Headed up by pianist, keyboardist, and classically-trained composer Pierre Le Pape, Melted Space represents an ambitious attempt to unify heavy metal with an opera, featuring a full orchestra and a cohort of guest vocalists and musicians which would make Arjen Lucassen (of Ayreon) and Tobias Sammet (of Avantasia) think twice. I first experienced the project with 2015’s The Great Lie which was a mixed bag with a correspondingly middling rating. Unlike that release, Darkening Light lacks a one-sheeter from which I can ascertain the full range of contributors but I would assume it to be similar to previously, which comprised members from Jess Loomis, Orphaned Land, The Old Dead Tree, and even Morbid Angel, Dark Tranquillity, and Mayhem.
Darkening Light requires disaggregation given its many layers and components. The metal doesn’t comfortably fall into one sub-genre but principally draws from classic, power and melodic death metal. Albums such as this remind me that Iron Maiden really is hugely important in metal as their sound is never far off for sections inspired by any of these three influences. Complementing the metal is a full, symphonic repertoire including string, wind and brass instruments as performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, a piano, and keyboard courtesy of le Pape himself and a backing choir. If all that wasn’t enough, the range of vocals comprises male and female clean singing, female operatic swells, death growls and an assortment of gurgles and wretches which are closer to the style used in black metal. I’m pleased to report that everything under the Melted Space umbrella is instrumentally sophisticated and that le Pape’s compositions are professional; clear, with no element unfairly buried, and neither too simple nor too busy.
The best tracks draw on all the aforementioned to generate something more emotive. “The Dawn of Man (I’m Alive!)” and “Regrets” are far and away my favorites because they invoke a particular feeling or mood more consistently and strongly. The former has the record’s coolest riff and most catchy chorus so is a natural highlight but also has a somewhat heroic tone in its guitars and a desperation in its vocal peaks. The latter is definitely the heaviest track. At a glance, this is counter-intuitive as it principally features quieter piano passages and may be the slowest track. But it features a doom-influenced riff and the piano is dark and moody, such that I feel its power.
Compositionally, I don’t hear the mismatch that I noted in the previous release. There was formerly a dichotomy between the more commercial and sincere aspects but a middle ground is found here, splitting hook-oriented song-writing with musically-adept arrangements. Unfortunately, I’m still struck that those hooks simply aren’t as hooky as intended. The choruses seemingly swell but on repeated listens there isn’t much which sticks. I’m left in a position where while Darkening Light is pleasant enough while I’m spinning it, I’m left with nothing afterward. I question why and whether I would return beyond my reviewing responsibilities; the answer is “why should I?” and that I won’t. Albums bestowed with a 3 and above always encourage non-obligated listens (those with a 2.5 will get partial listens to preferred parts) but that isn’t the case here.
Melted Space is also a self-professed example of operatic metal. Given this, I would expect a stronger narrative and structure. The album opens well in this regard, with a building urgency across “The Void Before.” But the transition into the second track and then progressing through the remainder doesn’t capitalize on this momentum and the record takes place with little continuity that I can ascertain. They are segregated songs arranged for the purposes of an album and this compilation is lacking a critical link to draw it all together. The long closer, “Fallen World,” treads towards a satisfactory, epic conclusion through its urgent opening with darting violins and a pulsing rhythm but, again, fails to develop from this. The hand-operated drumming flourish at the very end is also utterly bizarre as it sounds like a rebeginning – but then the record ends. This lack of continuity hampers what could be a good metal opera.
There are individual moments on every track which satisfy: a nifty riff; a catchy vocal melody; neat twinning of symphonic instruments with these. But on current form, Melted Space will never supplant Ayreon or Avantasia for my metallic opera or symphonic metal needs, even without the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m simply not sufficiently hooked. I shan’t be returning to Darkening Light in spite of its couple of good tracks and I, therefore, recommend that shouldn’t bother in the first place.