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There’s not enough circus metal. It is fundamentally a bit goofy, but performed correctly it’s one of the most irresistible concoctions the metal world produces, perfectly mating the technical with the catchy. Genre junkies like me rely on a clutch of specialized bands for consistent output, and with the 2015 demise of Unexpect, arguably the field’s greatest artist, we were left with one fewer reliable supplier.
Mercifully, this relative drought will be alleviated on December 8, 2017 by none other than the genre’s foremost representative. Sweden’s swing metal maestros Diablo Swing Orchestra or DSO, will release their new album “Pacifisticuffs” on that date, under Candlelight and Spinefarm Records.
Originally, DSO had sustained fans with the tantalizing “Jigsaw hustle”, which they described as “ABBA-klezmer-funk with a twist of lemon” in a surprisingly accurate bit of copy. The integration of disco with metal is an amusing juxtaposition given the extraordinary public hatred evinced toward disco in the late 70’s, particularly by rock fans. As usual, metal works well in genre fusion owing to its flexibility, and this track was no exception. Snappy production posed no hindrance for a band imitating a genre inherently associated with panache.
Furthermore, it helped differentiate DSO’s upcoming work from the previous material. The first two albums, “The Butcher’s Ballroom” and “Sing-Along Songs For the Damned and Delirious”, largely took from a swing and opera canon with violin flourishes. The following “Pandora’s Pinata” broadened this focus while keeping its basic foundations – giving their swing a cabaret focus while moving more into funk and groove.
One visual theme of the album, evident both in the cover art and the band’s Facebook post, on Dec. 12, 2016, is “gnarly geometry”. Both the shirt and album cover feature figures deriving from an angular and three-sided basis.
This, in combination with the color palette – bloom-heavy shades of purple and magenta – may suggest slicker production. It could also feasibly suggest djent influences. The recording process has seen the use of brass, strings, choir and piano. The band have also abandoned their flamboyant opera-styled female vocalist Annlouice Lögdlund with Kristin Evegård, who employs a looser style more in keeping with the swoopy vernacular of cabaret rather than opera’s arch soprano.
The band will issue two singles, before the album release: “Knucklehugs” on November 3 and “The Age of Vulture Culture” on December 1.
"Pacifisticuffs" track listing:
01. Knucklehugs (Arm Yourself With Love)
02. The Age Of Vulture Culture
03. Superhero Jagganath
04. Vision Of The Purblind
05. Lady Clandestine Chainbreaker
06. Jigsaw Hustle
07. Pulse Of The Incipient
08. Ode To The Innocent
10. Cul-De-Sac Semantics
11. Karma Bonfire
12. Climbing The Eyeball
13. Porch Of Perception
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Sorry deathstorm, I don’t like it.
It took me a while to come round to Amaranthe. I first heard them when they were announced for the roster of ProgPower XIII and thought they sounded too poppy, sage musical critic that I was. I did entertain the idea that that was the entire point, but dismissed them as being too technically lacking in any case. Their second album, The Nexus, featuring the least inventive album art I’d seen in a while, was a marked improvement, with its title track nearly a total ripoff of the leading single from their self-titled debut but a demonstrably better take. Everything was more or less the same, just done right. The riffs were on point, there were a higher proportion of peppy bubblegum tracks that sounded like Cascada doing djent (or just a slightly less sugary Blood Stain Child) – it was their best album. They followed this up with Massive Addictive, a somewhat weaker but nonetheless slightly different album with a couple tracks that sounded like they could have been composed by MrWeebl. As far as third albums went, it wasn’t bad – and the slow songs were actually all rights, even on the acoustic versions. It was also a little closer to regular melodeath. That brings us to Maximalism.
In principle, the concept behind this album is fine. Amaranthe always imitated pop, so why not imitate current pop? It could inject some life into this worthless moribund slurry of pink noise that the post-Trump miasma has been nice enough to slowly excrete over this most recent tax period. I mean, the only way this would could fail is if modern pop were so limp-wristed and ineffectual that even the nuclear cocaine infusion of metal failed to resuscitate its bloated heart.
It’s fascinating how one can avoid actually discussing the album for so long here just because of the hilarious incidental commentary. All of the songs here a poppy in an obligatory sense, rather like the current generation of pop. I remember hating Ke$ha back in 2012 when she was big, but hearing “Tik Tok” after a bleak slog through a bunch of mopey nonsensical dogshit and limp-wristed soggy whining is a godsend. At best, Maximalism is a poor man’s version of their previous output, and at worst it’s an imitation of modern pop in the sense that you don’t remember anything about it other than that it sucked. Anyway, what about the actual songs?
“Maximize” is a terrible opening track. On one hand, it’s a pale imitation of the band’s previous pop-metal efforts, with all of the elements watered down – and on the other hand, it’s about as close as they get to their previous work. Compared with the other songs on the album, it’s not bad, but using it as an opener sets the listener up for disappointment. I remember thinking “well, that was kinda weak – let’s see what else you got” and then Maximalism kinda shuffles its feet before presenting the listener with a couple of nearly uncut metal tracks. Well, that’s not quite true. “Boomerang” is pretty fun if a little repetitive. Watch the music video because it is definitely the funniest I’ve seen in years.
Oddly, Elle King seems to have been one of the stronger influences on this album. The combination of rhythmic country/blues-type riffs and poppy choruses has been combined with metal plenty of times before, but that doesn’t mean Amaranthe aren’t willing to take a few whacks at the deceased equine. It’s OK, I suppose. “21” is passable. “On the Rocks” is good, although the “na na na” shit certainly triggered an allergic reaction that clouded by judgment of the song for some time. The other tracks are a relatively dull mixed bag. “Limitless” has a dreary false energy and an utterly forgettable chorus. In other words it’s an excellent imitation of the vast majority of Daya’s work. “Fury” is the least poppy song on here, more or less just a modern melodeath tune. It works on its own merits, but it’s not particularly interesting. “Faster” is attempting to be an Amaranthe song and sorta falling short. The chorus is melodic, but it doesn’t work for me.
There’s one track on here that instantly distinguishes itself as the worst song. “That Song”, the same old song. Too damn right. It is the same old song, the same old song I’ve heard from those perennially overpublicized Nevadan jackoffs they call Imagine Dragons. I usually despise songs made by these guys on the basis that they're trying to make powerful music but invariably fail because they're imitating a genre that sounds better with distortion. Amaranthe were nice enough to prove to me that even a bonafide metal band can make a song worthy of an Infiniti crossover.
Let me be a little more clear-headed here. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a bad album (except for That Song, of course). Part of the bridge from “Supersonic” is all right, sounds kinda like Queen. The fact that the best song on this album is “Break Down And Cry” is a semantic joke the band have made for me, but it’s good nonetheless. Pretty strong keyboard and a decent chorus. “Endlessly” is a genuinely good ballad if a bafflingly austere end to the album.
These tracks are…sorta catchy, and competently performed. “Fireball” is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s a perfectly good song. The problem is that it’s not a good Amaranthe song. An Amaranthe song should be an earworm that you have genuine trouble dislodging. None of the songs here have that quality. “Drop Dead Cynical” and “Digital World” from the previous album were quite memorable despite being relatively weaker than previous work, but nothing on Maximalism sticks out like that. If you want a modern artist to imitate, go for someone energetic and chirpy like Allie X or Ariana Grande and imitate their best songs. All I’m asking for is a metal version of Greedy, because that song’s sexy as hell. Bottom line, Amaranthe are at their best when they’re being as bubblegum as possible, and this album sees them stray farther from that aim.
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