REVIEW: DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA – “Pacifisticuffs”
As any metal fan knows, there are more metal sub genres than similes by Dante. My favorite is prog metal, but within the same family resides Experimental and Avant–garde Metal as well, which with its variety and unorthodox nature is arguably the most exciting and thrilling of the two (or any other for that matter). One of my personal favorites is Sweden’s Diablo Swing Orchestra. As the name suggests, they are a hybrid of old–style swing music/jazz, and metal, with strong prog tendencies and a flair for the operatic. They’ve created some of the more unique and unexpected (not to mention fun) albums since their inception, and they are due to unleash their new album ‘Pacifisticuffs’ on Dec 8th to a largely unaware world.
There have been a few changes in the band in recent years, so those must be first addressed. The most important of these is the departure of vocalist Annlouice Lögdlund (whose opera–based vocal style was such a large part of their sound) in 2014, and her replacement in vocalist Kristin Evegård later the same year. Their vocal style is quite different. Lögdlund had a very classic opera style; indeed, she left the band in order to focus on her professional opera career. In contrast, Evegård has a much more typical and straightforward style, without any of the histrionics of the opera style. And I personally love her. I’ve often found the previous female vocals to be too much, and I think Kristin’s style fits the music a good deal better.
The other change isn’t as noticeable immediately, but still worth noting. The album isn’t as heavy as much of their early work. This isn’t shocking, as this has been a trend with each album being a little less heavy than their last. This is not to say there isn’t a lot of metal and very heavy moments on the album, there are; but anyone who thought 2011s ‘Pandora’s Piñata’ wasn’t heavy enough might like to know this.
The album kicks off with what was the album’s first single “Knucklehugs”, and it gets the listener’s immediate attention. It’s classic DSO: heavy crunchy riffs, swinging music with horns and strings, and multiple twists and turns, featuring the two-vocal assault of Kristin and band mastermind/lead guitarist/vocalist Daniel Håkansson, whose deeper voice is the perfect counterpoint. There’s a new element as well; a touch of bluegrass is thrown into the mix, something the band hasn’t touched on before. But it also contains one of the DSO’s most notable elements; their strong, and often quite accessible melodies. A lot of avant–garde bands are extremely atonal, and DSO can be as well. But due to their swing nature, the music is very catchy and a great deal of fun to listen to. This doesn’t detract from the twisted, manic nature of it in the slightest, but it does make it easier to digest than a lot of other albums in the genre.
The album runs about 45 minutes and contains 13 tracks, and there is really not a dull moment on any of them. “Lady Clandestine Chainbreaker” and “Jigsaw Hustle” are early highlights; “Jigsaw” has the added element of electronic–style dance music included in the mix, another new sound they have successfully incorporated. These tracks along with most others are sure to please old fans, and have new listeners tapping their toes along as well. Indeed, it is very easy to imagine a headbanging swing dance rather than a mosh pit for a show, something I’d certainly prefer. Another favorite of mine was “Cul-de-Sac Semantics” which is easily the heaviest and most swinging track on the album. All the band members are on the top of their game, and the vocals are perfect throughout. It was really this song that cemented my preference for Kristin’s vocals, and I like it more with each listen.
I don’t really have any complaints about the album. While on a music level I do miss some of the heaviness and unrestrained nature of albums like ‘Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious’, that is just a matter of personal preference. And this album is still heavy and plenty experimental, but the slightly deranged craziness and wild abandon of that album is what hooked me on the band’s music in the first place.
With ‘Pacifisticuffs,’ everything fans love about Diablo Swing Orchestra is delivered in spades, with a focus and skill creating a style of music that wouldn’t work for lesser bands. The addition of vocalist Kristin Evegård is already paying dividends, and they have come together to create one of their most enjoyable and accessible albums to date. Joining the opposing elements of driving metal with swinging dance music, they have created an album that any fan of unusual and avant–garde metal should seek out, and is sure to please fans of their previous albums, all the while making plenty of new ones. Simply put, I love this album, and can’t recommend it strongly enough to anyone with a taste for original, out–of–the–box metal music.