Times are changing. It isn't good enough to put a scantily clad woman at center stage and swing her hair in a circular motion. Those days, like ancient ruins, were bound to crumble at our feet. Instead, we're ushering in the next generation of female fronted metal, lead by strong women known for their talents more than their measurements. It isn't a new concept, of course. Doro, Angela Gossow, Girlschool, they were all carrying the torch of women in the boys' club for decades. But in 2016, we're seeing the tectonic shift we've long waited for. And while the United States has lagged behind in nearly every social issue that comes to mind, we are becoming a world power in the metal scene once again, thanks in part to bands like Midnight Eternal, who, in their short time together, have found success in being talented and stylized, not just the latter. After our conversation with frontwoman Raine Hilai, we took a deeper listen to their self titled debut. And what we found, frankly, was refreshing.
Midnight Eternal finds a great deal of success in providing an important distinction between being female fronted, and female-centric. Vocalist Raine Hilai is a tremendous talent, her voice at home over the high energy gallop of a song like Repentance, as much as it does in the subdued duet of The Lantern. But while she fronts the band, she doesn't dominate the mix. And therein lies the distinction; it's possible to be a presence without obscuring the band as a whole. It speaks to a handful of factors. Hilai has the range to proudly and confidently deliver over any backing instrumental, but also the savvy to know that she doesn't have to. With a veteran line-up forming the backdrop, including Operatika guitarist Richard Fischer, it's a multi-layered, multi-faceted attack that needs room to breathe and grow. And, over the course of the record, it does exactly that. There are changes in pace, changes in mood, but all within the view of a wide angle lens, never a one shot.
The ability of the record to be dynamic is important, but no amount of bending and flexing can take the place of good songwriting. And therein lies an oft overlooked element of the genre. Every individual piece is given time to shine through a mix that is, admittedly, crowded. And while there are times where the mix feels muted, it is often expertly layered together, allowing each separate track to be heard across all channels. Whether it's the light tapping of a cymbal, the echo of a bass string, or the flutter of the keyboards - the pre-chorus of the title track is as good an example as any - there is a degree of clarity here that should be acknowledged and celebrated. You can feel the song moving from left to right, right to left, and every direction around. It becomes immersive entertainment, designed to wash you away.
There will be some discussion as to what tracks stand out above the rest, and here that's a futile effort. Signs Of Fire holds its own as a single, and provides a perfect one-off. If there was one track that could be plucked from the album, and fed to prospective listeners, that would be the one. That being said, the album has an accessibility that is hard to pin down. Perhaps it's the lack of pretentiousness, the absence of the self-aggrandizing message that often clouds albums in this wing of the genre. Or maybe, just maybe, it's in the ability to craft songs that invite a singalong at every twist and turn. There's certainly some extra enjoyment to be found in the poppy hooks of Believe In Forever, a song that could delight men, women and children of all ages with its energy and sheer positivity. Infectious, endearing, and invigorating, it strikes an uplifting chord.
When the old ways aren't working anymore, it's time to evolve. As people, as a society, and, for the purpose of this conversation, as musicians and fans. The time for over sexualization and objectification is long gone. That just isn't good enough. Put away that issue of Revolver's Hottest Chicks In Metal, and let the music speak for itself. Midnight Eternal have staked their claim as a rising star in the world of female fronted metal, and they have one single qualification; this album is really, really good. Not 'good' in the sense that you'll listen once and give an Obama-esque "not bad" face. But its an album that will find a repeated place among some of the best and brightest the new era of the genre has to offer. Put them alongside Persona, Dakesis, and the growing waves of bands that are using the music to sell their name, not their clothes or lack thereof. Welcome to 2016, the year female fronted metal makes a breakthrough.