Review: Sirenia – Dim Days Of Dolor

Sirenia is a symphonic gothic metal band from Norway. Founded in 2001 by former Tristania co-founder Morten Veland, they have since provided us with a steady stream of releases starting with At Sixes And Sevens in 2002 and, for now, ending with their latest creation, their eight full-length, Dim Days Of Dolor. The previous two albums were received with quite some criticism, which, in my opinion, was legit up to a certain point. The complaint was the albums sounded flat, monotonous and uninspired, both production- and composition-wise, and, in all honesty, I had to agree.

As if having to make sure this one was way better didn’t pose enough of a challenge, the band had another surprise up their sleeve making this even a bigger challenge. In the middle of the process of creating Dim Days… an announcement on Sirenia’s website appeared, stating they had parted ways with their lead singer Ailyn Giménez García for personal reasons after an eight-year collaboration. No details were provided, but in a reaction Ailyn claimed she had no part in the split. If anything that at least raised a few eyebrows. Either way, Sirenia moved on to take on their latest challenge, replacing Ailyn with Emanuelle Zoldan. Emanuelle was no stranger to Sirenia, since she contributed as a guest singer to every Sirenia album since 2004 and has been Ailyn’s live stand-in before as well. Along Emanuelle and multi-instrumentalist Morten, Sirenia consists of Jan Erik Soltvedt on guitar and Jonathan A. Perez on drums. Now to find out if this quartet has risen to this challenge.

Well, let’s cut to the chase by saying they have. Definitely! Those of you that are familiar with Sirenia’s previous work know that they never stray far from their musical roots, Dim Days Of Dolor is no exception to that rule. Or is it..? True, they stick to their symphonic roots, which is in no way a bad thing, simply because they are very good at it, yet they have almost completely abandoned their gothic influences. So yes, Dim Days… in fact is an exception, even though practically there really isn’t much difference. It still has smooth, bombastic, symphonic, choir-drenched compositions, it still has the sweet, touching slower intermezzos and it still has the groovy riffs. You will notice there’s a huge difference nevertheless.

The entire feel of the album is different, which is not all due to a much better production. The variety within and between the songs is bigger, the use of keys and choirs has been tweaked and, probably most striking, the vocals are hugely different. Not to disqualify Ailyn’s voice or her capabilities, but Emanuelle’s more powerful, more operatic voice simply is the better fit to Sirenia’s music. And to add to that there’s a near perfect interaction between her voice and both the growls and clean male vocals.

All you need is the first three songs to realize how big the improvement is compared to Sirenia’s much criticized previous two releases, especially The Seventh Life Path. Opener Goddess Of The Sea starts with a short, somewhat unnerving intro with a howling riff, after which Emanuelle lets rip, leading you through a powerful song and immediately giving you the feeling you’re listening to an early Nightwish release from back when Tarja was their lead vocalist. I can’t say the two ladies have identical voices, but there’s definitely a lot of similarities. The fact the variety has been a point of interest on this release is proven with the title song, the very accessible singalong Dim Days Of Dolor. This might even have some hit potential.

Up next is the epitome of the differences between Dim Days… and its predecessor, which comes in the form of the mighty The 12th Hour. Powerful parts are alternated with slower and orchestral parts punctuated with soundscapes and the interaction between both vocalists hugely adds to the intensity of the song. The magnum opus of this one in my opinion. The fact the masterpiece comes so early, it is only the third song of eleven on the album, is in no way reason to skip the rest of this release. Even though the first half definitely is the most exciting half, the overall quality of the remaining songs on Dim Days… is well above average. There’s even a few gems to be found. Try the gripping Ashes To Ashes, the powerful Fifth Column with its sinister intermezzo or the emotional and sad Aeon’s Embrace in which Emanuelle’s sensitive side shows.

I don’t know whether they have listened to the criticism or not, but the fact remains that Sirenia delivered a fantastic album with Dim Days Of Dolor. To start with the most striking change: of course people will miss Ailyn, but in my opinion Emanuelle’s voice is much more suitable for Sirenia’s music than hers. Her power and operatic style and the really great fit her voice has with the other vocals on the album adds to the drama, depth and overall feel of the songs, making it more adventurous to listen to. Pretty much the same goes for the much improved and needed variety in and between the songs and of course the better production of the album itself. Perhaps the most influential however, is that you get the feeling everyone was focused and inspired when they composed and recorded Dim Days…, a much needed aspect when you want to create something good. Speaking for myself of course I think this one will appear in various year lists. At least in mine they will, I definitely have reserved a spot for them. Highly recommended.

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