Monday, July 31, 2017

Album review: Exit Eden—Rhapsodies in Black (2017)

Album: Rhapsodies in Black
Artist: Exit Eden
Genre: Symphonic metal
Label: Napalm Records
Tracks: 11

*Review originally posted at the Female-fronted Power Facebook page.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

What do you get when you combine the talents of 4 respected voices on the symphonic metal scene, and put them together to record an album full of covers that are anything but symphonic or metal? You get Exit Eden, the collaborative effort of Amanda Somerville (who has sung with everyone from Kamelot to Epica), Clémentine Delauney (best known for her work with Serenity, and as the frontwoman for Visions of Atlantis), Marina LaTorraca (who has sung with Avantasia), and Anna Brunner (who has been in rock bands ever since she was a teen). Four distinct voices, personalities, and musical backgrounds, with one goal: to show how diverse metal can be by taking songs from any genre and putting their twist on them.

The concept isn't entirely new: Within Temptation did something similar on their 2013 album The Q-Music Sessions, but that was a project spearheaded by a radio station and had never been intended to become an album. The songs were also chosen for them, and the band was given a week-long deadline to transform the tunes into their own. Because of this, not all the songs ended up on the finished album, due to not getting copyright permission (such as their cover of “Skyfall”, which did end up on the Exit Eden album). Whereas with Exit Eden, these are all songs of their own choosing, and they had time to not only get the necessary copyrights, but also to hone and craft these songs any way they liked.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

From the opening track, I am hooked; but anyone who can do a good job on a Depeche Mode cover is going to win my heart. Depeche Mode is my favorite non-metal band of all time, and Exit Eden takes their Black Celebration classic “A Question of Time” and gives it a bombastic symphonic metal remake. Right away they have won me over, even if I do not recognize another song on this compilation.

However, there are other songs here that I am familiar with; such as their cover of Madonna's late-’90s hit “Frozen”. This song seems to be a favorite in the symphonic metal genre when covering songs, and I haven't heard a rendition this good since Lindsay Schoolcraft covered this track a couple of years ago (coming from me, this is a huge compliment, as I am a big fan of Lindsay's music). Exit Eden also does a fantastic job on the Bryan Adams tune “Heaven”, which just kickstarted my ’80s nostalgia feels.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

Another tune that is just tailor-made for this genre is the ’80s mega-hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, a song I have always felt needed a symphonic metal makeover. It has been my long-held opinion that Jim Steinman is one of the forefathers of symphonic rock—whether their descendants recognize it or not—and have often wondered why his material is not covered more within the scene. But finally, after 35 years, someone has done it the way I wished it would sound. Much as I love the original, Bonnie Tyler's voice always grated on my nerves, and I felt the song was better suited for a more operatic vocalist. If the Depeche Mode cover hadn't already won me over, this would have made me a believer.

That being said, the selling point of this album, for me, is not so much how they tackle the songs I know and love, but what they can do with material I don't know, or songs I downright hate, such as Katy Perry's “Firework”. If I never hear that song again it would be too soon, and I almost dreaded the thought of having to hear it again for this review, even if it is a cover. Their version is not bad; I don't think I will ever be a fan of the song, but maybe I wouldn't have found the original half as annoying if it had sounded more like this!

Band photo

The rest of the album features pop covers of everyone from Backstreet Boys to Rihanna, and since I am pressed for time on this review, I did not have the time to listen to the originals and compare them. To my ear, they are pleasant-sounding songs, and I might just give the originals a listen sometime. Their take on the song “Impossible” reminded me a little of “The Show Must Go On” by Queen. Lady Gaga is one of the few pop artists out there that I really like, and Exit Eden’s version of her song “Paparazzi” is an energetic hard rocker that is a nod to Gaga's love of metal.

To wrap this up, I highly recommend this album as a “starter” if you are new to symphonic metal or are trying to bring a new fan into this type of music. These are well-known songs done in a particular style, so if you like these, you might like the overall genre of music too. If you are a fan of any of these ladies, it is a given you will enjoy this album too. Whether you love this genre of music or just have an inclination to hear some interesting covers of pop hits and ’80s classics, then Rhapsodies in Black just might be what you are looking for.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

Special thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female Fronted Power.

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