Sunday, 31 January 2010

Morning - Hour Of Joy. 76/100.

My earliest memories of this band were one’s I could easily relate to as I had felt them before, a long time previous to discovering this band, named Morning. I remember thinking that this band were going to be some sort of spin-off from The Gathering, another Dutch band who’s gothic inspired rock is as influential as it gets in metal. Though, funnily enough, I’ve rarely come across bands who try to persuade their audience with similar sounding music. I think most musicians, thankfully, have clued in to the fact that being a mere clone of this band is not enough to regenerate the opinion of your own individual band. Instead, it is likely to ruin their reputation overnight, like it has done, on a similar level, with second wave clones in black metal who’s sheepish ways have taught them a severe lesson retained for future reference. I somehow managed to totally miss the fact that Morning are a progressive metal band and though they have a female vocalist, and come from the Netherlands, this doesn’t automatically mean they will be a carven copy of the band that has ruled the gothic scene in Holland and worldwide for the last decade or more.

I also managed to miss the fact that the additional information CLEARLY states that the band are influenced by The Gathering and call themselves “dream metal” as they tend to lean towards supposedly atmospheric soundscapes, though this is debatable. Given these similarities, though the genre is a different style, and the fact that the band have a clichéd name (though Mourning is usually what is expected within metal, as it comes attached with negative connotations), I had initially expected a clichéd formula. Though this hasn’t lived up to the expectations in one sense, it has in an entirely different way. Essentially, this band are a typical progressive metal band but instead of using the classic styled male vocals, they’ve replaced him and placed a woman in charge of proceedings and her performance is actually similar to that of any man who would normally play this sort of role. I’ve come across a few female focused progressive bands before, acts like Brave, or even their formerly named band Arise From Thorns. These bands intermingled female vocals with the progressive style, though there are a few fundamental differences between this style and that one which saw an unstable rise of excitement within me as Brave really appealed to me -- even their lyrics seemed to suit my nature and normally, I don’t even care for the lyrics!

This band, and the aforementioned Brave, don’t apply the same methods to the genre they both share. Brave are experimental in different ways, such as using violins instead of the typical depictions on keyboards and engaging the listener with subtle female vocals, unlike Morning who persist with a forceful style of female vocals that is surely meant to be competing with the exaggerated male vocals that a lot of symphonic based progressive metal comes side-by-side with. Morning caught me off guard, side stepping everything I had initially believed to be apparent with them and instead, they formed a style closer to the original traditions of progressive metal than I ever would have expected. I don’t mean to sound patronising or anything of the sort. I don’t think women are incapable of playing within this style and doing so to a suitably pleasing manner. In actual fact, I think they’re as capable as men, sometimes better, sometimes worse. It depends entirely on the vocalist and what they’re capable of doing with their voice and how it fits into the different factions of the instrumentation.

Saskia van Heugten is a very accomplished vocalist. She hits her targets with perfection and despite the dense production, she comes across very well, sitting between all other areas of this record and keeping them together like glue. Her performance is what will stand out, in fact. Especially when she seems to implement growled vocals into the soundscapes. Her voice isn’t suited to growled vocals, so they don’t come across particularly well, though these are thankfully very sparse so, for the most part, she does seduce the listener with melody and subtly moving beauty in her voice. Usually, when bands employ a female vocalist, she is the one who carries the band towards their destinations and is usually what draws in the crowds. In terms of the mainstream, which I wouldn’t say this falls in to, it also helps if the vocalist is “attractive” by the standards of the mainstream fans and critics of the mainstream. I often find fans who like female vocalists to be shallow, usually resulting in compliments of her looks and some loosely positive opinions about her vocal performances.

Does it matter, or even affect the music if the vocalist is good looking? Not in the slightest. I don’t even know what Saskia van Heugten looks like! From the picture on the bands profile, I can’t really see her, or the other musicians, but once again, its easy to see that she is the center of everyone’s attention as she stands seductively with her hands on her birthing hips, probably with a glow and a slight hint of “I want YOU, baby” in her eyes. I find it awfully clichéd when bands make the female most prominent in photos and such as it does seem to be a ploy on the part of the band to sell records through sex. After all, it sells, right? However, I’m not going to judge this band too harshly based on that idea because, after all, the additional information does state that she is a founding member of this band, alongside bassist, Pol Bannier. So, aside from these issues, there are a few problems with this record, ‘Hour of Joy’, which doesn’t sound particularly joyous or jovial at all. I’m unaware of the lyrical themes, so I cannot comment on what the songs are actually about, but I can make my own assumptions based on the lyrical content itself. The songs sound hopeful, given the upbeat style the guitars take and how the keyboards/synths lean towards the symphonic.

These culminate in a sadness that sparks a more positive opinion. Songs like ‘Captured By The Colour Of Faith’ exhibit these ideas with prestige and suitable prowess, though they don’t truly stand out as being brilliant and memorable. The production has a tendency to ruin some of the areas of the instrumentation, like some of the subtle synths that build up the core of the songs and don’t like to highlight all areas at once, only highlighting some areas at a time with hints of experimentation and majesty. ‘Perception of Feelings’ is a good example of this. The combination of the guitars and the piano based music is good and resonates a positive feeling around the room, but doesn’t combine well with other areas all at once, like the bass and vocals. There is a feeling Morning would be suited to a less experimental style and given that they don’t proceed to bash styles together, they might sound more convincing in their portrayal. This record, ‘Hour of Joy’ is a suitable debut that hints at a decent career, but there are elements that need to be worked on if future accomplishments are to be successfully achieved.

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