Funeral Album. “COE” is the song you can ably point to and declare “that’s the single” — a track so upbeat and infectious that antibiotics would struggle to expunge the chorus from my body.
Aside from the cloyingly-slow ballad of “Freedom” and the easily skippable nu-metal trappings of “Open Your Eyes,” there’s not much here that you can label a dud but there are a number of issues that detracts from the experience as a whole. For one thing, the overall sound is grossly artificial — and I don’t just mean the production which is as fake as a Hollywood marriage — but rather that every single individual note comes off as being tweaked to within an inch of its life to be as broadly appealing as possible. So synthetic is the music presented here that it sounds less like a band and more like an artificial intelligence that’s become self-aware, ditched the three laws of robotics and instead poured all of its efforts into creating Finland’s next Eurovision entry. My other gripe is that towards the album’s conclusion I found myself struggling to stay engaged, not because the music was poor or overlong but simply because I’d had my fill of glucose-heavy songs. No matter how strong a sweet-tooth you may have, there comes a point when you can’t stomach any more sugar.
Despite how divisive the album may be, I urge you to at least give Welcome to Ember Falls a try. It’s fun, mindless entertainment that although entirely shallow offers a palatable distraction when the mood calls for a sugar hit. Ember Falls’ commercial aspirations may have been devised wholly and solely to activate our bliss point but there’s no harm in indulging in a bit of junk food now and then. Just maybe eat a salad or two to balance things out.