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Em Sinfonia : Intimate Portrait

Em Sinfonia should have been an interesting millennial side-project, but ended up merely cheesy.

Anybody who has read my reviews is surely aware by now that I am a sucker for some decent female vocals. When it comes to Doom Metal, I find that there is a huge number of talented bands who blend heavy riffs with melancholic soprano or alto vocals, which nice complement the guitar melodies. I find that when we go into styles more along the lines of Gothic Doom or Death Doom, the combination of female vocals with the rest of the ensemble can really be a hit or miss. Bands like Draconian and Funeral have been known for having female vocalists with great, emotional voices alongside hard-hitting riffs of Death Doom, and thus, many bands tend to follow in their footsteps.

Well, Em Sinfonia wasn't particularly a band trying to follow in the former two bands' footsteps, but rather they are an example of a band who didn't make the sound work out as well. Em Sinfonia was a band from Chicago, starting out as a side project of Brian Griffin (guitarist of Death Metal group Broken Hope) and Paul Kuhr (vocalist of Death/Doom Metal giants Novembers Doom). Although Kuhr was no longer with the group at the time of this album, the influence from his main band obviously carried over into this one.

'Intimate Portraits' consists of Atmospheric Death/Doom Metal which combines aggressive, hard-hitting riffs and deep grunts with airy keyboards, occasional violins, poppy electronic elements, and a female singer named Bunny. Odd name for the vocalist of a Death/Doom band, yeah?

Stylistically, the album meets somewhere in between the bass-heavy Death/Doom Metal of My Dying Bride's 'Turn Loose the Swans' album, and the more up-tempo Gothic Metal of Trail of Tears' earlier albums. The guitars and bass are thick, heavy, dense, and have plenty of intense progressions to please those who are looking to hear something extreme. The drums are surprisingly technical; driving the rhythms from dragging Doom paces to outright blastbeats at times. Griffin handles all harsh vocals; consisting of deep, angry sounding grunts and gurgles which are split 50/50 with Bunny's cleans.

A lot of the time, I will read reviews in which Metal bands with female vocals or synthesizers are said to sound like "pop music". More often than not, I find those reviewers are just exaggerating. Yet, in this circumstance, the female vocals and synthesizers sound like they came from some sort of 80's pop. Bunny has a powerful voice, I will give her that. However, her style of singing is very rock n'roll, Blondie-ish sounding. It just isn't suitable for the music on this album. Going back to Trail of Tears, the band was known for having an operatic soprano vocalist who had the tendency to become shrill and melodramatic at times. I honestly feel as if it would have made more sense to employ a female vocalist who took on more of an operatic soprano style of singing, as opposed to this more rockish style that Bunny has.

As for the keyboards, this album is loaded with them. More often than not, the riffs are buried beneath some spacey, atmospheric synths or symphonic sounding piano lines. Again, it's done in a way that's very 80's pop/rock sounding, and it ends up just coming across as cheesy and tacky at times. It's a shame because the rest of the ensemble is actually pretty intense, as the guitars are pulling off Death Doom riffs that sound more aggressive than anything you'd hear from the camp of Saturnus followers.

There are a lot of bands that play this style and are able to pull it off without sounding cheesy. Unfortunately, Em Sinfonia just wasn't one of them. What could have been an awesome Death Doom album in the vein of 'Among Majestic Ruin' was just so buried beneath the flamboyant keys and melodramatic singing, that we were left with something that the members of Em Sinfonia themselves probably don't speak of anymore. Those who want to hear an album like this done well, listen to Autumnal Discord, Whispering Forest, or Lycanthia.

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Reviewer's rating: 5/10


Tracklist :
1. Testimonial
2. For Crimson Lust
3. Estranged
4. Lingering Dream
5. Counting Shadows
6. Intimate Portrait
7. Insatiable
8. Revelations (Iron Maiden cover)
9. Portal To An Emptiness
10. Broken Promises
11. True Believer
12. Alone

Duration : Approx. 56 minutes

Visit the Em Sinfonia bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-03-11 by Dante DuVall
Thermal Mass
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