The recipe was there for them to follow; and Lapis Lazuli put together a mixture that was a smooth as the most carefully baked cake. With the release of 2011's "A Justified Loss," keyboardist and band mastermind Timo Hautamäki had found all of the right ingredients for a successful symphonic metal band. but two years have passed, and some things have changed. Gone is vocalist Frida Eurenius, replaced by the soaring operatic style of Cecilia Kamf. Bassist Henrik Nyman, involved for years with the band, moves on, as Sandra Wallo joins the fold. When the vision of the band is in the eyes of one member, lineup changes often have no real effect on sound or structure. But despite Hautamäki still having his hands tightly on the reigns, he couldn't help but let things evolve in the process. With the release of their new album, "Lost," you find a band that might not have given up on their direction, but one that is certainly looking for a little lateral movement.
There are no surprises in the opening track, simply titled "Overture." This is Hautamäki at his best, creating beautiful and vast soundscapes with strings and keys. He makes it all seem so easy, putting together orchestral melodies full of blaring horns at the touch of his fingertips. The biggest challenge, though, seems to be finding the delicate balance when the full band joins the fray. On "Floating Away," the symphonic presence buries the guitars often, almost to the point of nonexistence in the chorus. Shining through it all, new vocalist Cecilia Kamf soars into the higher register in her beautiful operatic tone, a change from previous efforts. The lack of instrumental balance, however, doesn't do her any favors. Those troubles seem to be fleeting, luckily; the serene piano keys that open "Darker Shade Of Me" signal a change in the album, albeit an early one. Hautamäki finds his groove, adding both layers of string tones and airy synths. The guitars start to break through, along with drum beats that while strong, lack flare. It remains a two man show for the most part, with Kamf fronting the orchestra brilliantly. Much like the earlier albums, there is a similarity between Lapis Lazuli and other female fronted bands, with songs like "Forgive, Never Forget" carrying a lot of the Within Temptation feel, with a slightly more diverse vocal. By no means is this a slight, as they execute it with a great deal of care. In fact, thanks to the chorus of voices, it stands out from the album.
After the short interlude, "Entr'acte: Hunted By Shadows," the band returns in full force. There are moments in "Arise" that sound like a band at the top of their game, but the luster is dulled by production work that simply doesn't do the composition justice. Guitarist Tobias Rhodin does see the light of day here, with a pretty driving melody, but his arrival comes at the same time as the drums fall flat. the click of the snare drum doesn't exude any power, leaving Kamf to deliver twisting and fluttering streams of lyrics without a net. It looks like the sign of a bigger problem of balance. And when the male growls fill the entirety of "No Escape," you've made a sideways leap to something completely unexpected. This is not to say the growls don't work; they actually hold their own quite well. But in a track that finally has its musical balance, the only thing missing is that bit of contrast between beauty and beast. Hautamäki's voice is devastating, and ignites a fire in the surrounding instrumental. It does carry over into "Hollow," which sees the two vocal styles, both harsh and soft, come together in a fractured harmony. The track stands as the most accessible on the album, which is for the better, but it might also be the most pleasing for dedicated listeners. It shows off the versatility, the ability to be more things to more people. The refresher track, "Entr'acte: Finding the Way Home," may start solemn, but ends with a thumping dance beat.
With horns blasting through, "Close The Distance" begins as the symphonic masterpiece you've been waiting for. Kamf has now reached her best work, her voice now flying high above the rest of the mix, even if her lyrical content doesn't match the brilliance of her voice itself. But if you're looking for one thirty second clip that might bring new fans to the party, the three minute mark might be exactly that. Chugging guitars, ethereal vocals, and subtle, if not delicate keyboards. For a track that is under three minutes in length, the title track does wonders for the scope of the album. There is a simplicity here, but one that can be fully appreciated. The layers of vocals in the chorus back her aptly, and help to advance the now growing sound. It seems like a bizarre twist for an album to gain so much steam by the end, but when you reach "Illusions," you get the feeling that the best has taken twelve tracks to find you. Hautamäki's clean vocal is perfect for this moment, showing off the range that many had forgotten he had. He pushes himself to his boundaries, engaging in a tradeoff with Kamf, an inspired performance for both. They've truly saved the best for last, as "My Last Story" is everything you'd expect all along. It combines the heavy guitar riffs that had been so carelessly buried earlier with that strong symphonic element. It's as if the album was a tug of war, and it took the entire record to find peace.
There is something unique about this album that needs to be mentioned. Very rarely do you see a large concentration of strong tracks at the end of an album; they are either crammed to the front end, or scattered throughout. Lapis Lazuli push that heavy rock up the hill for nearly an hour before they reach the apex. For better or worse, the album is simply stacked towards the end. The problem this creates is one that the listener must solve on their own. There are moments of brilliance to be found on the disc, and some where a slight turn of the screws (or knobs) could turn mediocre into monumental. For their part, they've succeeded far more than they've failed, which is a victory in and of itself. But with the vocalist changing from album to album, it makes it difficult to dig your feet in and push for tyhat next level. With her performance on "Lost," one would hope Cecilia Kamf has earned herself an encore performance. And with some careful planning and technical improvements, the follow up might get them where they want to go.
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