Downcast Art – Forbidden Memories
Lately, I haven’t been inspired to write much, quite possibly because I haven’t listened to anything truly inspiring. I’ve come across some good stuff for sure, but nothing that has made sent shivers down my spine and induced goosebumps with every listen the way Forbidden Memories by Croatian symphonic metal outfit Downcast Art. I have not listened to anything else in days, except for one go around of the new Delain album and one play of the new Sabaton release. While listening to both of those, I couldn’t wait for them to end so I could listen to more Downcast Art. I cleansed my listening palate with Downcast Art after listening to Sonata Arctica’s new album – and boy did my palate need some cleansing after that. Long commutes all over Vancouver on transit have had Forbidden Memories as their sole soundtrack. I am grateful to belong to a great community of music reviewers, which is where I got a promo for this album.
You can probably guess by that that this will be a very positive review. It is, and I don’t know where to start because there is so much to write about. But let’s start with the vocals of singer Jelena Mužar. Look, I listen to mostly female fronted metal and rarely do vocals really knock my socks off. The last woman to really blow me away was Iliana Tsakiraki of Meden Agan. But let me tell you, the moment I heard Jelena Mužar sing on this album, I knew I was in for something special. This is not your every day classical opera singer. Jelena’s voice is purely magical, having a quality that while definitely classical, has the sound of choral soloists you hear with big cathedral choirs. It’s so pure, it’s so…angelic…and I don’t believe in angels at all! But if I did, they’d sound like Jelena. From all the females voices I’ve heard in the years I’ve been listening to female fronted metal, hers is the most unique yet. It almost makes me want to cry. She is equally as comfortable in her lower register, which she uses often, as she is in her upper, and the fluidity and technique she uses to move up and down her range is truly amazing. She’s up there with Tarja, Iliana, and Tanya Bell of Akoma in my books.
Musically, this is a very complex album composed by two young guys who have produced something extraordinary for a band’s debut. Co-composed by guitarist Kristijan Radeka and keyboardist Zdravko Smenderovac, who also wrote the lyrics, Forbidden Memories consists of 11 tracks; two are instrumental, one is in the bands native tongue, and one is a piano ballad version of another song on the album. The opening track, “Everlasting” is one of those instrumentals, and it’s a grand, sweeping affair introducing the listener to the synth-heavy sound of the band as well as lending the album a sense of epicness from the outset. The piece starts off gently and gradually builds upon itself to a climax worthy of something for the cinema. After that, the second track gets the listener into full headbanging mode with “Bloodred Ink”, a pounding, bassy, crisply riffed affair embellished with some subtle choir elements and deep baritone back-up vocals performed by Kristijan.
While there isn’t a single filler track in this album, there are three songs I have played more than any others on the CD because they are just so powerful and gorgeous. The first is the title track, “Forbidden Memories”, which is a duet between Kristijan and Jelena. The chorus is one of the best on an album filled with catchy, lovely choruses. Plus, it has great lyrics:
With times of storm I find my world,
I find my memories.
I find the world from where I came,
A world without rain.
I find a world without pain,
Without tears, without fears.
In search of who I am,
I find the one who gave me my name.
The second stand-out song is the next track, “Face Without a Name.” Again, another powerful, catchy chorus, and this song also highlights the range of Jelena’s lustrous vox. I also noticed the drums in this song more than any other, and drums are not something I pay a lot of attention to normally. In this song, there is a more complex drum accompaniment during the chorus than I’m used to, and I thought it was very cool. The drummer, Saša Fajković (who might not be in the band anymore as there is a different drummer listed on the band’s Facebook page), should be commended for standing out enough for me to notice him!
The third song I want to talk about is the ballad, “House of Silence”, which is a slower, more melodic version of the fourth track, and it features Jelena singing the song accompanied only by the piano. It serves as the only ballad on the album, and it’s perfectly executed. Stripped of the other instruments, the focus on Jelena’s vocals here is a real treat to the ear, and the song takes on a aching sorrowfulness that is very emotional.
I can’t complete this review without mentioning the lyrics. I know I pointed out some in the above paragraph, but I have to say that all of the lyrics here are stellar, and that each song tells a specific story. But, after reading the lyrics many times over in combination with studying the album art (which is on the band’s site here), I think there is a larger theme at play here. The description on the site says, “The music of Forbidden Memories is a reflection of complex themes and motives, sometimes even a mystery to the creators – it is there to take the listeners to a place within them, known from long before, to an aging letter in the chest of their memories.” In my own interpretation of what’s going on in this album, I believe there is some Odyssey that has happened that didn’t quite go according to plan. Combined with a lot of nautical references both in the lyrics and in the imagery of the album art, there are references to sirens, “overlords”, and a mysterious “colony” mentioned in “Bloodred Ink.” This all really captured my imagination and kept me thinking of all the possibilities the lyrics suggested to me. I really liked this about the album; I like a literary aspect to my music, as I mentioned in my Opera Diabolicus review, and that it came across so strongly impressed me.
Overall, this album is so strong and so impressive it was hard for me to find fault with it anywhere. I do have one minor criticism, though, and that was that the mixing was at times inconsistent to my ear. I especially noticed this in “Face Without a Name” where I could hardly hear Jelena’s voice and couldn’t make out any lyrics she sings in it because she seemed so drowned out by the other instruments.
But other than that, I loved this. I think it hearkens back to more older symphonic metal, like Nightwish’s Oceanborn (by the way, Smenderovac’s keyboard sound and performance can be compared to Tuomas Holopainen’s pre-Century Child days), back when the genre had less elaborate orchestral this, that, and the others, and all the big theatrics we see now in the genre. I think Forbidden Memories really speaks to me because it’s purer symphonic power metal without all the embellishments bands seem to be adding nowadays in order to keep up with the Jones’s.
I really hope great things come to Downcast Art and that they don’t remain an obscure band in an obscure country – they are so talented and this is such a haunting, special, and very promising CD they’ve created. They deserve to have good things – like getting picked up by a major label! – come of it.
Allyson’s rating: 5 out of 5