Dark Moor – Ars Musica
Dark Moor – Ars Musica (2013)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
It’s become a familiar and profoundly pleasant experience – that deep sigh of satisfaction and the blissful smile that accompanies it. Hearing a new Dark Moor release: there’s nothing else quite like it. Despite never quite reaching “first line” status in terms of commercial success, Dark Moor is an absolute paragon of consistency in their field – an evocative neo-classical tempest that builds, surges, incapacitates, and then softly withdraws from one’s consciousness with the tenderness of a lover’s caress.
Well if that’s not a build-up, I don’t know what is. This is a band that I (obviously) hold to a very high standard, and am yet never let down by – this is a rare occurrence. After the particularly interesting last couple of releases (the almost overpoweringly neo-romantic Autumnal and the sheer melodic potency of Ancestral Romance), I decided to just bat away the nagging anxiety that Ars Musica might not live up to my hopes, and dove right in.
For the first time since Tarot, Dark Moor includes an instrumental introduction (and a fine one it is) before launching into “First Lance Of Spain”: a broad, sweeping track that sounds *exactly* like one would expect a grandiose Dark Moor opener to sound. To any that expect the band to progress, that might come as a disappointment, but any more “new classics” that can be stacked upon the band’s already impressively-sized pile of the same are greatly appreciated. The chorus of the opener embodies precisely what Dark Moor accomplishes so well: the warm, emotive vocals of Alfred Romero, the richly layered use of orchestral percussion, brass, and strings, casually graceful melodies, and all the while somehow maintaining a metal edge with the integral (yet never overwhelming) guitar work of Enrik Garcia.
“It Is My Way” segues quickly into one of “those” Dark Moor tracks. I call it this because, to my knowledge, only Dark Moor is able to create soft, building semi-ballads with such utter consistency and quality. Not only do I not dread Dark Moor’s softer work, I expect this kind of song (or even three or four of them) to pop up on every album, and even anticipate them. This describes “Together As Ever” and the fabulous “El Ultimo Rey” as well (Dark Moor just can’t lose when they compose a song in their native language).
Even stronger standouts include the uptempo and brass-punctuated “City Of Peace”, the sizzling neo-romantic frenzy of “Living In A Nightmare”, and the rather unique “Saint James Way”, with its emphasis upon an almost-background piano hook, more brass, and drum-driven rubato chorus. The only tracks here that confuse me are the somewhat clumsy ballad “Gara And Jonay” (whose awkward lyricism is self-defeating), and the instrumental closer “Spanish Suite (Asturias)”. The latter is not poor in any way, but this marks the second time in recent memory that Dark Moor has closed out an album with a not-terribly-remarkable instrumental composition. It’s just a strange practice that I, for one, do not understand or appreciate overly much.
If Autumnal was an absolute high point for romantic influence upon Dark Moor’s writing, and Ancestral Romance created the best-accomplished blend of that influence with the band’s knack for historical tracks, then Ars Musica may be the band’s greatest success at featuring Romero’s incredibly strong voice. Long an undersung (get it?) vocalist in the world of power metal, Romero’s performance here is second to none, and in his own setting, he stands absolutely toe to toe with genre favorites. Enrik Garcia also deserves particular recognition for both his restraint and his effortless talent for entwining his distorted guitar with the band’s flavorful tapestry of symphonics.
Ars Musica is definitely guilty of being what we call a “victory lap”: it follows closely the same successful formula that Dark Moor has been for years now, and doesn’t break any kind of new ground. At this point in their career however, the band has more or less a stranglehold on this particular niche of symphonic power metal, and not straying outside that mold is really something that they cannot be blamed for – if for no other reason than they’re so bloody good at it. Despite a couple of strange or awkward tracks, Ars Musica is as solid front to back as most previous compositions, and although it includes a larger than usual number of slower and more dramatic tracks, the sheer charisma of the band’s songwriting sees them carried through in strong fashion. It’s not likely to be a chart-topper for most fans of the band, but Ars Musica is going to receive a whole lot of play all the same.
4.0 // 5