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The latest Caelestis release, a single in collaboration with French underground death metal combo Archenterum, is a curious experiment in sound that works just as much as it feels contrived. It is a bold continuation of the alternative/gothic rock sound hinted at on the previous “Heliocardio” EP, and it feels contrived in the sense that the whole beauty-and-the-beast approach has been perfected in every conceivable way during the second half of the 90s with the countless The Gathering and Theater Of Tragedy clones.

10685520_820112608040128_8649896406997933706_n‘Spyglass’ forms the debut of newly acquired bass guitarist Fabiana Figurati and keyboardist Piero Avitabile. In the interim vocalist Vera Clinco has quite literally found her true voice, and is singing with as much passion as she did on “Heliocardio", but she has considerably increased her range and power. As an added bonus Clinco is allowed to write lyrics in multiple languages (now including English and French next to their native Italian) – and this newfound freedom gives the single a sense of nuance the previous EP didn’t have. That Clinco is at long last singing to her range is a wonder to experience. Where she lacked confidence and power on the “Heliocardio” EP, here she’s coming into her own as a frontwoman. Never before exuded her singing this much passion, sensuality and power. Hopefully she’ll continue to grow as a singer as she did here. The lyrics fit seamlessly with the chords and the song’s flow, and there’s a wonderful solo or two by Cataldo make the entire thing even more exciting.

That the whole beauty-and-the-beast approach (in terms of vocals, and music) has been done to death by now should come as no surprise. Despite the worn-out nature of the formula it’s the Caelestis aspect of the single that shines the brightest. Not to say that Archenterum aren’t competent in what they bring to the product, one can’t help but notice that it is redundant and somewhat contrived within the context of the ‘Spyglass’ song format. As a stand-alone experiment it is a commendable genre exercise, but hardly the revelatory discovery it was when Theater Of Tragedy pioneered it in 1995. The formula is worn-out, yet the song itself is one of the best things the band has written within its new creative paradigm. The composition is far more open, with vocal breaks to give Vera Clinco the space that she needs to let her voice soar, and Cappiello now is more confident within his niche than ever before – and it shows. The song is the most straightforward and hook-oriented Cappiello has ever written, but it goes through a variety of moods before concluding, and there are tons of details hidden within.

The fact of the matter is that Caelestis’ lion share of ‘Spyglass’ is where its real strengths lie. The addition of Archenterum’s rather formulaic and stale sounding death metal is good for what it is, but the song hardly needs it in the first place. In fact it would be interesting to hear this song in its pure Caelestis form, without the addition of the rather uninteresting growls and stock heavier riffing. The keyboards are at the forefront of things, and they sometimes tend to get in the way of the celestial sound effects and new age segues that featured heavily on the “Heliocardio” EP. The band has mastered the standard pop/rock song format, and there’s no awkward transition to be found through out the entirety of the single, which is testament to Cappiello’s continual growth as a songwriter. Whether this signifies Caelestis having fully abandoned their ambient, new age and lounge sound of the past remains yet to be seen. ‘Spyglass’ is the most logical continuation of the sound the band aimed for on “Heliocardio”, but Caelestis has yet to enroll a full-time drummer in order to capitalize on that sound on the live front.

Figurati and keyboardist Piero Avitabile only feature minimally in this new song, and they are kind of lost in between Cataldo Cappiello’s wonderful guitar work, and Clinco’s soaring angelic vocals. It will be interesting to hear what the both of them will bring to future Caelestis material, especially Figurati with her finger-picked bass guitar playing should feature prominently in the mix. It would be interesting to hear Caelestis return to its ambient lounge sound with Figurati’s throbbing bass lines, and Avitabile’s wonderful keyboard enhancements. Given how catchy and poppy ‘Spyglass’ is it wouldn’t be surprising if Caelestis decided to capitalize on its success, or the song’s formula. On the back of ‘Spyglass’ Caelestis can go in any direction they so desire, as this is as far from “Sky Shards” and “Nel Suo Perduto Nimbo” as one could probably imagine. It is an interesting change that the band has undergone, but it isn’t withouts its charms. The increased vocal presence of Clinco, and Cappiello’s fiery guitar work show Caelestis poppy side more than ever before, and never has it been as strong and convincing.

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“Heliocardio” is the most conceptually complete Caelestis release to date in terms of imagery and lyrics, but it is also the most confused sounding of the band’s current catalogue. It is a stylistic departure from the preceding two releases, and the band’s first foray into more standard alternative/gothic rock territory. All the songs and lyrics are still written by Cataldo Cappiello, but the addition of two new members forced him to adopt a more conventional writing style. This is both beneficial and detrimental to the sound as Caelestis’ ambient/lounge sound is traded in for a more readily marketable alternative/gothic rock brand redolent of Evanescence and the likes. There are a good number of things that the EP does right, but it isn’t without its faults either.

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One of the strong suits of “Heliocardio” is its interesting concept. The EP is about love in the personal, universal and celestial sense. The lyrics are rather poetic, and even philosophical in parts. While it isn’t his first venture into writing lyrics Cappiello eloquently explores the subject within the conceptual framework. It is the prelude to a proposed full length that will explore the topic in greater detail. Cappiello plays lead/rhythm guitar, bass guitar, programming and synthesizers. “Heliocardio” retains the upbeat atmosphere from the ambient/lounge releases and juxtapositions it with vocal oriented alternative – and gothic rock. A new level of pop accessibility fits Caelestis breezy and lighthearted past, while the greater emphasis on vocals and hooks is detrimental to the ethereal atmosphere they harnassed so wonderfully in the past. In all it is an EP of artistic compromises, some of which work wonderfully well, while others don’t quite deliver the marvelous results one could have hoped for.

