posted on 7/2008 By:
Symphonic metal. Under normal circumstances, just seeing this phrase would send me scurrying for the comfort of my Slayer albums. Thus, it was a rather unpleasant surprise to discover that the album I had signed up to review, Hollenthon’s Opus Magnum, was in fact metal of the dreaded symphonic variety. That will teach me to pick albums by the cover. You see, I like my metal unadulterated; guitar, bass, drums and someone screaming bloody murder is all I really want. I find that the addition of synths, strings and other exotic instrumentation in any great quantity tends to soften the blow of what should be, predominantly, harsh, powerful, aggressive music. Shockingly, after listening to Opus Magnum, I discovered, against all odds, that I kind of enjoy it.
Symphonic metal is somewhat of a generic term, but Hollenthon’s sound is comprised of enough different styles of metal, that a more specific designation would fail to capture its scope. The music draws heavily from melodic death metal, but also contains elements of black metal, thrash, power metal, etc. Basically, Hollenthon uses the whole metal play book and combines it with orchestral instrumentation, chanting, choirs, operatic vocals, and probably a dozen other elements. The result is one massive epic of an album.
With so many tricks up Hollenthon’s sleeve, Opus Magnum could have easily ended up a chaotic mess, but Hollenthon manage to combine all the elements at their disposal in a concise and cohesive manner. This is not a bunch of metal tunes with some synthesized strings and horns thrown haphazardly over the top. The standard metal instrumentation and the symphonic elements work in concert. While the drums and bass do the lion’s share of the rhythm work, the melody is shared equally between the guitars and synthesizers. Another key to the album’s success is that the band does not throw everything at you all the time; the compositions have room to breathe. The band varies the instrumentation, tempos and groove, so that no one element overstays its welcome. However, the band is not afraid to let the symphonics take a back seat to the metal on occasion, when true head-banging fury is required. The band also manages to keep the songs from sprawling out into epic redundancy. With eight songs with an average length of around five and a half minutes, Opus Magnum does not overstay its welcome.
Opus Magnum is not without some flaws, of course. While the production on the whole is sharp and balanced, the synths, in their more bombastic moments, can overwhelm the guitars. The guitar riffs themselves tend to lapse into generic metal chugging, on occasion, but with so many other instruments (or synth patches as the case may be) on hand to carry the song, this is forgivable. The drumming is often rigid and mechanical sounding, but that seems to be a flaw endemic to modern metal as a whole, not just Opus Magnum.
Given my general distaste for all things keyboard related, my experience with symphonic metal is necessarily limited. Consequently, how Hollenthon stacks up against other acts of their ilk is difficult for me to say, but if they can win over a listener as narrow minded as I am, they must be doing something right. I would advise anyone with even a passing interest in symphonic metal to give Opus Magnum a listen.
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