La-Ventura - White Crow

Dutch symfo metal band La-Ventura was formed in 2005 in Goes, the Netherlands by singer Carla van Huizen-Douw and former Orphanage drummer Erwin Polderman. The band debuted a mere two years later with “A New Beginning” in 2007, which had a troubled release history. After the usual amount of line-up changes La-Ventura returned with a new record a few years later. “White Crow” is the band’s most recent effort, and it differs in a number of important ways from what usually is found in this genre. Typically Dutch in a number of ways, and atypical in others “White Crow” is a record that doesn’t reveal its depths and many intricacies in the first few listens. It goes beyond that. It is catchy, heavy and adventurous without losing sight of its symfo metal sensibilities

Although typically filed as a gothic/symfo metal outfit for easy categorization La-Ventura uses both genres as mere starting point for something altogether more compelling. La-Ventura play far heavier and technical than the average gothic – or symfo metal band. The album title symbolically refers to the intangible. Segments of ‘Falling Down’ border on the progressive. The most easily digestable song is ‘Song For An Idiot’ which the band smartly capitalized on by making it the subject of a music video. ‘White Crow’ and ‘Human Vanity’ are re-recorded tracks from the 2009 “Breaking the Silence” EP. ‘Drowning’ is the only song of the record that fits the typical gothic metal mold. The almost complete lack of pervasive keyboards make the record refreshingly metallic, as do the prominent bass licks. When keyboards do appear, played by studio musician Jos Houtzager, they are inobtrusive and purely supplemental. All songs were written by bass guitarist Michael Saffrie, except ‘The Only One’ was written by guitarist Sacha Kondic – and it has, unsurprisingly, the most acrobatic riffing of the entire album.

The title track is easily the most ear-catching because of its piano intro that is somewhat reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig In the Sky’. Carla van Huizen-Douw is blessed with an emotive rock voice, and while she can easily hit high notes she never pushes into operatic territory, and sings what fits the music best. She can actually sing without aide of studio enhancements and trickery. van Huizen-Douw’s vocals are more akin to Amy Lee (Evanescence) than the well-known operatic divas of the genre, although she occassionally will pull out all stops as on ‘Time and Time Again’. From a compositional point of view La-Ventura is more of a heavy rock band than a stereotypical symfo/gothic band. Likewise is the band’s metallic aspect a mere vessel to get its intended point across, but the band is never limited by or to it. None of the usual symfo/gothic genre trappings apply to La-Ventura as such. La-Ventura has none of the symphonic pompousness that often ends up crushing lesser bands under its weight, nor do they write seemingly interchangeable saccharine, syrupy thinly-veiled pop songs with incidental heavy guitars and drums under the guise of gothic metal as many far less talented and musically gifted bands of this ilk are, sadly for all involved, prone to do.

La-Ventura promoEven with but a single guitar at its disposal La-Ventura is far more adventurous in its songwriting and technically stronger than many of its contemporaries with dual guitars. The prominent bass lines are another thing that differentiate the band from the crop. In the more populist variations of the symfo/gothic genre the bass guitar usually plays a secondary, or tertiary role. Not so with La-Ventura as the bass guitar not only features prominently within its music, many a time it is integral to the very compositions. As is typical for the genre the drumming is subordinate to the other instruments, although it stands to reason that Renzo van Poecke provides far more interesting beats, fills and patterns than the average symfo/gothic skinsman. Whereas most only serve to keep the beat and stay on time van Poecke is allowed to integrate interesting fills whenever the music allows. This is another important facet wherein La-Ventura differentiates itself from the vanilla, bubbly pop metal that pervades this genre to its everlasting detriment.

“White Crow” was recorded and mixed at MII Recording Studio, France, 2010-2012 with Didier Chesneau producing. The album was mastered at Electra Mastering, France by Bruno Gruel. The crystal clear analog production puts many of the band’s big label contemporaries to shame. It is both pristine without any overproduction, or simply too slick sounding. The crunchy guitar tone and concrete bass guitar tone deserve a special mention. The digital artwork was rendered by Eddy de Putter (of Dutch technical thrashers Mindlink). Additionally high quality music videos were shot for ‘Falling Down’ and ‘Song For An Idiot’ to give the album the required marketing push. No expenses were spared to make the album the best it would be, as there also was a limited run special edition 6 panel digipack, with 16-page booklet and 2 bonustracks. In terms of presentation La-Ventura is among the more professionally-minded of their ilk.

The album was released independently in physical and digital format in 2013. “White Crow” was licensed to British label imprint Ravenheart Music for UK/Ireland. German label Valkyrie Rising re-released the album for the Germanophonic territories in 2014. La-Ventura proves that the Dutch symfo metal scene is as potent as ever, even though it apex was clearly during the second half of the 1990s. “White Crow” is a testament to the fact that symfo metal bands can do far more than write thinly-veiled saccharine pop songs. The album is a good deal heavier, technical and ambitious than the average record in the genre. In many ways “White Crow” is reminiscent of the classic Dutch genre record “Mandylion”, the 1995 breakthrough record of former death/doom metal outfit The Gathering, in the sense that it is catchy, heavy and adventurous without losing sight of its symfo metal sensibilities. It also makes no qualms about its frontwoman Carla, who is respected for her vocal abilities first – that she’s attractive is a bonus. In conclusion, La-Ventura combine the best elements of the symfo – and technical metal styles without doing concessions to either. “White Crow” is indeed a rare record.

