May 18, 2008

CD Review: Gardenian - Soulburner

Gardenian is a melodic death metal act hailing from Sweden. They are a band that displays considerable talent on this, their second album, but their career quickly burned out following a third release in 2000. Their career began with the 1997 release Two Feet Stand on Listenable Records. Based on the strength of that debut, the quartet found themselves on the larger metal label Nuclear Blast, where they would release their subsequent two records.

This is the first time I had ever heard of Gardenian, and find their name does not give me the sense that they were a metal band. I did a quick search and could not find an explanation for the name, but I suspect it is derived from Gardenian Tradition, witchcraft based on the teaching of Gerald Gardener. Gardener was an Englishman who wrote texts on Wiccan practices and witchcraft. He seems to be an interesting character, whether or not he was indeed the inspiration for the band's name is unclear, but it seems like a logical assumption.

All names aside, the album is a mixed bag. Nothing is outright bad, quite the opposite; most of the album is quite strong. The problem is that, while the music is good and easy to get into, not much of it stood out to me. I feel as if I have heard it before. Perhaps I have. Gardenian is from Gothenburg, where a distinct death metal sound was born, dubbed, creatively enough, the Gothenburg Sound. The sound is typified by the combination of dual melodies with brutal heaviness, or at least that is the way I have taken it. The bands In Flames, At the Gates, Dissection, and Dark Tranquility are other examples of the sound.

Soulburner has plenty of melody and brutality to spare throughout the forty-seven minute runtime. Odd as it is, the songs that stand out and help elevate the album as a whole, are the ones that feature guest vocalist Eric Hawk. Hawk, of the band Artch, provides all of the clean vocals heard throughout the album. Originally, Gardenian vocalist Jim Kjell had planned on providing the clean vocals, but when he found he was unable to do a suitable job, requiring the enlistment of outside help. I must admit that the choice of Hawk (whom I had also never heard before) was a brilliant one. His unique sound, while not great, perfectly blends into the song structure and plays well with Kjell's growl.

Gardenian is far from the first band to experiment with the combining clean and growled vocals, but the effort here sounds fresh. The standout tracks really benefit from their use. Of course, the rest of the album is solid, and if you like the blend of melody and brutality, and you don't know of Gardenian, you will definitely wish to become acquainted.

As for those songs to keep an eye on? You can start with the second track, "Powertool." There is a great epic feel to the song, featuring strong riffs, nice melodies, and fantastic interplay between Jim Kjell and Sabrina Khilstrand, providing the female vocals on the album. Next up is track five, "If Tomorrow's Gone," which dials down the brutality a bit and injects a much more emotional feel. Next may be the best song on the disk, "Small Electric Space." It continues the emotion-laden vocals, but brings more melodic brutality to the fore. Finally, be sure to give "Tell the World I'm Sorry" some play, it is a strong song featuring more clean vocals.

As for the rest of the album? "Ecstasy of Life" and the title track are pretty good cuts.

Bottomline. For a band with such a short lifespan, Gardenian has a lot of good tunes on here. They display strong songwriting ability as well as technical skill. Metal fans should take note of what appears here. You will not be disappointed.

This album has been reissued as a set packaged with their final album, Sindustries, by Metal Mind Productions.


Track list:
1. As A True King
2. Powertool
3. Deserted
4. Soulburner
5. If Tomorrow's Gone
6. Small Electric Space
7. Chaos In Flesh
8. Ecstasy of Life
9. Tell the World I'm Sorry
10. Loss
11. Black Days


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