There are bands that have the ingredients, have the recipes, have the quality, but in the end never manage to step out of the shadow of the genre’s greats, mostly because they might not have been at the right place at the right time, the reasons are manifold. One of these bands have been Swedish GARDENIAN, who managed to release three albums throughout their career, all of which have been firmly rooted in Melodic Death Metal, but in the end did not manage to break out of the IN FLAMES’, DARK TRANQUILLITYs and AT THE GATES’, even though they would definitely have deserved it, thus becoming somewhat of a prototype of the unheralded hero.
Polish Metal Mind Records now is offering some sort of a retrospective by releasing their second and third albums (“Soulburner” and “Sindustries” respectively) in remastered form on golden CD as Double-DigiPak, so time for me to revisit these two forgotten gems. “Soulburner” from 1999 comes first and there are a few things that set GARDENIAN apart from the regular Melo Death forerunners: The guitars are tuned down a little more, the lead melodies are by far not as pronounced (they are there, but not so much in the foreground), there are a few female vocals and of course the excellent clear voice of ARTCH fronter Eirikur Hauksson lending its quality (and diversity) to the compositions.
My personal favourites are “Deserted”, where said clear vocals are implemented for the first time, the calmer “If Tomorrow’s Gone”, which once more features Hauksson’s vocals, the beautiful “Small Electric Space”, which begins sets out with piano and calm vocals and then gets heavier and faster as the song progresses, relying completely on the clear vocals, a brilliant gem that you normally would never find on an album such as this one. The song that probably stands the closest to the traditional Göteborg sound is “Chaos In Flesh”, which has the prominent leads and the high tempos, but doesn’t turn generic either. All in all a great piece of Melodic Death Metal that should have brought GARDENIAN way more general acknowledgement than it actually did, also and maybe exactly because of the will to include elements and songs that were not the norm for the style at that time... 8,5/10
“Sindustries” one year later took a step away from Melodic Death, introducing light Industrial influences and while the clear vocals celebrated a return, it was no longer the Icelandic gentleman with the soaring voice, but Jim Kjell himself and while his clean vocals are not too shabby either, they just can’t fully compare to Hauksson’s. Produced by Peter Tägtgren, we already know that the sound will not be any problem, and the songs were neither. I had originally rated it a 7/10 back in 2000 and pointed out "Selfproclaimed Messiah", "Doom & Gloom" "The Heartless" and "Funeral" as standout tracks and that claim still stands even eight years later, even though my rating probably would stand around 7,5/10.
Obviously the novelty factor has gone down considerably, if you strictly compare with the newer bands and releases, but the album still can stand its own, which is a clear indicator that GARDENIAN had been ahead of their time by several years, which might actually be part of their untimely demise. Just listen to the track “Sindustries” and then tell me that the young Metalheads would not go nuts about this one now!
It is nice to see that Metal Mind are honouring this band with this release, if they had received the deserved recognition back then, they might be one of the big guns today, this way we have, well, memories...
(Online November 21, 2008)