Nightingale – Retribution

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Swedish multi-instrumentalist Dan Swanö has had a long and strange career. On the one hand, he’s known for ambitious melodic death metal with Edge of Sanity on the other, he’s been a stalwart of the progressive rock scene with the likes of Nightingale, who are back after a seven-year hiatus. Their new album, Retribution (InsideOut), it’s all about the melody.

This is the seventh album from the band – made up of Swanö on guitar, keyboards & vocals, his brother Dag on guitars and keyboard, Erik Oskarsson on bass and Tom Björn on drums. In their early days, Nightingale was a goth rock outfit unafraid to embrace their experimental progressive sides. Today, they’re more of a poppy, radio-friendly outfit with hints of 80s goth, 70s style synth and AOR.

From the upbeat opening of ‘On Stolen Wings’ to the gentle rock of ’27 (Curse Or Coincidence?)’ it’s clear Nightingale are sticking to the lighter side of the rock spectrum. Whether it’s the synth heavy ‘Chasing the Storm Away’ or the slow gallop of ‘The Voyage Of Endurance’, every track is essentially a catchy, hook laden pop songs and it’s not to get caught up in the moment.

Swanö’s vocals have always been a strong point, no matter which band he’s playing in. And while there are no death growls, his powerful, soaring voice suits the AOR style of Nightingale’s music perfectly. But despite being easy on the ears, there’s little on offer for anyone who doesn’t like their rock dad or radio friendly. Pretty much every song is either a mid-paced stomper or some kind of power or acoustic ballad. The song writing is all to a high standard, there’s little filler, but there’s nothing to get the blood pumping or the head banging.

It might lack any adventure or experimentation, but Retribution is an enjoyable and perfectly listenable album. Edge of Sanity fans may find little to enjoy, but anyone who enjoyed the melodic aspect of Witherscape‘s debut or any of Swanö’s prog-orientated releases will be pleased to find the man back on good form.

 

7.0/10

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DAN SWINHOE

Liv Kristine – Vervain

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Now apparently, this latest effort from Leaves Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine has been sold to us as ‘Ambient doom’. I can safely say that no version of doom has been anywhere near Vervain (Napalm) but within is a sound of some melancholy, despite adding only a touch of gravity to the more expected symphonic template.

Opening track ‘My Wilderness’ houses a sense of despair, lush keys creating a stirring atmosphere while Liv’s heavenly tones are accompanied by haunting backing vocals. The ensuing ‘Love Decay’ features dramatic 80s goth vocals from End of Green‘s Michelle Darkness, adding to the dark pop-rock feel which is given further piquancy by an spiky riff and crashing drums. The title track’s strange synths and gentle but driving beat underpin a gorgeous vocal which is Tori Amos-like at its height: indeed the quirky Goddess is evinced on a number of tracks here, not least in the roughed-up dub of ‘Creeper’ and closer ‘Oblivious’, both full of sparing leads and woolly key fills in the worst traditions of 80s AOR.

It’s a plaintive sound, that largely gothic instrumentation and dark, icicle-drop keys giving the style expected to the Benatar-ish ‘Stronghold of Angels’, which is given a harder edge by a wonderful contribution from Doro Pesch and some heady harmonies. Though devoid of extremity, even weaker moments such as the occasionally feeble ‘Hunters’ are given a little oomph by Kristine’s soaring, crystal-clear voice, full of emotion; the layered backing vocals; and those ‘riff and rhythm’-laden choruses. There’s a hint of Kate Bush also on the edgy ballad ‘Lotus’, evincing a bitter coffee in a lonely Parisian cafe.

There’s an unmistakable air of European rock about it all, even when that riff kicks in, yet it’s emotive despite the clinical over-production and delicious for devotees of heartfelt operatic rock. Liv’s honeyed notes are effortless, even aching on the mournful ‘Two and a Heart’, and overall it’s fairly pleasant though not the sort for rough old me. Catchy, sweet, and choc-full of darkness and melody, it’s Gothic Symphonia with an even softer heart.

6.5/10

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PAUL QUINN