It is the addition of two new members that differentiates “Heliocardio” from the preceding releases. The EP sees the induction of young songstress Vera Clinco (vocals) and Flavio Staiano (drums), both of who were part of Mefas, a Sorrento-based rock and pop cover group. Why this was released under the Caelestis brand is another thing, as it sounds nothing like the two records that preceded it. It does beg the question why such a drastic overhaul in terms of sound was deemed necessary given the wonderful results of the two previous Caelestis releases. Vera Clinco is a promising young singer that either hasn’t found her true voice yet, or is limited by the material Caelestis presents her with. As with her guest appearance on “Nel Suo Perduto Nimbo” her vocals either sound soaring and angelic, or subdued and held back – sometimes in the same song. Both ‘Io e Te Siamo La Luna’ and ‘Crollano Le Stelle’ are good examples of this very thing. In both songs Clinco has moments where her vocals are absolutely fantastic, while moments later she’s sort of mumbling or subdueing herself for some reason. Which leads to the next biggest strike against “Heliocardio”. Clearly the band wants to go for that atmospheric, dreamy pop/rock direction - why then all the metal posturing?

Why the band persists with the metal aspect of their sound is a great question, as it is the least convincing of the whole. Caelestis would perhaps be better off dropping the metal aspect all together and ramping up the electronic or ambient facets of its music. Most of the metal is fairly incidental in most parts, and could easily be replaced by rock music, and none of the songs would have diminished in the process. The fact that the band labels itself metal in the first place is a headscratcher to say the least. Granted there are a few heavier guitar sections, but they appear sparingly and aren’t the focal point of any of the songs. The very opposite is true, just like country mates Nümph this band is about anything but heaviness. No, Caelestis is the best when they abandon the metal and when the ambient and electronics take front and center. The ethereal bookends of ‘Anatomia Spaziale’ should make this abundantly clear to anybody. ‘Fenice’ has some wonderful bass – and guitar playing that has more of a classic rock feel than anything remotely metal-related. The inclusion of one or two heavy sections does not suddenly make it an extreme metal release. The metal aspect of Caelestis is incidental at best and non-existent at worst. The band is more than shortselling itself in insisting on being categorized as metal. The metal aspect is the least interesting of the package.

As this was Caelestis maiden voyage into this territory a few minor blunders can be easily forgiven. Some of the transitions aren’t quite as smooth as you’d expect, and Vera Clinco’s vocals occasionally miss the mark in the higher registers. This is surprising given her strong vocal presence on “Nel Suo Perduto Nimbo”. Some confidence in her own vocal skill is amiss to truly call her exceptional. What Clinco misses in vocal presence and power is made up by her abundance of enthusiasm and love for the material. For some reason Clinco also seems to hold back vocally, subduing herself to fit the material. It makes you wonder what she could do if she didn’t hold back, and graced the record with sparkling angelic vocals that are within her vocal range. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the change in direction that impedes her vocal work, or the fact that some of the lyrics are just too long and wordy for her to put the required emotion in them. Flavio Staiano is offered equally little in regards to drum work, and little else is required of him but holding down the beat. Even for pop/rock terms the drumming is underwhelming, and Staiano is capable of far more interesting beats and rhythms than what is offered.

Some of the transitions are on the sloppy side, which is a bit puzzling considering Clinco’s and Staiano’s prior experience with Mefas. Perhaps their influence on the material was only minimal, and is this Cappiello’s first venture beyond his ambient and lounge material of the band’s earlier years as a solo project.  Caelestis is part of the Ronin Agency firm that represents Caelestis, Ideogram and Red Sky among its clientele. All three bands play a similar style of music that combines electronics with ambient and the heavier forms of rock music.  A promotional video was shot for the track ‘Io e Te Siamo La Luna’ to help push the EP. The EP is concluded by a Red Sky cover song. Red Sky is a popular cross-genre artist in the Sorrento region, who also manages and promotes the band. This song has the most interesting bass lines for some reason. It’s hard to say whether the Red Sky song was included because of his firm representing the band, or Clinco’s known love for the artist. Whatever the reason for its inclusion on “Heliocardio” the track fits seamlessly with the band’s original material.

After the release of “Heliocardio” Flavio Staiano (drums) would decamp, and a dedicated bass guitarist would be found in German-born Fabiana Figurati.  For the most part “Heliocardio” expands upon the sounds of the previous two releases, while compromising its greatest strength, the flowing ambient/lounge they mastered so wonderfully, to capitalize on a standard pop/rock format that works better in a live setting. It is hard to say which Caelestis release would be the best to start your journey with these dreamy Italians, but “Heliocardio” is not it. The “Heliocardio” EP is at best a stopgap release while the band familiarizes itself with its new direction. Caelestis is onto something with this EP, but they will need to iron out a few inconsistencies before they’ll be able to measure themselves with the big names in this genre. As of now, it is a wonderful exercise in ethereal alternative pop/rock that is somewhat hampered by puzzling creative choices. There’s certainly more than a market for this sort of thing.