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Defunct melodic death metal band Ablaze My Sorrow (lets call them Ablaze from now on, not to be confused with the last band I wrote about, whose name also began with Ablaze) took three years to release their debut album on No Fashion Records, following two successful underground demos, and its a shame the band wasnt snapped up sooner, allowing them to be recognised as another key factor in the melodic death explosion, rather than the quite-good Dark Tranquillity clone that metal fans ended up with. I havent heard the earlier demos, but if they sound anything like this melodic, lead-guitar driven death metal then they deserve a lot more praise than they have been accredited. Of course, its equally possible that Ablaze heard what Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, Amon Amarth and others were releasing in 1995 to much acclaim, and hastily incorporated it into their recording session late that year.
If Emotions Still Burn is a relatively brief and simplistic album, but that is by no means a disadvantage. The eight songs collected here (plus a hidden track of equal legitimacy) showcase the founding principles of melodic death metal without attempting to show off or experiment in any way. A couple of the riff-centic songs mimic (however unintentionally) the sound Amon Amarth would base their entire career upon, and a brief folky acoustic section in the great second track cant help but remind of In Flames during this era, but the predominant influence heard in the style and precise sound of the guitars comes directly from fellow Swedes Dark Tranquillity. The dominance of lead guitars as opposed to heavier riffs helps this album to stand out despite this similarity, especially as the other areas bass, drums and especially the vocals do much to distance the comparison, occasionally at a cost to the overall synchronicity.
Martin Qvists vocals are the most striking feature of this album, and will certainly serve to deter more people than they entice, though veteran death metal fans wont find them a problem. Rather than growl along as is customary for these bands (at some cost to the vocalists distinctiveness), Qvist prefers instead to shriek with every ounce of strength he has (presumably at some cost to his vocal cords). The vocals teeter over the precipice that leads to emotive black metal along the lines of Burzum, whose torturous screams Qvist seems to emulate on rare occasions, but for the most part he does his job of grounding the quite harmonious and pretty album in clear, dirty death metal roots, along with Alex Bengtssons manic drumming. This isnt the most original album ever recorded, but it earns points over the mass of replicated mediocrity that would spew forth from Gothenburg as the new millennium approached. Death metal purists will likely find it too clean, and more technically minded listeners may be disappointed with its simplicity and lack of overall structure, as all the songs simply cease at the end rather than drawing to a natural conclusion. I suppose I tend towards the latter description (not the former, thankfully; I can enjoy metal without it having to be br00tal), but viewed as a nice and unadulterated example of pure melodic death, I have no major issues with this release.
1. If Emotions Still Burn
2. The Rain That Falls...
3. Rise Above the Storming Sea
4. Denial (The Way of the Strong)
5. The Battle
6. My Last Journey
7. As I Face the Eternity
8. My Revenge to Come
As the stylised band font, brooding cover art and somewhat clichéd song titles may reveal, the lyrics of these songs mostly run along the typical lines of fantasy and romance that have been a staple of heavy metal since Judas Priest and Rainbow twenty years earlier. The fact that the lyrics are growled obviously reduces their impact to a large extent, as only the most astute listener will be able to make them out most of the time unless they have the booklet handy, but despite their oppressive prominence in the mix, the vocals clearly take a backseat to the great instrumentation of drummer Bengtsson and guitarist Magnus Carlsson. The album claims that contemporary band member Dennie Lindén performed the secondary guitar duties, but for some reason or other this claim is commonly disputed, and it appears that growler Qvist handled those responsibilities in the studio. The songs vary somewhat between attempts at sheer brutality and something more melodic, but most often meet somewhere in-between and continue to alternate and repeat throughout their comparatively short playing times.
