Melted Space. A project with more vocalists than Avantasia and more guests than a free beer and sex party. An ambitious metal opera, Pierre le Pape draws together myriad musicians and vocalists in depicting his epic vision on this debut, The Great Lie. It’s a monumental work – I’ve not heard a metal opera with such scope in its fusion of classical with metal, but an entangled core message tempers the effect.
The Great Lie is as close as I’ve heard to a complete metal opera. None less than the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra undertakes the elaborate symphonic work, unlike the philistines disseminating digital instruments through their metal in a feeble attempt at ennobling themselves. There’s a great variety of guest vocalists and instrumentalists performing roles, guests who traverse the heavy musical spectrum: from Mnemic frontman Guillaume Bideau, to Orphaned Land‘s Kobi Farhi, to frequent Jeff Loomis collaborator Christine Rhoades, all the way to extreme vox capably handled by scene legends David Vincent (Morbid Angel), Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity) Attila Csihar (Mayhem, Sunn O)))) and even Shining‘s Kvarforth. Accordingly, the vocals are extremely diverse, matched only by the scope of a full orchestra combined with a core band, legendary instrumentalists such as Arjen Lucassen and the excellent yet unheralded guitarist Adrian Martinot.
It’s a testament to the eye of this storm, le Pape, that Melted Space isn’t a Sumatra Andaman-esque disaster of nature under the pressure of such pretension and personalities. His song-writing pen proves just as hefty as his bollocks and his centripetal powers keep each of his elaborate components coordinated and whirling in unison. A classically-trained composer and multi-instrumentalist, he handles the piano, keyboards and arrangements. There are many demonstrations of his writing prowess throughout, harmonizing the orchestra with more traditional metal dynamics. The opening to “Titania” layers airy violins over a chugging guitars and blasting percussion, and “Hopeless Crime” transitions between melodies on the strings and on the guitar very agreeably, particularly at the 2:47 mark where Martinot’s guitar solo absolutely shreds. “No Need to Fear” is stylized as a lullaby with its xylophone-heavy opening, and the subtler “Glass Castles Beast” demonstrates some good creeping tension, facilitated through Farhi’s soft clean vocals, Kvarforth’s deranged whisper and haunting piano keys.
Despite clear highlights, it’s in the song-writing that my principal criticism resides. There’s a fundamental competition between the two driving focuses of the songs. The first is the impressive attempt at fusing classicism with metal, aiming to bridge the two with pomp, circumstance and musical integrity. The second is the entirely-reasonable endeavor towards popular appeal and hooks. On neither count is the music poorly-written, but taken together, one can be seen to be undermining the other. The spotlight of Avantasia under Tobi Sammet is always on its obscenely catchy hooks, with everything else orientated around those. The Great Lie drifts uneasily between seriousness and commercialism, never settling on either. Many of the record’s weakest moments are where the choruses strive to set their melodic anchors down but just aren’t catchy enough to guarantee repeat listens, such as on “Called by the Queen” and “No Need to Fear.” Likewise, efforts at metal-classical sincerity dilute the hooks as le Pape endeavors to incorporate both.
This is compounded by vocalists who have been given similarly confused instructions. Bideau is a prime example of this: he strips back, lacking passion in “Called by the Queen,” but sees much greater success when hamming it up on “Titania.” The obligatory ballad, “A God is Dead,” solely features Manuel Munoz from the defunct French band The Old Dead Tree, and he sounds great in the verses. But on the swells, when compelled to heighten the emotion and stretch his pipes, he just sounds strained, as though he’s been asked to reach beyond his natural range.
This is a shame as there’s no denying the talented cast employed for The Great Lie when allowed to do what they’re best at. The extreme vocalists all stand out as they remain within their comfort zones. Stanne deserves a special mention as his completely unfuckable-with growls are highlights on two of the best tracks – “Hopeless Crime” and “Titania.” On the former particularly, his bridges are underpinned by cool melodic death riffs and it concludes with an effective harmony between himself and Bideau. In addition, Rhoades offers female faux-operatics and is permitted to emote, really getting her lungs and vocal chords into the material – she’s excellent.
There’s legs in the idea of a metal opera incorporating extremity and I appreciate what was achieved here, with impressive orchestrations and solid metal elements. If anything, there could be more aggression to complement the harsh vocals, and expand the already-epic scope of Melted Space (or even a metal opera exclusively with extreme vocals, how cool would that be?!). Trem-picking and blast beatz would further unleash and highlight the likes of Kvarforth. But the greatest deficiency is that the record is snared between the lovable and the sincere: the hooks and the respectability. Address this and le Pape will truly be able to demonstrate his compositional dexterity between his two composite genres.