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On its independently released debut album Category VI, Newfoundland’s only female-fronted traditional metal combo, are on the verge of unlocking their blooming potential as a veritable creative force. Built upon the foundation of electrifying traditional metal with a dash of rugged thrash – and technical chops “Fireborn” oozes with old school charm, and proves conclusively that female vocals can be an asset when used properly. Even though it hardly reinvents its genre of choice, its proclitivity towards genre purity and traditionalism make it a record worth hearing. There’s definitely room for improvement on a few minor issues, but overall it is one of the more promising debuts. On the basis of the independently released “Fireborn” and its tireless DIY promotion campaign Category VI recently signed with German label imprint Killer Metal Records.

Category-VI-promo-photo-1While Canada has always been a good provider of extreme metal, it is the country’s underground that outshines its established and more mainstream brands. From the once-relevant Kataklysm, the everchanging Neuraxis to the notoriously inconsistent Cryptopsy to name a few of the most established outfits, the Great White North has a pedigree in all branches of metal. A fairly new addition to the traditional metal pantheon is St. Johns, Newfoundland-based Category VI. Like the phoenix amongst the flames on its cover, Category VI rises among the crop of forgettable retro metal acts as a signpost of hope in a genre that is now rapidly becoming saturated by mediocrity and shortsighted hero-worship. “Fireborn” is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stale growing traditional metal scene.  Along with Crucifliction and Ironstorm they are among the most conceptually realized of the current crop of retro metal acts in the region.

According to the bio on the band’s website they are the only traditional metal and female-fronted outfit of the city. The band is fronted by auburn haired songstress Amanda Marie Gosse (vocals), although the true creative force is guitarist Geoff Waye who co-wrote all the material with valuable input from the rest of the band. All the bass guitar parts were written and recorded by Tristan Adey, who Keith Jackman (who appears in all the promo shots, and subsequent music videos) went on to replace post-recording.

Gosse has a considerable range, and sings with as much power as the late Ronnie James Dio, and Bruce Dickinson. Especially her higher register wails are the best she has in her arsenal. There’s a prominent place for the bass guitar in both the music and the production, and the funky licks add a lot of character to the rather typical sounding riffs and chord progressions. Category VI is at its best when it steps out of the expected traditional metal conventions, and truly shows where its passion lies. Most of the album remains in a steady midpace with occassional faster and slower tempos to keep the songs dynamically varied. It would be interesting to hear Category VI tackle faster material, especially since “Fireborn” doesn’t contain a ‘Run To the Hills’ to speak of. It’s fairly obvious that UK stalwarts Iron Maiden (especially the 80s output up to and including “Powerslave”) is the main influence, although the band will occassionally venture into more adventurous and technical territory. The throbbing bass guitar licks excellently play off the well-realized guitar riffs and solos. One can only hope to Category VI will expand on this in future recordings because this is where its strenghts lie.

The songs deal with a variety of subjects. ‘Vinland’ is about the discovery of Canada by Leif Erikson as told in the Icelandic Sagas. ‘The Raven’ and ‘Fireborn’ are about determination, self-reliance and overcoming strife and adversity. ‘Real Lies’ and ‘Silence Befalls the Crowd’ are about questioning authority and the influence of the media. Some of the longer songs tend to plod on without much of a payoff. While the band clearly grasp the traditional and NWOBHM concept, a good deal of the songs lack that spark to truly set them apart from the many competitors in this field. That defect is thankfully complemented by the strong atmospheric – and technical sections that occur through out many of the songs. All three tracks of the “Vinland” EP from 2011 were re-recorded for this session making it a complete package. While there are no weak songs to speak of, the record does seem to miss a signature song or two, as each of the songs is strong – but none of them really stand out in any meaningful way. The closest to signature tracks are possibly ‘The Raven’ and ‘Reborn’ as the former is the most dynamical song on the album, and the latter the most aggressive. ‘Reborn’ was also the subject of a promotional video clip which the band used to further promote the album post-release, as was ‘Silence Befalls the Crowd’ in a much later stage of the album’s promotional cycle. A case could be made for ‘Descent Of the King’ as a stand out track but it arrives near the end of the album.

“Fireborn” was engineered and mixed by Rick Hollett. The drums were recorded at Stagehouse Recording in St. Phillips, while the vocals were laid down at Redhouse Recording in St. Johns. The elaborate cover painting was rendered by Jeremy Smeaton. One can only hope that Category VI continues to hone its organically sounding production on the next record, and maybe commission a painting by Andreas Marschall, Jean Pascal Fournier, or Jowita Kamińska. There’s a definite potential for greatness here as Category VI eschews the genre’s usual tenets for bombast and cheesiness. The record by no means reinvents the traditional metal genre, but within the strict perimeters it sets for itself it is a wonderful genre exercise. It is also completely bereft of any pretentiousness, or delusions of grandeur. Unlike the Hammerfalls and Rhapsodys of this world the band doesn’t lose itself in pompousness and excess. Sidestepping that obvious rake there’s a blue-collar appeal about the record that a lot of the established and professional bands in this genre have lost over time. Only time will tell whether Category VI will be able to live up to the promise they are on the verge of unlocking here…