European metal is a crowded landscape. In a genre choked with also-rans and soundalikes, every band tries to boast their worthiness as a product of their values, their image or their virtuoso guitar talent. Sirenia, the gothic band from Norway, attempts to stand out by placing all their chips singularly on vocal prowess and a sense of the moment. It’s risky roulette to play when the fans expect certain tropes to be part and parcel, but through this lens we are introduced to “Perils of the Deep Blue.”
What Sirenia excels at is dramatic storytelling. This new record has a great grip on the functions of climax and focuses energy and attention on emphasizing the crescendo. The dynamic stories that unfold are largely balanced on the juxtaposition of the dual vocalists, Morten Veland and Ailyn. As a screamer, Veland is adequate and up to the task, but the (dare I walk through the open door,) siren song of Ailyn is both emotive and enchanting. Her voice carries the necessary tone and strength to make Sirenity more than just another beauty and the beast band. She gives them the versatility to do two different styles of power metal, such as the divergent trends of “Seven Widows Weep” and “Profound Scars.”
That said, “Perils of the Deep Blue” is at its absolute best when Sirenia blends their dramatic flair with the solid, metronomic percussion of Jonathan Perez. Adding in the hammering of persistent drums elevates a song like “My Destiny is Coming to Pass” from ‘just another damn Euro metal song’ to a fixture worth paying attention to.
Sirenia’s self-proclaimed distinction as a gothic metal band provides a sufficient background that sets them apart from the typical power metal act. The emphasis on ‘gothic’ tropes (in quotes because it’s a reference to what we think of as the musical idiom and not actually a reflection of 13th century culture,) implies big sounds, loud crests and limitless atmosphere, which Sirenia delivers in select sections of their record. Cuts like “A Blizzard is Storming” echo with power even with if the organ/keyboard lines are subdued This allows Sirenia to make interesting music without relying on virtuosity.
The downside of that trade is that “Perils of the Deep Blue” can only be truly compelling when Ailyn’s vocals carry the moment and all the other pieces become congruent. Everything the band plays sets the stage for her best instances. Absent that, it’s hard for the alum to completely captivate and much of the album’s middle third goes by without comment or particular hook. This is where the standard fare of a righteous solo, cliché though it may be, would have added another dimension to the Sirenia experience.
I suppose the worst thing I can say about Sirenia’s effort is that after three listenings, I can’t get over my first impression, which was “this sounds a little like the gothic child of Deadlock.” And that’s not a bad thing necessarily. I like Deadlock. So it’s not like Sirenia is in bad company next to names like them or Epica or what-have-you. It does mean that for all their storytelling, Sirenia does not consistently transcend.
“Perils of the Deep Blue” is a good album, but I’m not prepared to go out on a limb and say it will monopolize your summer playlist. Still, as part of a larger rotation it’s worth a spin, and Ailyn’s vocals alone make it a pleasant and relatively rewarding listen.