Seraphic, an adjective derived from the word Seraph which is an angelic being, regarded in traditional Christian angelology as belonging to the highest order of the nine fold celestial hierarchy, associated with light, ardor, and purity. Seraphic would be one who possess such qualities. So do the band live up to their namesake, sadly at least for this reviewer the answer is not as much as I had hoped. However with that said all is not lost and there is a saving grace in the form of the guitars but more on that in a moment. First some background information.
Seraphic are what the press release describes as a Brisbane symphonic metal band. Frontwoman Sam Wolstenholme who previously sang in the short-lived symphonic metal band Alpine Fault decided to continue her musical career and set about finding like-minded musicians to realize her musical vision. The result is Seraphic which formed in early 2014. Bringing together, Erwin Febrianto guitarist-extraordinaire, ex-Rising Force, with the addition of Raouf Araji, and Michael Bates on bass. The band layered their embellishments over Sam’s acoustic piano/vocal pieces, in order to create a blend of melody and metal with symphonic overtones. Seraphic’s first foray came in the shape of a two-track demo, backing this up with energetic live performances the band started to gather an audience and make a name for themselves. On paper this is a recipe for greatness, however having greatness does not equate to harnessing and presenting that greatness in the form of crafted song structure.
The combination of a metal band with symphonic elements, and a singer who can hit those high yet clean soprano vocals should be something that is sublime to the ear. Regardless of how proficient they may be the main and undeniable problem for me is the vocals. Everything seems to be there as the soundtrack for the vocals which are the main element and as a result the album and listening experience suffers. Not only do the vocals fail to live up to expectations but not every singer can be a great vocalist. Technical ability alone does not make a great vocalist and vice versa. A great vocalist has the ability to use their technical prowess to create vocal melodies and harmonies which create magical worlds within the listeners head through the beauty of their structure, just like every guitarist can not write memorable riffs no matter how skilled they may be. The vocals while adept do not leave a lasting impression and at times are trying too much to show us that, hey I can sing like an opera singer instead of focusing on the song and enhancing the melody. It is a clear case of less is more. What should result as powerful peaks and soaring soprano become merely an annoyance. Take for instance the song “The Reckoning” which begins with simply beautiful piano work and crunching guitar riffs that shred, and that is the thing the guitars on this album are faultless, but alas the vocals come in and completely take over. They dominate to such an extent that they drown out the guitars which are not only technical but fantastic in their execution and simply bleed riff after riff of majestic and monumental power.
The production of Kalen Austin (The Stranger) who recorded and mixed the album before the tracks were sent to Jens Bogren (Opeth, Soilwork, Sepultura) for mastering has done the band a great injustice by putting the vocals in the center and everything else in the background as a mere afterthought only there as a canvas for the vocals to paint upon. I feel if the whole album had been produced by Jens Bogren the end result would have been night and day. A valuable lesson to be learned due to the high number of quality albums which are either ruined or saved at the mixing stage.
Surely you have noticed that this whole review focus mainly on the vocals which in itself is odd but when you hear the album it becomes immediately apparent that the music is a springboard for the vocals and that the guitars, bass and drums no matter how well constructed they are seemed to be relegated to that of backing musicians, then you will see why I chose this route. To cut straight to the point, the heart of the matter if you will. Sam can sing and clearly has the ability but technical proficiency alone does not make a great songwriter. If we step out of the metal arena for a moment and take a singer songwriter such as Bob Dylan whose singing ability leaves a lot to be desired but as a songwriter is one of the greatest of all time, across all genres. So you see sometimes basic simplicity is all that is needed.
An album which on paper should work but when it comes to the songs, falls short. Ever since metal first merged with symphonic music, both genres have proved on numerous occasions to work seamlessly as the latest Dimmu Borgir live album can attest. In order to make any relationship work a common ground needs to be met, where balance becomes the key to a long and productive partnership. When one party takes over and becomes the centre of attention then the delicate balance of harmony is lost and things inevitably fall apart such is the result with‘Journey To Illumination’