I know embarrassingly little about the Russian metal scene, so the opportunity to review Tantal’s latest album was particularly… tantalizing. Formed in Pushkino in 2004, Tantal released their debut The Beginning of the End (is that really the best name for a first album?) in 2009. This flew completely under my radar, so I had no idea what to expect from Expectancy – a post-Soviet critique of the motivational theories of Victor Vroom in the style of In Flames, perhaps? Well musically we’re in the right ballpark, even if I’m not convinced the lyrics adequately rebut Vroom’s fundamental model. But anyway. Let’s deal with the music, shall we?
I had hoped I could get through this review without mentioning Arch Enemy (Tantal’s vocalist is female y’see), but opener “Through the Years” has more than just a hint of Michael Amott’s trademark tuneful-yet-thrashy riffing to it, while the aggressive, screamed vocals are rather similar to Alissa White-Gluz’s delivery on the Swedes’ latest offering. In general though, Tantal’s approach is very different, incorporating far more elaborate melodies and song structures compared to Arch Enemy’s straightforward pop metal. The following track, “Expectancy Pt. 1,” is a fine example, starting off like a slowed-down Nevermore before adding hints of Evergrey, all the while alternating between screamed and sung vocals to keep things more interesting. “Echoes of Failures” incorporates a strong Dark Tranquility influence, which reappears later on during “Expectancy Pt. 2” in a satisfyingly thrashy guise after a progtacular melodic guitar opening.
While the elaborate songwriting and prog influences help to distinguish Tantal from the melodeath pack, they do little to improve the music itself. Too often the band gets lost in ornate melodies that don’t really go anywhere, but instead are used in an effort to distract from what are often quite tired chord progressions. This results in a distinct lack of any memorable tunes, as well as severe song bloat – the band just don’t have the writing chops to pull off an album full of 6-7 minute long songs. Sometimes, as on “Expectancy” parts 1 & 2, they manage to hit the spot, but most of the tracks could benefit from some heavy editing (or even total removal: “Pain That We All Must Go Through,” “In The End Pt.2”).
Though the songwriting lets the album down, the playing is of a high standard. When she’s not vomiting forth her animalistic growls, Milana Solovitskaya’s vocal tone is somewhere between Christina Scabbia and Anneke van Giersbergen. While Milana has a strong voice that contrasts well against the screams, her melodic delivery is one-dimensional, lacking the emotional range or subtlety of the aforementioned singers. The guitar playing is technically very skillful, but I’m not sure “ooh crikey, this chap must have practiced lots” is the desired response to a guitar solo (unless you’re Yngwie, I guess). Sound-wise things are generally good; the production is slick and suits the style well enough, though the bass gets a bit lost and the low dynamic range doesn’t help the more involved arrangements.
Tantal have produced a decent album that shows potential, and if you’re a fan of the style who can forgive the compositional shortcomings you’ll no doubt find much to enjoy. For my money, though, they’re too busy struggling to escape the confines of the melodeath genre (which, let’s face it, had run out of steam over a decade ago) to create memorable music.