There’s hardly anything in metal that makes my stomach churn quite like the vague descriptor of “symphonic metal.” It’s not that most of the stuff is bad so much as the genre, as a whole, is lacking in creative intent, which I find much more offensive. Sure, bands like Epica manage to craft genuine depth within the tired sonic template, but most bands are content with weakly emulating modern Nightwish whilst positioning a pretty girl front and center in promo shots to attract more eyes than ears. Enter Seven Spires, a Boston-based act I blindly picked as a personal punching bag after going soft from weeks of reviewing great material. Featuring Adrienne Cowan of Light and Shade (a band we largely panned last year), their debut Solveig, armed with the most excruciatingly mediocre cover art of the year, is doomed to fail… right?
Actually, hardly at all. What allows Seven Spires to rise a good head or two above their peers is a genuine ear for quality hooks as opposed to the generic melodicism that defines Delain and their ilk. For much of its length, Solveig resides deeper within the power metal spectrum than I had anticipated, at times recalling modern Kamelot in its ability to conjure bittersweet melodies and melancholic atmosphere. There is an impressive level of variety, too; the average tempo is predictably mid-paced, but Seven Spires avoids sinking into tedium thanks to songs that incorporate elements of black metal, melodeath, and even alternative rock. At sixty-four minutes in length, this variety is an absolute blessing and makes Solveig feel like a surprisingly breezy listen despite some filler.
That filler is mostly confined to the first half of the record, with tracks one through seven serving as Act One of this two–act, supernatural–themed concept album. The first part consists entirely of songs from an EP that Seven Spires recorded in 2014, resulting in a noticeable gulf in quality, the latter half undoubtedly superior thanks to overall better melodies and a stronger sense of rhythmic urgency. In comparison, Solveig’s first act can feel downright plodding; first proper track “Encounter” immediately establishes the album’s distinct gothic tone yet largely goes through the motions, its rhythm section chugging at a slow, dispassionate gallop. While Act One isn’t entirely without merit — “Choices” and “Closure” heavily foreshadow the Kamelot-isms that define later tracks like “Stay” — others feel misguided. “The Cabaret of Dreams” is particularly troublesome, a strange attempt at a Diablo Swing Orchestra-lite1 with an awkward chorus delivered in grating fashion by Cowan.
Adrienne Cowan’s performances are as mixed as the album’s quality. She has incredible range, but she can’t quite seem to pinpoint her strengths. Her cleans are totally appealing despite an anemic mid-range, but the high-end shrieks that she insists on utilizing in every song really need to be put out to pasture. They’re fine as a tool to briefly support emotional peaks, but on tracks like “Depths” where she delivers entire choruses in banshee mode, she sounds infuriatingly obnoxious and off-pitch. Her death metal growls and black metal rasps, however, are delivered with conviction, her harsh vox bolstering the gothic, Cradle of Filth-like dramatics of “The Paradox” and the proggy, Amon Amarth-esque riffs of “Serenity.” These tracks and other highlights, including the aforementioned “Stay” and the Avantasia levels of theatricality in “Ashes,” make for memorable high points that keep drawing me into Solveig despite its inconsistencies. A bit more variety and technicality on the part of the rhythm section could have made return trips even more enticing, but the musicians propel the album forward competently enough despite some blandness.
I thought I knew exactly what to expect going into Solveig, and the weaker first half nearly confirmed my suspicions, especially with a predictably modern production that screams “DR6” from the first notes. While I’ll probably never be sold on this record as a whole, its strong second half makes for a decently recommendable album to fans of Kamelot looking for power metal with a side helping of extreme metal eccentricities. If Cowan can learn to play to her strengths and the band as a whole can craft a more consistent package, I’ll absolutely be on board for Seven Spires‘ sophomore effort.