Finally, a Goth band that is a) not from Finland, and b) makes a conscious effort to stand out from the pack. ASRAI hails from the Netherlands, and they're not exactly strangers to the music scene; they've been around since 1985. Boy, 1985, that's a long time ago...just about when Punk and New Wave finished up, wasn't it? It sure was, and as a result, ASRAI is composed entirely of former punks and New Wavers. It's these influences and commercial sensibilities that make ASRAI more than just your average Goth Metal band.
Okay, let's just get this out of the way right now: the band has a female singer. I know, I know, Goth band with a female singer, how cliche, but really, you should hear the woman known only as "Margriet" sing. She's got a hugely diverse voice, capable of packing a haughty punch on heavy songs like "Awaken" whilst also being able to sweetly serenade the listener on songs like the Pop-infused "Something I Said". Her range is fantastic, and when she hits those high notes on "Something I Said", it truly makes your skin crawl (in a good way).
The pop sensibilities are possibly ASRAI's greatest strength. I can't begin to count the number of times I've tried to get into a Goth band, only to get turned off because the music is depressing...and not much else. For better or for worse, Goth Rock/Metal is a genre structured so that the slowness and eeriness is allowed to take centre stage most of the time, but if there's no underlying melody to tie everything together, the whole thing falls apart. ASRAI are well aware of this fact, and for every raw, Punk-influenced shouter like "Awaken", there's a smooth, radio-friendly rocker like "Go", "Lost", or the (dare I say) upbeat lead single "Sour Ground". And no matter which style it is, the band always manages to make it rock.
There are even little hints of New Wave here and there in the music. Keyboardist Manon uses a wide range of effects on the album, from the moody intro of "Delilah's Lie" to the stirring three-note intro to "Sour Ground". There are even some Electronica-style distorted voices in the beginning of "Your Hands So Cold". Manon is also a skilled violinist, as proven by the intro to "Roses".
Overall, "Pearls In Dirt" is truly a pearl among the dirt of today's Goth scene. Any fan of Goth Rock/Metal who doesn't mind a bit of variety in the way it's presented should check out ASRAI. These guys cover the entire Goth spectrum on "Pearls In Dirt": there's some raw Punk stuff, some straight-up Goth stuff, and some catchy Pop stuff, sometimes all in the same song. And what do you know? It works.
PS. If you want to see a really cool album cover, try looking for the "Sour Ground" single. Every time I see that cover, I wish they had used it for "Pearls In Dirt" instead. Pretty cool.
(Online January 8, 2008)