“Metat[r]on” was a goddamn slap in the face to this Metalhead. Having never been appropriately inducted into the folds of Gothic Metal, DARKWELL would be the (un)lucky project to cut my teeth on; my only prior exposure to this sub-genre would be witnessing LACUNA COIL perform live at a festival and I was nigh impressed. With that in mind I approached this release with an open mind and came away as what I perceive a more developed critic. Enough wanton introspection and useless background information let us get down to the gritty review itself.
DARKWELL is Stephanie Luzie, for better or for worse. This is not to say that the band backing her artistic expression is at all worthless or hacks; quite the opposite actually as they are technically proficient and able. What I mean to get at by making this point is that without her beautiful voice wailing in emotional turbulence we would have an altogether different band. Her angelic harmonics are brought to the fore in the mix and take precedence over the other instruments. The reason I use the term “other” in the previous sentence is due to the fact that Luzie’s approach and vocal wailings should very well be considered an instrument in the framework of the DARKWELL sound. Her power and range attempt to take over the role of the lead-guitar and embark on solos of overwhelming intensity. Everything else in the background merely provides rhythm and colour to an already established composition. Whether this is a good thing or not is completely befuddling. On one hand, I have always held fast to the statement that the lead guitar should be the driving force in Metal, although, one would be hard-pressed to find a melodic guitar-tone which could match the innocence and swelling atmosphere of Ms. Luzie. This element, if nothing else, creates a diverse album which is altogether a unique and remarkable experience.
The riffs around which the vocals are crafted are quite solid for the most part. There are several even head-bangable moments which may be discovered. Give the second track, “Strange”, a listen and revel at that opening riff. Unfortunately, for the majority of the tracks these riffs are glazed over by the lead of Stephanie and are not allowed to fully breathe and be appreciated. The drumming is also relatively solid and is capable of much more than merely keeping time. There are a couple fills but nothing over the top, thus relegating the performance into utter obscurity as one would be hard pressed to remember any particular rhythm or drum-line from “Metat[r]on”.
There are a few unique elements thrown into the compositions which give them a bit of life and identity. For instance, the heightened atmosphere of the title track is in part due to the liberal application of piano melody which is utterly satisfying. This is the one instrumental moment on the album in which the vocals could not tear me from my rooted foundation. The album also utilizes a constant flow of keyboard work in order to establish an esoteric air to the mood and introduce a facet to the sound which helps shape the compositions into a formidable force. For the most part these keyboards are quite strong and, due to the mixing; do not overtake the overall sound. There are a couple instances, however, where they prove excessive and could have been removed with no repercussions.
That is my break-down of my first thorough experience with Gothic Metal and I hope my unhindered insight will prove useful. I was pleased with the overall album but I am not quite sold on its premise (vocals over instrumentation). It works for a portion of the compositions but simply becomes somewhat repetitive due to an odd sense of sameness. There is a bit of range in her voice, but at the same time there is not (if that makes any sense). Sheer physical limitations give a bit of bland impression once the album has been spinning for a majority of its upper limit and produce the effect of a lead-guitar which recycles riffs. I believe the overall package would have been somewhat stronger if the lead-guitar or piano melodies would have been given enough precedence to shine and overwhelm as much as the vocals. This is the only element holding the album back, but it is a somewhat strong one. (Online October 29, 2005)