Review: SELENE – “The Ravages of Time”… Posted: 18/09/2018 by Philip Morrissey
Power Metal is an often derided and mocked genre. And it all goes back to the struggle over what is perceived to be ‘real’ or ‘traditional metal’. The influences laid down by IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST were taken on by the likes of FATES WARNING, RIOT, SAVATAGE and HELLOWEEN. The nineties was a difficult period for many of the bands associated with heavy metal. And the fans of of those bands who grew up with them. As a succession of their favourite bands began to split, lose key members and/or release wholly underwhelming albums. They also had to face up an increasingly different landscape featuring more popular new genres of music. Some welcomed the freshness that it brought. Others cried foul and sought to rediscover what they perceived to be the true roots of metal. As the US and UK markets dried up, more harked back to Europe where it retained its popularity. The traditional style was incorporated with more and more symphonic elements and outlandish presentation. And it became a genre of its own.RHAPSODY OF FIRE, STRATOVARIUS, BLIND GUARDIAN and HAMMERFALL all emerged at this time, diverging opinions.
Ireland remained immune to it for the most part. Whatever Celtic influenced bands emerged, generally diverted to the Folk Metal scene as in the case of CRUACHAN and WAYLANDER or into black and doom related genres such as PRIMORDIAL, MAEL MÓRDHA or CORR MHÓNA. Occasionally though, one or two popped up. DARK CRYSTAL, SCAVENGER, CELTIC LEGACY, FIRELAND, BAKKEN, have all shown flashes of promises over the past decade or so. And another band entering the market recently have been SELENE, after the Greek Sun Goddess. Coming out of Belfast in 2013, the outfit originally consisted of just Shonagh Lyons on vocals and John Connor on guitars. It had grown out of the ashes of a former band called GATE XIII. This duo recorded the “Among the Frozen” EP soon after which gained them quite a lot of attention. In order to make a proper going concern, they enlisted the help of musicians from around Northern Ireland to swell up to a quartet. The expanded line-up recorded the “Paradise Over” EP later in the same year. This allowed them to hit the stage and between 2014 and 2015, they played alongside the likes of MAVERICK, XEROSUN and SINOCENCE. That latter year also saw them hit the studio to record their debut album, “The Forgotten”. It saw them engage on a number of firsts including playing Dublin, their debut appearance at the Siege, reaching the latter stages of Metal to the Masses and plenty more gigs besides. Unfortunately, in the lead up to this album, drummer Cameron Ashlund-Glass stepped down. A search for a replacement proved unfruitful requiring Connor to programme the drums himself.
It may have impacted on the recording of this album but the show must go on. How does this match up to previous releases though? A snare whack preempts ‘New Era’s’ bombastic opening complete with brass orchestration. Along with drum fills and the whole nine yards. The vocals appear and they are generally of a high quality. In that Mezza-Soprano territory. It obviously has that operatic quality which most bands of this ilk strive for. A smidge of LEAVES EYES here and a bit of NIGHTWISH there, although slightly more on the delicate side of matters. The opening playing style is re-visited around the chorus sections. Elsewhere, it follows on a fairly smooth trajectory. Drums are pretty solid throughout here. The vocals give way to a drums and keyboards led section. The guitars which had been fairly low into the mix, eventually makes itself known in a guitar solo which bursts through. ‘The Great Heart’ features short stabbing bursts on the keyboards to heighten the drama. Choral affects are used to enhance this. These remain until the main vocals appear, full of heart and emotion. Both vocals are used during the chorus sections. It is a real example of the power of her vocals at times. The drums and other players make their way to the stage after a while. It is garnished with a few keyboard flourishes. WITHIN TEMPTATION inspired drumming and rhythm guitar is solid throughout before another guitar solo. ‘Ashes’ sees a high intensity opening driven by the drums and guitars. The latter seems slightly off at times. It is perhaps a tougher, faster sound than encountered before. Has the feel of KAMELOT in its power. The vocals emerge during a section which is decidedly more melodic and atmospheric. It is backed up by slow and careful drumming. A tougher guitar piece comes through before a return to the softer style. The general tone switches a full blown solo towards the end. There is real richness to the vocals which could be swallowed up on occasions but hold their own.
