December is probably the best debut album I’ve heard so far this year and should be a must for all symphonic metal fans.
The globalisation of music means that one no longer bats an eyelid when seeing a new symphonic metal group emerging from more unexpected corners of the globe such as Israel. StormbounD are from Tel-Aviv, although if you weren’t aware of that fact then there’s nothing in the music to hint that they are from Tel-Aviv rather than Telford or Tampa! That, I guess, is another sign of the globalisation of music.
December is the band’s debut album and it has been compared in style to some of the heavyweights in the symphonic metal space – Nightwish, Epica and Amaranthe foremost. The first track, Desert’s Roar is certainly a very traditional symphonic metal piece, from the swirling intro of the synths to the interaction of the impressive female lead vocals (Yael Horwitz) with male vocals (courtesy of guitarist Ofer Friedman), through to the catchy chorus line and keyboard hook. It’s very much Symphonic Metal By Numbers, albeit done very well. Personally, I struggle with many symphonic metal bands because they get into a comfortable formula, which if you listen to a whole album, can get very predictable. Full marks go to StormbounD for not falling into that trap. They already lean strongly towards the heavier end of the symphonic metal scale, and there are prog and even thrash metal influences too. In addition, the compositional style is surprisingly varied and complex, making sure you rarely know what is coming around the corner. So, for example, Altar Of Innocence, which follows on from the anthemic Desert’s Roar, is a much heavier and darker beast. It has a mysterious spoken beginning, followed by cheerful funfair-sounding keyboards, before launching into an aggressive song telling what appears to be the story of a violent father/daughter relationship in biblical terms (‘I’m the sacrifice on the altar where innocence dies’ sings Horwitz, representing the daughter, while Friedman’s intimidating growling represents the father). Not for young children or the light-hearted, including the accompanying video below, I should add.
Those with a prog leaning, will most likely be drawn to the two longer ten-minute pieces. Child’s Play closes the album with an energetic synth-heavy track which almost has the feel of Kansas to it, but it’s the title track which grabs the attention. The atmospheric beginning with distant thunder and church organ is a suitably epic entry before it is blasted away by a speed metal guitar riff which sounds remarkably like the Pet Shop Boys’ hit single It’s A Sin to these ears! The main vocal section gallops along too, driven by some excellent drumming from Yuval Partush. An instrumental section has some prog-sounding Moog and some Blackmore-inspired guitar soloing before it all builds towards an inspiring climax with truly impassioned vocals from Horwitz. It’s an ambitious and complex song, and it requires multiple listens to grasp the structure, but it’s a remarkably mature song from a band on their debut album.
At the other end of the scale, Shadows is a relatively straight forward ballad and a perfect showcase for Horwitz to demonstrate the mellower side of her vocal range. Here, her style is reminiscent of Amy Lee, just as the song is very much in the vein of Evanescence. Away From Here starts in a similar way with pristine vocals from both Horwitz and Friedman but it takes an unexpected turn with a piano-led riff that leads to progressive instrumental sections interspersed with frantic vocal parts. The song sweeps you along and then in the closing minute the speed is upped again as guitars come in over the piano riff, oddly reminding me of the similar magical effect in Skynyrd’s Freebird. It’s a shame they didn’t go down the Freebird route and extend that solo by a few minutes, but it’s a fine song all the same and a good demonstration of the band’s ability to write complex and dense songs within a relatively short six-minute envelope in this case.
There is little that doesn’t work on this album. Personally, the thrash metal elements that appear on Fragments and Sacred Lies don’t appeal to my taste, and the brilliant groovy guitar hook line in the latter is somewhat wasted – it could have been better used as the basis of a more straight-forward metal song. But these are minor gripes in what overall is a tremendously good album. December is probably the best debut album I’ve heard so far this year and should be a must for all symphonic metal fans.