Innuendo by Amberian Dawn: Album Review

InnuendoInnuendo is the sixth studio album from Finnish symphonic power metal band, Amberian Dawn, and the second to feature their new vocalist; former pop singer, Capri. The band was formed in 2003 by guitarist and keyboardist Tuomas Sepälä and ex-bassist Tommi Kuri, the latter of whom very sadly passed away at the beginning of last year. Whilst classically trained and capable of singing operatically, Capri’s strong, powerful voice is incredibly retro-sounding that gives the group a distinctive edge in the symphonic metal genre. Comparisons to ABBA and the general sound of Eurovision are easy to make; Capri has portrayed Anni-Frid Lyngstad on stage and auditioned for the infamous song contest twice in the late 2000s.

The current Amberian Dawn line-up is as follows:

Païvi “Capri” Virkkunen: vocals
Tuomas Sepälä: guitar, keyboards
Emil “Empuu” Pohjalainen: guitars
Jukka Hoffren: bass
Joonas Pykälä-aho: drums

Whilst their previous album, Magic Forest, favoured a heavier symphonic metal sound with a decidedly gothic, fairytale theme, Innuendo is much rockier and more melodic. Lyrically it is less cohesive than Magic Forest, with a greater emphasis on storytelling and individual characters that vary wildly from pirates to witches to ball-hosting counts. Likewise the music jumps around from sea shanty to synth-heavy 80s and musical-theatre throwbacks. Truthfully, the heavy emphasis on melody over power and speed make this one of the more accessible metal albums I’ve listened to, but the flip side of that is that there are less layers to sort through, and thus Innuendo becomes very boring to listen to very quickly.

Amberian DawnTracklisting:

  1. Fame And Gloria
  2. Ladyhawk
  3. Innuendo
  4. The Court of Mirror Hall
  5. Angelique
  6. Rise Of The Evil
  7. Chamber Of Dreadful Dreams
  8. Knock Knock Who’s There?
  9. Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft
  10. Your Time – My Time

The album’s pirate-themed opener, ‘Fame & Gloria’, is a significant departure from anything the group have tried before. The song tells the story of a group of pirate women called the Black Doves who take over a warship and rally to arms. With cries of ‘Hey ho!’ and ‘We’re drinking!’ there are some definite sea shanty lilts to the guitar work. It’s a fun, energetic opener that doesn’t exactly set the tone of the album, but gets you into the right lighthearted frame of mind.

Next up is ‘Ladyhawk’, a song with an ambiguously avian protagonist who wishes to ‘relearn how to fly’. This is probably the most 80s-sounding song on the record with its synth-keyboards, bubblegum backing vocals and major key chorus (my opinion could be ever-so slightly skewed by the fact the title resembles the 1985 film, Ladyhawke, which also features a woman who can turn into a bird). The breakdown is really fantastic with some technical guitar work hidden throughout, and the lyrics have a really positive, uplifting message. Definitely an album highlight.

The album’s title track, ‘Innuendo’ is another standout track. With its dramatic Arabic-sounding opening, super speedy drums, talk of ‘seven cycles’, ‘sand in the hourglass’, and the sun and moon design of the album cover, I find myself thinking of the original Babylonian Zodiac and the majestic desert sands of the Middle East. The title does not refer to the more well-known definition of ‘innuendo’ i.e. a sexual reference, but instead talks of life as being a nasty trick or a deliberate insult. This is one of my personal favourite songs on the record.

Things begin to fall down a bit with the next track, ‘The Court Of Mirror Hall’. This was the first song the band revealed from Innuendo in the form of a lyric video, and said lyrics conjure images of the Count of Monte Cristo showing off how rich and fabulous his house is whilst goading a woman to marry him (I couldn’t help but think of the Masquerade scene from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) as well). Beyond that, it’s a pretty forgettable track, and a prime example of what I said earlier about the music becoming very boring to listen to very quickly.

The follow-up, ‘Angelique’, is significantly more interesting. For a start, it’s a piano-led ballad with hints of the symphonic, fae-like sound of Magic Forest. Like ‘Ladyhawk’, the identity of the protagonist is ambiguous. Is she a shipwrecked Black Dove? A siren? Maybe even a mermaid? The softness of the piano really gives Capri’s vocals room to shine, and hints of her classical training are permitted come through to great effect. At times it does border a little on musical theatre, particularly when the piano changes to forte along with a general swell of symphonic sound, but this doesn’t detract from the overall strength of the song.

Like ‘The Court of Mirror Hall’, the next two tracks, ‘Rise Of The Evil’ and ‘Chamber of Dreadful Dreams’ are completely forgettable, despite  being among the two heaviest and most power metal tracks on the record. Meanwhile,’Knock Knock Who’s There?’ is not so much forgettable as just plain horrible. Whilst arguably playful, the synth, twinkling sounds, melodic major key and child-like wonder in Capri’s vocal inflections – that made its closest musical counterpart ‘Ladyhawk’ so good – are just way, way too much here.

Things pick back up a bit with ‘Symphony Nr 1, Part 1 – The Witchcraft’. With a strong symphonic opening and a bouncy, sing-a-long melody, it tells the story of a witch hunt, only for the the point of view to switch from the mob to the witch. Despite being of a more upbeat tempo, ‘Symphony Nr 1’ has a lot in common with ‘Angelique’; the general sound of the song is very musical theatre-esque with a strong focus on the characterisation of the protagonist. The song’s closing bars also echo ‘Angelique’ very subtly, however whilst ‘Symphony Nr 1’ grabs your attention on first listen, its repetitive melody and simplistic lyrics don’t have any staying power.

Fortunately, given how erratic and bizarre the rest of the album sounds, things end on a high note with ‘Your Time – My Time’. With some fantastically fast guitar-work despite the generally mid-tempo speed, the song is tightly written with some wonderful, equivocal lyrics that echo the album’s title track ‘Innuendo’. The song is beautifully sung by Capri, the breakdown is ominous and sinister, and the fade-to-black gorgeous guitar solo is simply wonderful. This is easily the best track on the record, and my personal favourite.

Overall, Innuendo is a decidedly mediocre album that drifts a bit too much stylistically and lacks the cohesiveness that makes a truly great symphonic metal record. Though there are a couple of tracks here that I do like, I doubt very much I will still be listening to them in a year’s time.

Verdict: 2/5
S.E. Berrow


Amberian Dawn’s official website:

http://amberiandawn.com/

Fancy a listen? Check out these officially released videos of some of the tracks reviewed above:

‘The Court of Mirror Hall’: https://youtu.be/dYxw1bI6rnY
‘Fame & Gloria’: https://youtu.be/vjqKk8JRzQo
‘Ladyhawk’: https://youtu.be/7H52v7RuANg

 

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