Sirenia hasn’t been getting much love from AMG IndustriesTM of late, and perhaps rightly so. The bands 2015 release The Seventh Life Path was criticized harshly for both its cheesy, formulaic approach to symphonic metal and its abundance of beautiful women. The 2011 offering, The Enigma of Life, fared absolutely no better. While I will never be one to condemn the inclusion of sexy band photos (female or otherwise), I did find myself agreeing with the general sentiments; both albums were trite, shallow, and boring. And so it was with a heavy heart that I began to absorb Sirenia‘s latest album, Dim Days of Dolor. Imagine my surprise when but a few spins later I found myself nodding along to the music! Something’s amiss, I thought to myself. I came to question my metal kred, my trvness, even my job security. My reliance on ales and lager came to a head. Yet, no matter how many times I listened to Dim Days of Dolor, I couldn’t bring myself to hate it. What went so terribly wrong?
For starters, front-woman Ailyn is long gone and I must say, she shan’t be missed. Yes, Sirenia has swapped their squeaky, squealy, X-Factor drop out in favor of Emmanuelle Zoldan, an equally attractive and much more talented opera singer from France. The improvement in quality from one singer to the other cannot be understated. It’s apparent from the opening moments of “Goddess of the Sea.” Emmanuelle is just better. Leagues better. Reminiscent of ex-Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen, Emmanuelle is both more powerful and more diverse than Ailyn, and her voice is a major reason many of the tracks on the album are enjoyable. Plus, she’s previously worked with Turisas. It’s almost unfair how rigged the competition is in her favor.
A new vocalist isn’t the only improvement, however. One of my greatest qualms with past Sirenia releases was the repetitive fretwork and song structure. Every track felt all too similar, with the guitars chug chugging along as though the band was playing core metal, god forbid. While not completely eliminated here, Dim Days of Dolor definitely does a better job of varying its tracks. A more liberal application of the choir and some additional experimentation with the strings makes the album a more interesting listen than its predecessors. Songs like “Veil of Winter” make excellent use of band founder Morden Veland’s cleans, and I wish they included more play between Emmanuelle’s voice and his own. Morden is also an undeniably talented multi-instrumentalist, and his playing throughout the record is more than satisfactory.
Thus far I’ve done nothing but sing Sirenia‘s praises, so we’d best move on to the albums flaws before I lose credibility for good. While I found Morden’s cleans rather pleasing, I absolutely cannot stand his growls. Morden’s rasps are about as terrifying as a declawed kitten, feeling so soulless I wish they were left out entirely. Thankfully, Morden leaves most of the singing to his compatriot, but this gives rise to another problem. Despite being labeled a metal record, Dim Days of Dolor rarely feels heavy.
Back in the day, Sirenia was as much a melodeath act as they were a symphonic metal band, but any traces of brütality have long since departed. In its place, the band members have held on to their love for cheesy lyrics, themes, and structures. While such songs can be fun, they lack emotional weight, and an album that struggles to evoke emotion is an album that struggles as a metal release. Sure, the guitar work and percussion are just as technical and pummeling as anything Kamelot ever wrote, so why does Dim Days of Dolor feel so much lighter than The Black Halo? But I digress.
Believe it or not, Dim Days of Dolor is overall a success for Sirenia. It doesn’t recapture the heaviness that was lost from the band’s beginnings, nor does it manage to escape the formulaic nature symphonic metal is notorious for. But it’s an undeniably fun record and the songs are catchy enough to be entertaining, even through multiple listens. Sometimes, solid songwriting and unadulterated talent can’t be denied, and Dim Days of Dolor has both these things in spades. If you enjoy symphonic metal, you will likely enjoy this record.