“Another year, another Nightwishcore release,” one is tempted to think at the sight of Lost in Grey. At this point, I’d be mighty tempted to make a template review and merely swap names and album titles out for the most homogeneous sound in the business. Efficient reviewing for 2019! Or it would be, if Lost in Grey had not unleashed the first major musical upset in my worldview of the year with their sophomore album The Waste Land: it attempts something different with the style! Every time I’ve been saddled with Nightwishcore, this has been my exact wish. But was that wish fulfilled by an evil djinn or a fairy godmother1?
Be aware, at its core this is still part of the female-fronted symphonic power-gothic train that carried hundreds of copycat bands before. Quasi-operatic soprano, twinkling keyboards, and violins take the fore, power-chord riffs and bass go in the back. But Lost in Grey bash against the boundaries of that label in every direction. The vocals don’t stop at operatic female vocals; anything ranging from biting female heavy metal vocals to a bass choir to a children’s choir to spoken word to black metal rasps feature in the gallery. While the pacing can usually be expected to remain firmly middle of the road, several tracks like the opener and highlight “Unohdukseen Katoaa” crank up the dial, the latter actually toying with black metal blast beats.
Even beyond this twisting and turning of the dials, the range of songwriting here is huge. While “Far Beyond and Further” and “Expectations” stick more closely to the usual formula, the idea of what to expect in female fronted symphonic metal is upended more often than not. “Wolves Among Men” is a highly entertaining and extravagant piece of theater, almost Broadway musical-like in its narrative vocalizations from a villainous perspective. “Prelude for Emptiness” is a pure folk interlude, “1992”2 a grandiose choir-driven ballad. From the first moment to the last, the band pulls out all the stops, making for an album that, if nothing else, never gets boring. Cheesy, yes, and unabashedly so; that’s nearly impossible to avoid with anything symphonic, triply so when a song includes a straight-faced spoken word interlude about space and the environment. But never boring.
But the more balls you juggle, the harder it becomes not to drop some, and balls do fall. Despite being a concept album, the songs are not a unified whole, a consequence of the band’s relentless thirst for creative versatility. That same thirst leads to a few less advisable moments, most prominently the overlong finale that doesn’t have the hooks or chops to stick the landing. And finally, once again as with so many of its direct peers, the production is not up to snuff. I don’t know what gets into the heads of symphonic bands, but despite the fact that hardly anything is recorded as flawlessly as classical music, a brickwalled production is the sad norm for the genre and this is no exception (albeit less egregious than, for example, Akoma.) Considering the slew of guest artists playing various peripheral classic instruments, this album deserved a more restrained production.
This does not take away from the fact that The Waste Lands is, by some margin, the most original, most versatile, and simply the best female-fronted symphonic album I have reviewed. Though hampered by some of the Nightwishcore trappings, dense production chief among them, the sheer scope of the music on display ensures the entertainment value survives unscathed. Lost in Grey shot for the moon and left a neat crater, and for the first time in the genre, I’m excited to find out just how much further they can go.