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Niviane – The Ruthless Divine

Niviane
The Ruthless Divine
by Ian Yeara at 09 November 2020, 11:33 PM

I do love getting promos for these obscure metal bands, even when I don’t necessarily love what they’re doing. It’s all about exposure and as someone who prides themself on keeping up with new metal it’s important for me to listen to any band I come across.

NIVIANE is a curiously titled band from Sacramento, California and according to the Metal Archives they are simply a Power Metal band. First, I would argue that they’re a little closer to Speed Metal, or if you like comparisons they’re closer to ICED EARTH than HELLOWEEN. You could also call this USPM and be mostly correct, but now I’m getting too hung up on genre labels.

I’m going to start off this review with what I enjoyed most about this album; it’s fast (for the most part) which is great because if I’m going to have to listen to a style I’m not especially fond of, it had better have plenty of sixteenth note triplets. The guitars sound great, the EQ balance sounds like a perfect valley, with just enough mids to give it a deep and beefy sound. The riffs are incredibly crunchy and I appreciate how the harmonizing guitars keep the verses interesting and varied, again for the most part. You know how people complain about ICED EARTH using the same riff over and over again? Well these guys clearly like ICED EARTH because that is exactly what’s happening here! Now that’s not an automatic negative for me in general, because I totally understand that when a band finds a sound they like, they want to stick to it and maybe risk their album sounding a little samey at the expense of variety. Other bands/albums that come to mind in that vein: TERAMAZE – "Esoteric Symbolism" & DRAGONFORCE - "Inhuman Rampage", but I love both of those albums. Once you find a really solid sound, you shouldn’t feel like you have to have variety for the sake of it.

Time to really dig into the meat of the album, to give a succinct summary of how I feel about this album: there are some really good songs, and way too much of what I would term filler. Filler is a term that gets thrown around a lot so let me really discuss what filler means to me. It’s going to be different for everyone, but for instance when a band like DRAGONFORCE or STRATOVARIUS has built up great momentum over the course of an album and then they throw in a slow funeral march tempo ballad seemingly just because “you have to have a ballad, even if it sucks”.

Another example is when an album like this starts off fast and riff heavy and then devolves into a  mid tempo rockfest, for half the album I am just not going to be as receptive to those mid tempo tracks. Now "Crown Of Thorns" for example avoids this because rather than sticking to one tempo for the whole song, it mixes it up and throws in some sixteenth note triplets here and there, that’s called mixing it up and that’s how you prevent what I call "SABATON syndrome". Really the whole first half of this album has solid songwriting, mixing mid-tempo with speedy Power Metal (and sounding A LOT like ICED EARTH while doing it).

It’s not until about track seven that the album starts to fall apart at the seams, but before I get to that there are some really excellent tracks on the first half of this: "League of Shadows" is a great opener. "Dreams Crash Down" is a solid song, but the real pearl is in the bridge, that was the first moment on the album that made my ears perk up and convinced me that this was going to be a better experience than I expected. Also "Dreams Crash Down" does a good job with pacing the fast and mid tempo sections without becoming boring at any point. I don’t really care for "Crown of Thorns", but it’s not bad per say, just unremarkable; probably a 3/5 song.

Okay, actually, I didn’t really like the title track all that much, it feels like filler to me. It’s just chugg, chugg, chugg the whole way through with surprisingly boring riffs compared to the rest of this, not to mention the “chanted” vocal lines do nothing for me. However, it is slightly redeemed by an excellent bridge and solo. I wish I knew which guitar player was playing each part, but between Mark Miner and Gary Tarplee these guys are putting the band on their back and carrying them to the finish line that’s for sure. Now this album does actually have one 5/5 track for me, which I have to be honest was surprising, it is rare that an album I wasn’t already looking forward to has any songs that I like that much.

"Fires in the Sky" has to be one of the most intense Power Metal songs I’ve heard this year. Norman Skinner really shows off his vocal talents here (and is slightly less annoying than on the rest of the album) and the vocal melodies stand out more on this song. However, the real stars of the show are Mark Miner and Gary Tarplee, like I said I wish I knew who played which parts, but by the gods the bridge and solo of this song blow everything else on this album out of the water.

