You know, you can say what you want about female fronted symphonic metal like Nightwish, Within Temptation and Leaves’ Eyes, but they have (or had) some terrific vocalists. Tarja, Sharon den Adel, Simone Simons of Epica, the list goes on. In plenty of cases the music may be tepid and derivative, but at least those golden throats are there to put salve on the wounds and distract from the musical mediocrity. There could even be causality between the quality of the voice and the instrumentation: the band might think the vocals can carry the day alone, or they don’t want to take away from the spotlight. To study this phenomenon, a more extreme example might help. Something like, you guessed it, Thy Shade.
Thy Shade is the collaboration between Mane Cabrales, who does all the instrumentation sans piano, and Diane Shade (Di Shade is Thy Shade, get it?), piano player and classical soprano. As expected from a band that names itself after the vocalist and tries to be clever about it, Shade’s voice takes the spotlight, the left, right and center of the stage, and the rest of the music mostly exists to support her. It shows, too: the instrumental parts are extremely simplified. The drumming sounds downright bored, the guitar perfunctory and the bass is largely absent. Synths, however, are used regularly and with reckless abandon, ill-advised or not, following the template once written by Nightwish. Every now and then a decent guitar solo attempts to bring some life into the proceedings, but every time this occurs the other instruments inexplicably retreat to the back and leave only the most rudimentary support. The result is that the solos sound thin and lifeless all on their own.
Poor songwriting choices like this abound throughout the album. “Final Chapter” features some constipated growls that remain wholly unconvincing. “Fantasy,” for some reason, features faint camera shutter sounds that add only distraction. “Inneggiamo” switches abruptly between string-like supporting synths and full-on flanging keyboards. The album is a buffet of elements cherry-picked from better bands and implemented poorly. And considering all this is to support Shade’s voice, the sacrifices don’t seem worth it. She is very talented as a classical soprano but it’s evident she nor her companion have any idea how to implement it in metal, outside of having heard a Leaves’ Eyes song once. As such, she can only do the style she is trained in well. The slow symphonic sections are her hunting ground, and if you love classical music these parts will be enjoyable, but she falters as soon as the music comes anywhere near poppiness (“Fantasy” and “Change”), sounding unsure and unstable.
All this has led me to a theory. It may be true, it may not, but it would explain precisely how this album came to be. I don’t think Shade really, truly wanted to make a metal album. I think she is much more comfortable making classical music, but that is neither hip nor marketable to larger audiences, so she looked into alternatives and found them in symphonic metal. When sorted, everything good on this disc is classical, while everything poor is metal and the awkward combination of the two styles. My hypothesis is even supported by the production, as the mix regularly pushes the guitar back in favor of orchestral synths, operatic male guest vocals and Shade’s own arias. Sadly the result is a hybrid where the sum is lesser for its parts rather than an album with the ability to build on the respective strengths of the orchestral and the metal.
Thy Shade has a much better chance of creating great art if they would play classical music straight, without using metal as a commercial crutch. She has the talent for her preferred technique but she’d need a lot of extra training if she wants to pull off faster and more contemporary vocals. Although bands like Diablo Swing Orchestra and Haggard have demonstrated that a pure soprano in a metal band can still do marvelous things, Thy Shade will need to make many radical changes to get up to that level, or focus on what they do best: not playing metal.