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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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Dreamgrave was formed in Szeged, Hungary in 2007 by Dömötör Gyimesi (vocals, guitar). After releasing the “Deadborn Dreams” demo in 2009 the line-up disintegrated leaving founding member Gyimesi to rebuild the band. “Presentiment” is the recording debut of the new line-up. Consistent of quality in terms of songwriting, production, and presentation “Presentiment” is a very promising start for the band, and hopefully the record will be able to forward and advance its rising profile in the global metal industry.

10660178_684124731714657_5033204933636122755_nOn its independently released debut album “Presentiment” the Hungarians play an elegant, versatile and highly atmospheric mix of symfo metal, progressive rock and circumstantial death metal elements with alternating harsh male and soothing female vocals. The album title is a portmanteau of ‘present’ and ‘sentiment’. There is an unmistakable ethereal quality to Dreamgrave’s music which can be attributed to the writing duo’s willingness to look beyond the confines of the limiting framework of its metal architecture, and to abandon it in order to reach its desired sound and direction. “Presentiment” is at its strongest when Dreamgrave forgoes its metal aspect entirely. Especially when it thoroughly explores the interaction between Dömötör Gyimesi’s expressive clean vocals and Mária Molnár’s emotive chants within an atmospheric, non metallic context that emphasizes the considerable strengths of each singer.

The instrumental opening ‘Ethereal Eternity’ sets the tone for the record as it is anything but typical for the genre, and would feel more at home on a movie soundtrack. The prominent bass licks, psychedelic organs and serene guitar playing recall Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) rather than any metal guitarist, whereas the progressive sections are reminiscent of prime era Symphony X. ‘Black Spiral’ is a fairly typical symfo death metal track until towards the end of the 3 minute mark wherein the band explores its psychedelic side with a bluesy, almost weeping guitar solo that could have been written by Mark Knopfler. ‘Memento Mori’ ramps up the progressive elements, but its organs could have been culled from a The Doors album.

‘Presentiment’ starts off serenely in the tradition of any of the David Gilmour fronted Pink Floyd albums. For the first time Mária Molnár takes the lead vocally, and the results are expectedly stellar. Gyimesi’s grunted vocals also make their return but they are somewhat lost (if not entirely unnecessary) in between the fiery solo’ing and drumming. It are however bass guitarist Gergő Drahota, and Molnár that push the cut to its climax. ‘Presentiment (part II)’ is a romantic and introspective soul song without any metal elements to speak of. It sounds like something you’d hear on a serene lounge record. Mária Molnár sells the song with her emotional vocals. The soulful nature of the song emphasizes her golden pipes. When and if Molnár ever gets the chance to branch out as a solo artist the classical, lounge/soul/jazz – or darkwave direction is one she should consider exploring as they are the ideal musical context for her angelic vocals. Most of the songs from the album clock over 6 minutes with ‘Presentiment’ and ‘It’s Ubiquitous’ surpassing the 8 minute mark. Only ‘Presentiment (part II)’ is of standard length.

14718_684124725047991_5155450348660971226_nIn its current form the band is co-fronted by the delightful Mária Molnár, who graduated in classical and oratorium singing, and alternates beautifully with the harsh grunts of guitarist Dömötör Gyimesi. The grunts of Dömötör Gyimesi are reminiscent of former Shape Of Despair frontmen Tony Mäensivu and Pasi Antero Koskinen. The vocals are shared equally between Gyimesi and Molnár, although Dreamgrave is at its strongest when Molnár takes the forefront. The first half of the record is far more metal oriented than the second. The latter half is far more introspective, atmospheric and based around the interaction between clean male vocals and Molnár’s chants. Given the prominence of the organs, keyboards and energetic guitar work it should come as no surprise that all songs were by Dömötör Gyimesi and János Mayer. Likewise is Gergő Drahota’s pumping bass guitar integral to many of these very dynamic cuts. Jenő Miklós Godó changes styles fluently alternating seamlessly between death -, technical - and symphonic metal techniques. His flexibility as a drummer is the beating hart of Dreamgrave’s music.

“Presentiment” was recorded, mixed and mastered at Black Hole Sound in Szeged, Hungary with Gábor Vári producing. The production work is phenomenal in its pristineness with sumptuous deep tones and a palatial amount of depth and texture. The bass guitar tone is both incredibly clean and concrete sounding. The rhythm – and lead guitar are crunchy, whereas the keyboards and organs sound full bodied without ever pushing out any of the other instruments in the mix. Likewise is the vocal production impressive in its clarity, and given the intricacy of the music Vári did an amazing effort in distributing all instruments and the various vocals so evenly in the mix. The album cover was rendered by Norbert Fekete, and the digipack comes with an ornately designed booklet including reproductions of the artwork, lyrics, and production notes.

Considering the consistent quality in songwriting, production, and presentation it’s unfortunate that Dreamgrave was relegated to releasing its debut independently. It seems the band is holding its own without the promotional support of a label, although it makes one wonder what a force Dreamgrave could be if they have a dedicated partner behind them. Unafraid to venture into more tranquil and serene genres Dreamgrave puts little importance on categorization, and integrates whatever gets the intended point across best. Not bound by metal conventions and trappings but also blessed with a pair of versatile singers it would be foolish of them to remain within the metal realm exclusively. There is simply too much talent in its current lineup to stay within such a narrow musical perimeter. Hopefully we’ll see Dreamgrave expand its sound further.