It would probably surprise nobody to learn that my background as a metalhead began with symphonic metal. Somehow (read: through a series of ill-advised sessions of reckless YouTube binges) I discovered it during the early days of high school. Symphonic metal enlivened me and became my gateway into this marvelous metalverse. Today I return to that hallowed ground upon which my transformation manifested. Waiting there for me is Lemuria—a symphonic black metal band from Belgium, est. 1999—with their third epic The Hysterical Hunt. Will they honor my presence with glory and grandeur? Or will they besmirch my arrival with tin trinkets and horse feathers?
Breaking down The Hysterical Hunt into its constituent parts is like deconstructing a castle of Legos. Taking it apart reveals millions of smaller pieces and you experience bewilderment at the thought of erecting it in the first place. Like that Lego castle, Lemuria’s opulent construct consists of so many building blocks of other bands it’s difficult to fathom. Take the symphonics and choirs from Within Temptation’s early-mid period works, the power metal cheddar of bands like Epica and early Nightwish, the black metal stylings of Frozen Gate and Bal-Sagoth and the storytelling ambition displayed by Zornheym and Arcane Existence. Blend them all into one densely packed slab and the result is a rough sketch of the monstrosity Lemuria have summoned with The Hysterical Hunt.
This is not to suggest that the record is a jumbled mess. The Hysterical Hunt is in reality a thought out and coherent work of exuberant indulgence. Almost every musical element, varied and populous as they are, work well in concert with one another. Icy keyboards and orchestral effects (courtesy of Vincent Pichal) enhance the soaring trem-picked leads of Gaël Sortino and the power chords of Jeroen De Kooning (“Endgame (The Impending Truth),” “A Plague Upon the Land,” and “Of Winter and Hell”). Soothing female vocals (Alexandra Kastrinakis and Sophia Poppy Verrept) add vulnerability, especially during the furious blasting of Pichal’s drums or when placed next to Daan Swinnen’s voracious rasps (“The Hysterical Hunt” and “Between Man and Wolf”). Regrettably, the bassist Bart De Prins doesn’t get a chance to impress, as all other instruments bury him.
While sonic cohesion is Lemuria‘s main asset on this record, The Hysterical Hunt’s primary drawback is extreme bloat in songwriting. Every track needs two minutes or so excised from their relative runtimes. Symphonic passages spend too much time in the spotlight on proper tracks (especially on “A Secret Life”), siphoning the record’s momentum. Another source of bloat derives from an egregious overabundance of instrumentals. There are four of them, all doing very little to contribute something meaningful. Excessive narration on tracks like “Endgame (The Impending Truth)” exacerbate concerns even further. While thematically consistent, they feel contrived and are largely uninteresting. These interludes and spoken passages ought to build tension and inflate the scope of the record, but they burden The Hysterical Hunt and they burden its audience.
Topping it all off is an extra-sappy bonus track, “A Dream that Never Came.” From memory there are only two symphonic metal tracks like this aptly-named one that make me fall head-over-heels every time I hear them (Within Temptation’s “Memories” and Nightwish’s “Nemo”). Lemuria would need a special song to succeed within this Disney sing-along ballad format in metal, and “A Dream that Never Came” is a far cry from that level of quality. The vocals are too sweet and soulless and the instrumentation fails to elevate the piece to spine-tingling heights.
Those of you who crave the unrestrained excess of symphonic metal as I do will find a lot to like about Lemuria and The Hysterical Hunt. The band’s ability to take such a large pool of influences and make them work well together impresses. But the album also overwhelms. Lemuria, to my chagrin, included too many insubstantial interludes and frilly narrations. That in concert with the mushy bonus ballad conspired to infringe upon my enjoyment of this record. Nevertheless, Lemuria show potential and I look forward to the group realizing that potential on a tightened fourth opus.