"Fallen from Elysium" is a solid song, but for whatever reason Norman Skinner decides to go back to his incredibly annoying ways. I haven’t talked about this much because I generally hate being overly negative about any musician in my reviews; I respect the hell out of any band that can stay together long enough to release even one full LP. Dear gods I cannot stand Skinner’s voice, it’s the biggest thing holding this album back for me. Obviously, this is personal taste and I know a lot of people who like him from DIRE PERIL, so feel free to ignore my opinion. His softer vocal tone is fine, still not my bag but better than his shrieks and screams. Now I like shrieking and screaming in my metal, but something about his tone just bugs me, it’s like an errant pitch that nobody else seems to notice, but it bothers the crap out of you.

I know everyone reading this review has experienced that at one point or another, especially since I’m sure most of us in this industry have some tinnitus. What’s even worse is that in a couple places (primarily on "Fallen from Elysium") he tries this harsh/scream vox style that just sounds awful, sadly damaging an otherwise interesting song.

Now we get to the filler section, "Forgotten Centurions" is the perfect example to use as a metric for the rest of the album because it embodies all the worst aspects in my opinion of US Power Metal. Where the riffs were chunky and interesting harmonically, here it’s like they copypasted generic USPM riffs to fill out the song. The bridge and solo as always are actually really good, but the rest of the song is just completely boring to me and I’d say this is a great example of a 2.5/5 (the .5 is purely because of the bridge). Where did all that energy and enthusiasm go? Where did the amazing riffs from "League of Shadows" go? All of that has been replaced by seemingly bog standard US Power Metal, mid tempo rock fest; and I’m already not fond of most USPM, but I can tolerate it when the riffs are beefy and fast.

Now there is one song in the back half that is a paradox of that issue; "Niviane" (the song) is really bipolar, it goes back and forth between mid-tempo rock fest and actually really solid Power Metal riffs. Even the vocals are a little less obnoxious on this song, and I really wanted to like this song more, but the verses are so boring, this is what I’m talking about with filler, it doesn’t even just have to refer to a whole song, sometimes even a five minute song can have filler material in it. This song probably balances out to a 3/5, but with greater potential buried within.

"Psychomanteum" has a similar problem, with the addition of those terrible “harsh” vocals again, but it’s also the first song with any kind of synth sounds in the background, it’s incredibly brief, but I always have to give USPM bands for actually using keyboards. I just don’t care for the slower, chugging riffs, even if they sound good it’s just not interesting and once again kills a potentially interesting song.

There is one 7+ minute song on this album which normally would be my favorite song on the album (I’m always interested in the more progressive songs, regardless of genre), however by the time I got to "Sinking Ships" I was seriously suffering from listening fatigue. Also, I really wish Norman Skinner would stop doing that “tough guy, bro core voice” it just pisses me off every time I hear it and it makes me want to punch the vocalist in the face.

Rather than keep going song by song I think it’s time to start my summation. This review is all over the place which is apropos considering how bipolar this album is in general. The guitars are easily the best part of this album and the only thing holding them back is the songwriting. Sure, your bridge and solo can be great, but if the rest of the song is a boring slog then you’ve just wasted the talent of your musicians because I’m not going to dig back through an album like this just to revisit some of the awesome solos. The biggest flaw that I want to point out though is just the constant back and forth between slow, chugging riffs and fast, intense, sometimes technical, guitar playing. Now if you’re already a USPM/Speed Metal fan, then this will absolutely delight you and I hope you can enjoy this album more than I did.

Songwriting: 5
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 6
Production: 8

3 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. League of Shadows
2. Crown of Thorns
3. Dreams Crash Down
4. The Ruthless Divine
5. Fires in the Sky
6. Fallen From Elysium
7. Forgotten Centurion
8. Niviane
9. Psychomantaeum
10. Sinking Ships
11. Like Lions
Lineup:
Isaiah AR – Drums
Rick Stallkamp – Bass
Mark Miner – Guitars
Norman Skinner – Vocals
Gary Tarplee – Guitars
Aaron Robitsch – Keyboards
Record Label: Pure Steel Records
     


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