When I read words like “Canadian” and “female-fronted,” my mind invariably goes to Unleash the Archers. Without trying, I’ve somehow trained my weak mind to do this. Not that I’m upset about it. Unleash the Archers fucking rule. But, it isn’t the promo sheet for the new Unleash the Archers record I’m reading. Instead, I’m reading the one from Canadian melodeath outfit Karkaos. Much like Unleash the Archers, Karkaos shares vocal duties between two singers (in this case, vocalist Viky Boyer and guitarist Vincent Harnois). The result is a combination of Boyer’s power-metalish cleans and snarling rasps with Harnois’ deep, throaty growls. Chuck in keys, orchestration, melodic leads, impressive soloing, and Justine Ethier’s (ex-Blackguard) pummeling kit work, and you’ve got yourself Karkaos‘ newest opus, Children of the Void.
If you’ve ever heard of the band, you know vocalist Veronica Ortiz Rodriguez departed. Though she did a fabulous job on debut record Empire, Boyer has been at the helm since 2014. With this comes some differences in the sound, but Boyer is more than capable of filling Rodriguez’ shit-kicking boots. But is the songwriting, are the choruses, are the atmospheres capable of filling Empire‘s boots. As far as melodic death metal (with a pinch of power) is concerned, Empire is an underrated gem. It has classics like “Eden,” “Leap of Faith,” “Echoes of Perpetuity,” and “Awaiting the Clock’s Last Turn.” All catchier than seasonal influenza and band staples they have no choice but to live up to. No pressure, guys.
And, right away, things are looking good. On top of the catchy, power-metal-like leads, Boyer’s cleans charge through “Skymaster,” combating growls from both Harnois and herself. “Skymaster” isn’t the best song on the album, but its catchy groove and its smooth vocals do a fine job of setting the tone. A tone that “Kolossos” takes and runs with; delivering up one of the best tracks on the album. It alternates and overlaps every vocal style Boyer and Harnois are capable of. It smashes through concrete barriers with its pounding riffs and tugs on heart strings with its clean-guitar interlude. It also introduces something I rarely hear: solos played over vocals—something the band will continue to do throughout the album. It gives this song (and others to come) a bone-deep level of power and emotion during the gigantic choruses and climaxes.
The best examples of this are found in “Let the Curtain Fall,” “Where Mushrooms Grow,” and closer “Bound by Stars.” It turns out this sweeping, emotional guitar play is especially fitting to these tracks because of their natural hookiness. “Let the Curtain Fall” builds around death barks from Boyer and Harnois, but it has a chorus larger like a wrecking ball. “Where Mushrooms Grow” rides the rails of “ballad” without actually becoming one and the closer is almost as epic as the one from Empire. Like “Echoes of Perpetuity” and “Awaiting the Clock’s Last Turn,” before them, these tracks are catchy as hell. The choruses, the riffs, and the emotion will suck you right in.
Looking for less fluff and more balls? Look no farther than “Tyrant,” “Lightbearer,” and “The Beast.” As far as riffs go for this band, these ones could topple deep-rooted weeping willows. “Tyrant,” in particular, is about as fitting a song title as it gets for a riff this mighty. Not to mention its crushing death metal approach toward the end. Between the orchestration, Harnois’ deep barks, and the massive chugs, the attack closely resembles that of Septicflesh. Likewise, “Lightbearer” sets out to impress with its hateful spewings, with a finish like “Tyrant.” It’s not bone-breaking death metal, but it suits the record well.
And that’s some of the “issue” with Children. While I quite enjoy this pleasing slab of power-spiked melodeath, Children of the Void doesn’t live up to its predecessor. The vocals play a small part in that. Specifically, the album’s over-the-top gang shouts and Boyer’s Shagrath-like rasps—versus Rodriguez’ Cadaveria-like shrieks, before her. Don’t get me wrong, Boyer’s voice fucking rules. It’s just different. But, for me, it’s the songwriting. Minus the handful of ditties mentioned before (which is still more than half the album), this new record doesn’t have the same staying power as its predecessor. It also lacks that At the Gates-meets-Opera IX vibe many of the standouts from Empire have. Instead, replacing it with something more Nightwishy. Just the same, there is still plenty here to enjoy. And though I like many of the elements of Empire, the newer approaches on Children are pretty sticky.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: May 26th, 2017