Ever since I stumbled across them about five years ago, Imperia has hung about on the fringes of my collection of gothic-symphonic metal. They seemed especially steeped in sadness and dripping with angst, even for their genre.
Tears of Silence, their new album released in North America in February, gave me a deeper appreciation of the band than I ever expected to have. As the album title bears out, they’re still mulling on angsty sadness, but they do it with irresistible force – and with a lot of diversions.
The album starts powerfully with heavy riffs and dark symphonic barrages reminiscent of “Queen of Light” from the 2007 Imperia album of the same name. Especially impressive is the song promoted as a radio single, “Crossroads,” which goes from a simple piano and acoustic guitar intro to a thundering, Nightwish-like swirl of symphonics and heavy guitars. I love the variety of vocals Helena Iren Michaelsen uses in this song (and the effects used on them): the harsh background when she chants the word “crossroads,” the way an extra wail makes her voice sound especially haunting in the high clean parts, the magnificent low voice she uses for a spoken interlude. Based on the first couple songs on the album, I thought that this was going to set the tone for the whole thing, making it a more grandiose and theatrical album than their previous work, but it turns out there’s a lot more variety on this album. Later on the album, though, “My Screaming Heart” also features heavy guitars and grand symphonics raging together, and some snarled vocals thrown in among the operatic ones. “Motherlove” is not quite as grand or dark as these two, but has an irresistible momentum and infectious chorus, plus an unusual segment alternating thunder and wails from the guitar.
Slow and drawn-out gothic angst, meanwhile, is actually kind of scarce on this album. “Broken (When the Silence Cries)” is one of the few songs in this vein, in case you couldn’t tell from the title. The chorus, which starts out with anguished vocals and then intensifies with racing drums and guitars below soaring vocals, really catches hold of the heart. Even this song has its fast and epic thundering moment, though.
There are also some more uplifting touches: the first is the folky “Friheten Vil Seire” (“Freedom Will Prevail”), which features a Scandinavian folk melody on strings and wind, accompanied but not overwhelmed by metal guitars and drums. Another positive note on the album is the empowering “Spirit Chase (Keep Fighting),” an anthem for the social justice movement with a choir backing Helena as she urges us to “Keep fighting, keep fighting / Against your tears / Keep fighting, keep fighting / Until you are free.” And then there’s “The Vikingsong,” which is exactly what you might expect, a folky metal paean to the furious Norsemen, complete with battle sounds mixed in. The lyrics are a bit bland, even silly, but the gothic grandeur that’s typical of the album combined with the rousing folk melody, keep it interesting.
Tears of Silence is a lengthy album (13 tracks and 65 minutes including bonus tracks), and the last four songs are a little buried by the weight of the album ahead of them — they don’t stand out very much. There are a few things that catch my attention, though — like the contrast between the electro keyboards and pop vocal hooks, dramatic operatic vocals later on, and gentle piano and strings at the end in “Wings of Hope.”
Overall, I found this album more appealing than I expected. Each song is different from the last — in some cases, very different — and Helena Iren Michaelsen’s intriguing and versatile vocals further help keep things interesting. Perhaps some part of me wishes there were more slow, sorrowful songs in the vein of “Missing You” (from Queen of Light), but with all the inspirations Imperia takes from outside the gothic-symphonic realm, the anguished parts of the album all the more poignant.