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Frailty : Melpomene

In contrast to their debut, Frailty's sophomore is more tightly controlled and locked to slow/mid tempos throughout.

Having been assigned this to review, I took a listen on the Latvian outfit's Bandcamp page and immediately ordered a copy of the CD. Just a few days later, a neat package arrived from Riga, containing amongst other things a friendly, hand-written note very graciously thanking me for my support. Not strictly relevant to the album review, but it was such a nice, personal touch that I thought I'd mention it anyway: thanks, chaps, much appreciated.

This is Frailty's second full-length album, following on from critically- acclaimed 'Lost Lifeless Nights' in 2008. That was an eclectic outing, broadly Death/Doom with added experimentation sometimes to the detriment of focus in line with the band's stated aims of creating something a little different. Here, too, they are attempting to push boundaries, starting with the stylised, art nouveau-influenced cover that is meant to challenge preconceptions in Doom presentation. It's certainly different, and not unattractive, setting some expectation of a thoughtful interpretation of melancholy within.

That expectation is largely met with what is still a (mostly Melodic) Death/Doom-based core sound, but one which is not afraid to pull in various other genre influences and styles, particularly Funeral and Epic Doom. In contrast to their debut, this is more tightly controlled and locked to slow/mid tempos throughout: like the debut, though, there is still plenty of variety in the material. It is a mature evolution that leaves behind some of the more unusual elements in favour of a greater balance and consistency.

The production is clear and detailed, allowing all the instruments and vocals to shine through: an important factor, as the music is very much a sum of all its parts rather than led by any particular instrument. On that subject, it should be noted that there is still considerable character to each of those parts: the twin guitars have a distinctive, edgy resonance, the bass and drums lay down heavy, embellished, pulsing rhythms and the vocals cover ground from clean whisper to dark growl with a commendable clarity of diction in all modes. Interspersed throughout are additional flourishes of keyboard and female and droned vocals to add depth and atmosphere. Lyrically, it paints striking images of gloomy tableaux more artistic and impersonal than a lot of Doom works.

So, how does 'Melpomene' (named for the ancient Greek Muse of Singing and Tragedy) sound? Album opener 'Wendigo' captivates from the off, with a loping, urgent beat and some knifing, old-school fretwork. 'Cold Sky' follows, slower and weaving a haunting, melancholic female voice into the background. A sudden change of direction ushers in the lengthy Funeral piece 'Desolate Moors', anchored on a simple yet effective melody line, and concluding with stirringly emotive piano and guitar passages. Musically, 'Underwater' drags in some Epic influences, with soaring, drawn-out riffs and solid walls of percussion, before another surprise change for 'Onegin's Death'. An instrumental duet for guitar and violin, with added special effects, it is both unexpected and brilliant.

The second lengthy Funeral-styled track, 'The Doomed Halls Of Damnation' follows in slightly more pedestrian fashion. Not bad, within the constraints of that genre, and making good use of some unearthly shrieking vocals, it nonetheless seems just a little too long. Fortunately, it is immediately followed by the rousing, Epic-tinged, savagely-vocalised 'The Eternal Emerald': a strong candidate for the high point of the album. 'Thundering Heights' is, well, a thunderous return to the old-school vibe, leading in to more Funeral instrumental 'The Cemetery Of Colossus': simple, stylised and hypnotic to start, with a storming, grandiose climax.

Clearly, there is a good deal of musical ground covered here; at various points calling to mind such disparate influences as (inevitably) the Peaceville Three, Saturnus, While Heaven Wept, hints of Draconian, Remembrance...the strength of this album, though, is the way it blends all of those together into something that doesn't actually sound just like any of them. The overall mood, for all that the material is melancholic in nature, is surprisingly quite an uplifting one. It is less wilfully strange than 'Lost Lifeless Nights', but in many ways equally as determined to set its own distinct rules, and much the stronger for having developed that focus.

Having already admitted it only took one listen to persuade me to part with my own money, it should come as no great surprise that it's an album I recommend as a worthwhile purchase. Fans of modern Death/Doom may find it of particular interest, but there's plenty of content which should hold a broader appeal than that, and good reason to support a desire to be different.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Wendigo
2. Cold Sky
3. Desolate Moors
4. Underwater
5. Onegin's Death
6. The Doomed Halls Of Damnation
7. The Eternal Emerald
8. Thundering Heights
9. The Cemetery Of Colossus

Duration : Approx. 77 minutes

Visit the Frailty bandpage.

Reviewed on 2012-05-09 by Mike Liassides
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