‘Calm Before the Flame’ contains a heavier opening, prompted by the keyboards and drums. The vocals arrive and retain a sense of elegance and serenity. It is backed by slightly stiff drumming and a few riffs peeled off help maintain the heavy atmosphere. It is definitely more on the gothic side of affairs in tune with bands like DELAIN and EPICA. The guitar lines in the background begin to toughen up and make themselves known more. A slow and melodic keyboard piece is accompanied by a few cymbal crashes. As the tempo picks up, a few guitar licks crop up. This breaks into an impressive solo, while keeping the same keyboard/drums backing and can really hear the bass of Thomas Alford coming through. ‘Burning Bridges’ has a guitar solo straight out of the bat reinforced by decent drumming. The former is slightly erratic at times however. Not quite sure whether it is a timing issue or not. It works well in other places though. The vocals come in and keep to their usual standards, backed up with male vocals courtesy of MAVERICK‘s David Balfour who provides more of a hard rock edge. The guitars/drums piece is then re-visited. Her vocals show up solo with great drumming against it. Balfour then appears to bring it back into a duet again. The style is repeated to the very end complete with a decent scream from Balfour. ‘If Tomorrow Never Came’, kicks off with powerful rhythm work complete with rhythm guitars, drums and bass locking together. It relents slightly upon the intro of the vocals but the riffs retain that strength. It is a clear example of the power of her voice in some of the rich, soaring notes involved.
‘Our Regrets’ contains a wonderfully warm synth led opening. The vocals show up and seem to have effects applied to them. Probably a vocoder. It does fit in well with the overall tone however as it heightens the eerie drama. As the guitars and double bass kicks in, she transforms into a witch like character who’s strident delivery compel all before her. One passage uses a few crunching riffs and bass kicks over it. This to an instrumental section that features a delightful synth solo. Much of the feel of SONATA ARCTICA to it. The playing gets looser as events continue. Towards the end, the chorus is repeated over and over. ‘Kingdom’ opens with a drum roll into an energetic and lively keyboard solo. A guitar refrain introduces the vocals. They are slightly on the low side of affairs and struggles initially to be heard as drums and guitars crash away in the background. This improves upon the chorus and shows her real strengths. The keyboards and drums duel in a great solo piece which demonstrates Conor’s orchestration capabilities with real flair and variety on the keys. During an extended vocal delivery, the playing quality is kept high but more subtle as choral effects are applied to the playing to give it an air of gravitas which is suitably dramatic sounding. Each part between keys, vocals and guitars has its time to shine.
‘This Life’ contains slow and elegant string playing to begin with. Possibly a violin. The vocals show up and they are more on the angelic and nuanced side. It may lack the bombast and extravagance of other songs but it works primarily because of the emotion that shines through. More in touch with atmosphere than pace or weight. ‘The End of Time’ opens up with wind effects that see through to a soft and melodic section involving just the keys. The vocals are introduced during this and they are hauntingly beautiful and delicate. They truly display her talents. A percussion rumble sees the tempo lifted a notch. The drums are well set up, the riffing is tight and strong and the keys provide a subtle charm to proceedings. The keys switch in terms of their playing to become more discreet. The drumming is also more low-key in its approach, almost jazz like. Suddenly, a couple of sweeps on the keys prompt an increase in tempo. The drums, guitars and keys all combine in a whirlwind of sounds which is positively dazzling. A few dark strokes and drum crashes switches the mood again. An atmospheric section with the string and keys occurs before the drums re-emerge. The steadily rising atmosphere sees a series of crunching guitar riffs which is quite haunting. The vocals remain on top form and the keys, drums and guitars combine again before an orchestral section finishes things off. A breathtaking epic in the best possible fashion.
While I did enjoy the album overall, it is not without its faults. The production fails to do them justice. Where it should be beefy and full of colour, seems to be flat and uneventful at times. Music of this type strives for the epic and lofty heights but they are neutered as a result. The mix is rather inconsistent in its approach. On occasions, the vocals and instruments appear either too low or too high. When you have a vocalist with a delicate and fragile voice, you need to have her risen up above, rather than being swallowed up by the playing. Also, I kept on trying to hear for the bass but constantly missed it. It could, perhaps, be the result of Connor attempting to do much. It is clear that we are dealing with talented songwriters and musicians. It would be interesting to note the results of a follow-up album in the hands of a more established producer. There was a lot of promise in their debut but this doesn’t really tread new ground. There is the capacity to stand toe to toe with the big hitters of the genre.
Unfortunately, such an ambition for the future is now rendered void. The band’s Facebook page announced their split at the end of last year. No reason was provided and I am not going to offer speculations as to why. Connor has been busy in the meantime, setting up his new symphonic metal outlet RAVENLIGHT. An EP titled “End Of The World” has already been recorded and set for release at the end of September 2018, with Connor handling guitars and keys and former SENTINEL vocalist Rebecca Feeney on vocals. And they are currently seeking a bassist and drummer to bring this to life on stage.