Dark Moor – Autumnal
Dark Moor – Autumnal (2009)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
2009 arrived in Spain with Dark Moor releasing its latest opus, Autumnal, upon an eagerly anticipating (but not entirely prepared) audience. It also marked the final (as of the writing of this review) change in the band’s lineup, with the replacement of Saratoga’s now full-time drummer Andrés Cobos with Roberto Cappa.
This review in particular should be prefaced by stating Autumnal’s difference from other Dark Moor albums, both newer and older. If possible, it is even more symphonic. Alfred Romero’s voice is doubled by soprano Itea Benedicto’s (if not a small choir) half of the time, and in almost every chorus. This album contains more grand choral and orchestral arrangements than ever before, in addition to the band’s traditional metal instrumentation. While it is still a metal album, it is certainly the band’s most highly ornamented and bombastic.
The first time I heard it, I had very high expectations for this album coming off of Tarot. I was slightly disappointed, partially because I was hoping for a harder and/or faster track or two (Tarot’s “Death” was a favorite of mine), and partially because I wish that Dark Moor would stop inserting silly Cookie Monster harsh vocals into its music, as they are among the worst death vocals that I’ve ever heard (and they are worse here than ever). Mercifully, there’s very few of these, and only in a couple of tracks. The only other complaint I have of this album is that the instruments don’t seem to be quite in sync on occasion. Most noticeably, the guitar and drums are slightly off-time with each other on occasion, and it’s a disorienting experience from what is otherwise a very tight band.
Despite these misgivings, there’s a lot to be praised about Autumnal, and in some ways it is perhaps a more admirable and original release than Tarot. The chief reason that this album differs from others is that Enrik went completely overboard, saturating the work with neo-romanticism, orchestral arrangements, and choirs. “Swan Lake” is based on a Tchaikovsky ballet, “Faustus” is inspired by Goethe’s epic novel, and “Fallen Leaves Waltz” is a completely orchestral waltz. The choruses are all vast, sweeping affairs that whisk the listener along, engulfing and sometimes almost overwhelming them with pure harmonic density.
After the interesting minor/major relationships of “Swan Lake”, I find my self particularly blown away by the ridiculously catchy chorus of “Phantom Queen”. To me, “An End So Cold” sounds very reminiscent of “The Lovers” from Tarot, while “Faustus” surprised me at first take with its rapid intro and chorus lines, reminding me a bit of something that early-era Nightwish might undertake. The middle of the album is undoubtedly the best. “Don’t Look Back” and “When The Sun Is Gone” are both beautifully crafted songs, but the real gem here is “For Her”. After examining the lyrics and discovering that it is based on the life of Greek hero Odysseus, I became quite taken with it (myself having a mild interest in Greek mythology). I can’t choose between it and “Phantom Queen” for my favorite track on the album, even with the latter’s awful death scrapes.
On the whole, Autumnal was not exactly what fans had expected. Dark Moor laid off the straightforward power metal and poured on more of the grandeur that began to come out on Beyond The Sea. I will always point at this album in particular for examples of neo-romanticism in metal (which is, for less musicologically educated readers, simply a very specific period of time and style of “classical” music). While many fans were taken aback or even disappointed by the less metallic approach of this album, neoclassical metal can’t be thought of the same way after hearing it. Whatever your personal interpretation, Autumnal deserves to be admired, at least from a distance, for being an ambitious and rather unique experience in the world of modern metal.
4.25 // 5
Notice: This review is a modified version of one that I wrote shortly after the album’s release for Examiner.com. I link to that article here not because I am still a tool, but because I was partially satisfied with the review, didn’t want to repeat myself by starting from scratch, and don’t want to incur any legal problems by reposting what may be considered plagiarism.