Amberian Dawn – Circus Black
I am a dedicated fan of this symphonic power metal sextet from Finland, and on the one day that only appears on our calendars every four years, February 29, Amberian Dawn released its fourth studio album, entitled Circus Black. By the way, if you’re looking at the cover art and noticing a similarity between it and another big name Finnish symphonic power metal’s CD cover, you’re not alone.
Touted by keyboardist, composer, and mainman Tuomas Seppälä as the band’s “most impressive…album so far. Musically it represents the most sophisticated and most symphonic edge of Amberian Dawn music. There’s more diversity on this album than never before.” Additionally, he said “this is the first time we used a real choir and we gathered some really excellent professional opera singers together to be able to achieve the best-sounding choir possible.”
Circus Black contains 10 tracks of blisteringly fast and highly technical guitar and keyboard work that is almost unparalleled in the genre (editor’s note: for clarity, I believe we’re referring specifically to female-fronted symphonic power metal here). Those two components of the music are impressive indeed, and are only getting better with each AD release. Heidi Parviainen’s voice is, as ever, just completely marvelous to listen to; she could sing the alphabet song and I’d be entranced. In this CD, she uses the lower part of her range quite a bit more, and that was nice to hear because it shows off her versatility.
This CD, as with the previous release, End of Eden, has some big name guest musicians on it. Timo Kotipelto from Stratovarius adds his vox to the first single of the album, “Cold Kiss” and Jens Johanssen, also of Stratovarius, does another punishing keyboard duel with Seppälä on the song “Crimson Flower”. Also, Tuomas Nieminen and Nils Nordling both guest on “I Share With You This Dream.”
The aforementioned choirs appear on several songs, and sound to be mainly comprised of male voices, and they add a dark atmospheric touch to the songs, especially in “Circus Black” and “Crimson Flower.” Those two pieces were highlights on the album for me.
As I said at the beginning, I am a huge fan of this band: I own all their CDs (Circus Black is on its way in the mail to me right now) and I also own some merch (the End of Eden t-shirt I got, though, despite it being and XL, might fit my cat – it certainly doesn’t fit me, which was disappointing). All this is to demonstrate my dedication to Amberian Dawn.
But I have to say – and I hate saying this! – I found Circus Black disappointing. AD does what they do very well: technical metal with amazing vocals, and catchy, beautifully crafted songs performed with passion and emotion. But they seem to have their own particular formula that they keep following. With End of Eden they branched out a bit with “Virvatulen Laulu”, a waltz sung in Finnish and featuring a male opera singer in duet with Heidi, and their longest song to date, “War In Heaven”, which also featured Jens Johanssen’s keys. EoE remains my favourite AD album.
Though there are different elements here – choirs, a march-like classical-sounding piece called “Charnel’s Ball”, and some more duets – I felt let down that once again, AD has stuck to fairly short song structures. This band has all the components of being totally epic, yet the songs on Circus Black are relatively short and accessible. While the addition of the choirs certainly adds a level of complexity to their sound, they are subtle – perhaps too subtle – and didn’t make the songs sound as “big” as I was expecting after reading all the buzz about the album.
AD has definitely evolved since their debut, River of Tuoni, and they still create beautiful music. I just have this desire for them to evolve past the shorter songs and into something slightly more progressive, more epic. But that is just me. I really am in no place to tell a band what they should or should not do. I still fully support Amberian Dawn, despite feeling a little let down by Circus Black.
Allyson’s rating: 3.75 out of 5