Sede Vacante – Conium Review

Certain assumptions will be made about gothic/symphonic metal bands. They will be fronted by a woman. They will prioritize strings as the most important melodic instrument. They will be Finnish. In the case of Sede Vacante and their sophomore release entitled Conium, these are at least partly right. You’ll note the female singer centralized in the band photo below. Strings do indeed feature. But the one sheet informs me that the band is both Finnish and Greek. What a revelation! Sede Vacante appropriately shoot for the stars by citing the likes of Nightwish, Within Temptation and Epica as influences. How does this release match up to such names?

While the influences listed aren’t entirely inappropriate, they don’t tell the whole story because Conium is much heavier and less overtly symphonic than such names. Many symphonic metal bands leave a saccharine taste in my mouth but this one feels like a meaty meal. The guitars sit front and center of the mix, occupying a larger space than the orchestrations. This feels to me the right way around on a metal release, and many of Sede Vacante’s genre peers forget this. The best example of what Conium is trying to be is found on the title track which is altogether heavy, catchy and grand. It features the best of the album’s choruses and a strong guitar lead set ahead of enjoyable piano scales. More songs of this ilk and the band might have struck gold.

As it is, Conium more commonly taps into mediocrity. Most songs are strictly formulaic, leveraging the ABABCB template1. Such structural simplicity works on the hooky songs which are granted plenty of opportunities to dwell on memorable melodies, but where the melodies don’t sink, the songs are bland. Tracks like “Melancholy Bled,” “Walk on a Lie” and “Wheel of Misfortune” are basic and suffer from guitar and vocal leads that struggle to stand out. By comparison, just a couple of the songs build on the simplicity with more interesting compositional choices. The ‘C’ element of “Mistaken” features some dramatic transitions which catch my ear and “Paint It Black” is a surprisingly creative interpretation of the The Rolling Stones classic. It isn’t just a brooding cover but also offers a quiet, mid-album breather which isn’t just a pointless interlude.

The aforementioned weaker moments are found on 3 of the last 5 tracks which drags out the tail of the record. This back-loading of the weaker tracks results in the record being more difficult to finish than it is to start. 11 tracks across 51 minutes is an acceptable length in theory but it feels longer than this and loses my attention given the drab conclusion. And while the conclusion “Tattoo” is mildly more engaging, it closes things on a softer, prettier note. It’s pleasant enough but a damp squib of a finale, lacking the energy of much of the rest of the music. A bigger climax would befit this sort of bombastic album. On the plus side, this speed and temperament better aligns with the singer’s strengths of delicacy and precision. She isn’t quite as good when the music demands she projects her voice into rockier realms as it lacks presence among the guitars.

A record of songs that range from good to forgettable will always be capped at 2.5. The fourth and final assumption that I always make about gothic/symphonic metal is that it will be average. It is a sub-genre awash with unremarkable music. Sadly, Sede Vacante fulfil this assumption too, even with a heavier approach than most. Melodies which only sometimes shine and predictable song-writing consign Conium to the heap of mediocrity. Particular fans of the style might glean a little more, but for most, this is far from essential.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps MP3
Label: Scarlet Records
Websites: |
Releases worldwide: October 21st, 2022

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  1. verse-chorus-verse-chorus-instrumental/filler-chorus
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