Allow me to preface this review by saying that I have never done a real CD review before. In one of my other lives, I am a book reviewer and also have a degree in creative writing, so when I review a book, I can be pretty specific with my critiques and the language I use to express my feelings about writing. Similarly, I am a trained baker/pastry chef, so when I go to a bakery or a restaurant, I can be just as specific in how I describe food, baking, and desserts. I am not a musician; I don't know all the lingo and I don't know how to pick apart a piece of music on a technical level. Music for me is primarily emotional; I can talk about how something makes me feel, but I can't talk about chord progressions and techniques. My CD reviews here will be based on what I know and can describe: emotional impact, complexity, lyrics, resonance, and how it sounds to my untrained ear.
So, my inaugural review here is of a little-known band from Germany called Atargatis. I discovered them on Last.fm when I heard the track "Angels Crying" playing on some band's station (I can't remember which one). It really stood out for me because of the unique tonality of singer Stephanie Luzie's voice, the heavy riffing, and the complexity of the song. I thought it was so beautiful, and I wanted more. After listening to all the songs on the Wasteland album on YouTube, and several from its follow-up, Nova, I found the CD on Sonic Cathedral and ordered it. I am now officially addicted to it, and am soon going to put an order into Amazon that will include Nova (it's not available on Sonic Cathedral).
Wasteland is a concept album with a fairly heavy-handed environmental theme. Opening with an ominous instrumental intro entitled "Desert," it moves on to the title track, which describes a futuristic earth as a desert wasteland, destroyed by man, devoid of water, and inhabited by "wretched creatures" who were once known as men. It's an impressive first track because it is not only lyrically powerful ("Dried up earth and only fruitless soil/Every look you take shows that they have lost control") but the full power of this band's sound smacks you upside the head from the very beginning. Luzie's voice, the heaviness of the guitars, and a haunting violin melody make this song so memorable. Following it is a song about the power of the moon, but it's the third track that always chokes me up. In an album about the power of the earth and man's relationship with it, "Thy Crystallic Ascension" is a very personal song about someone related to the band who died in the south Asian tsunami of 2004. This again is a heavy, powerful song, showing off Luzie's range, and features another mournful violin solo that always sends chills up my spine.
I claimed this was a concept album, and I stand by that. As the CD progresses, we see a healing of the earth and man's relationship with it, echoed in the album art, which starts out with pictures of a desert wasteland, cracked & parched as described in the title track, and becoming more verdant and lush. The counterpoint starts with "Cradle of Fern," a song about a baby that brings man back in touch with nature - and water. Turn the page in the booklet, and we see waterfalls. The next song involves mists. Redemption, forgiveness, and rejuvenation follow.
The tracks "My Solace" and "Circle of Life" represent the weakest elements of Wasteland. These songs are not as strong, and "Circle of Life" in particular has an annoying intro, a kind of cliche concept, and it digresses into some Greek mythology that seems a bit out of place given the rest of the lyrical themes on the CD.
Ending with "Angels Crying," Atargatis leaves the listener with a warning: "don't do this again," basically. Following this, still my favourite track on the album, there is an outro featuring the sounds of thunder and rain, birds and insects, and the much longed-for rush of water so desperately missing at the beginning of the story arc.
Take a listen to "Angel's Crying":
Apart from the two weaker songs I mentioned, the only other down side to this CD is the male vocal, that appears from time to time, trying to sound way more bad-ass than it really is. It's not really a growl, but it's not clean, either, and I think the album could have been improved had they left it out altogether.
I do love this CD and am very much looking forward to getting Nova in my hands.
I don't have a rating scheme the way Metal Archives does, and when I review books, they fall into either "recommended & worthy of space on your bookshelf" or "not recommended so don't waste your time." I am uncomfortable assigning number values to things like books and music (I do rate movies on a scale from 1 - 10, however). Perhaps I shall just give CDs I review a simple horns up (\m/) if I like it, and Atargatis's Wasteland definitely gets a huge horns up from me.