The title track starts things off with a bang, wasting no time in sinking right into the death metal and throwing out a ton of impressive lead guitar melodies, the likes of which will become increasingly mundane as the album progresses, simply through overuse. Unlike some death bands (or at least those Ive been listening to recently), these songs are mostly based on the traditional formula of verse-chorus, but without a guitar solo to interrupt and consume time towards the end, which is a bit of a shame as the guitarists are obviously talented, whatever their true identities. Where the first track contains some nice minimalist chanting after each chorus to help it stand out, something that would return more prominently in the final song, the second goes out of its way to remain memorable, and is probably the albums finest offering for this reason. Beginning with some nice drum touches, in which Bengtsson takes us through the full range of his kit from double bass pedals to crashing cymbals, the song then turns into a sort of semi-folk death metal song, but without going too far down that line to break from the usual style. The acoustic sections seem to be taken straight from Dark Tranquillitys I Am the Grandeur of Melancholy Burning, but the lead guitar melody is so incredibly catchy and neo-folky that I can picture a group of idiots in stupid clothes prancing around a maypole in a merry jig. Ace! A great twin lead guitar section threatens to be a solo at two and a half minutes in, but to no avail.
Rise Above the Storming Sea is a more simplistic and repetitive affair, which isnt a problem at this early point. Its actually quite nice to be anchored to a main riff that returns towards the end, but on the whole this song sounds too derivative of In Flames, the lead guitar melodies in particular, which counts against it. The band is clearly trying out a few different styles without veering too far off the mark, and this time its 1980s thrash metal that gets a look in with some palm-muted riffs, which resurface to a greater degree in The Battle. Actually one of the better songs, this tows the line between pure melodic death and the watered down Iron Maiden with laryngitis offerings that would soon clog its output, though the Maiden-influenced twin leads almost, but not quite a guitar solo fit nicely into the generally slower and more laid-back sound of this one. Its clear that everyone in the band is enjoying themselves, from the audible bass spot of Anders Brorsson, heard often throughout the album but never really standing out, to Qvists enthusiastic bellowing of the final chorus reprise. Less notable is its predecessor Denial, which offers something a little slower but entirely derivative of Amon Amarth, only weaker, something that also affects My Revenge to Come.
The latter half of the album isnt entirely without merit, but the sound does become quite samey by the seventh and eight offerings, without providing the stand-out masterpieces that keep other albums entertaining throughout. My Last Journey is the highlight of the second half, a song that borders on instrumental but is primarily concerned with giving listeners a great metal experience rather than showing off (still, a solo wouldnt have gone amiss). Bengtsson is permitted to freestyle around his kit to some extent, and the main guitar lead is one of the best on the album, sounding quite similar to one Iron Maiden would later use for No More Lies. Theres a nice shift half-way through into a slower, almost doom metal section as Qvists single verse is yelled in his customary way before vocal duties are handed over to guest Anne Albertsson. This doesnt work as well as the band may have hoped, as she opts for (or was perhaps instructed to do) a spoken word delivery in a very flat and emotionless tone that makes her sound like a robot. It may sound a little insulting, but I actually had to check after listening that it was indeed a human womans voice and not some of that voice reproduction software as was used in the Batman theme and on primitive computer games. Its sadly all too clear that English is not Anne Albertssons first, or perhaps even second language. Anne returns very briefly in As I Face the Eternity, but her appearance is limited enough not to spoil that otherwise bland and repetitive song of girl kills self, man becomes sad, man kills self, they are together in hell.
Ablaze My Sorrows debut album came too late to forge a mould, and was ultimately too derivative to break it. Whether or not a year or two would have made any difference to their success is debatable, but the Dark Tranquillity-esque sound that permeates this release had already been long established since the start of the decade by another band known as Dark Tranquillity. At thirty-eight minutes (three of which are silence), this isnt the most enthralling or cost-effective musical experience a metal fan could subject themselves to, and the songs seem to be short due to lack of ideas and a desire to avoid repetition rather than a stab at short, sharp brutality, so its a shame a few more werent added to bulk it out a little. Then again, if the hidden track is anything to go by, the band had already used up all its current ideas on these eight average and enjoyable tracks, which are by no means a waste of time, but would perhaps detract from time that could be better spent prowling the rest of the Swedish archive.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Karaoke Life
2 Hello Japan
3 Sometimes & Othertimes
4 Trip Trap
5 Eastern Empress
7 Sex FX
11 Eight Sins, Pt. 1