Written by Xavier Cattarinich
Where Do I Begin?
If Ghosts Were Men
From The Ashes
Dead Ashore We Lay (Bonus Track)
AT DAWN'S EDGE IS:
Tamara Filipovic - Vocals
Alexandru Oprea - Guitars
Matt Ozzy - Guitars
Release Date: September 30, 2017 Label: Unsigned
At Dawn’s Edge - Harbingers of symphonic groove and the next breakthrough in Canadian metal? A review of their debut album, Through Glass Eyes
"Where Do I Begin?" asks the subdued echoes of a solitary bass on the opening track, tentatively reaching out from the void before being joined and eventually replaced completely by a guitar playing a reassuring lullaby. Spirits entwine momentarily in the twilight. The melody changes, now guided by playful percussion. There is a hint of winter in the air. Of innocence and fleeting happiness, but also of something missing, something suppressed. But no, let’s not lash out just yet as we spin round in the falling snow, reflecting pensively on memories past, memories imagined. As we are drawn into the implicit promise of a journey that will be seductive and mysterious, full of beauty and fear and intensity.
The flood building up at the conclusion of that brief yet sublime instrumental intro explodes into the crushing wall of guitars that kicks off the next song, "If Ghosts Were Men." The hook is in, At Dawn’s Edge have my attention.
"Ghosts" sets the tone for the rest of the album, showcasing the band’s mastery of composition as it transitions effortlessly between monster riffs, tempo changes and mesmerizing hook-laden melodies. Enhanced by subtle symphonic arrangements, the song has an epic quality that calls to mind the sound of Leaves’ Eyes. True to their progressive influences, At Dawn’s Edge eschew the conventional verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure, keeping the listener guessing as to where they will be taking things next while maintaining flow and thematic consistency.
Throughout "Ghosts", lead singer Tamara Filipovic alternates between wispy ethereal vocals, haunting harmonies and earthier tones. She even launches herself boldly into a strained and distorted wail over the lumbering grooves laid down by guitarists Alexandru Oprea and Matt Ozzy, a vocal experiment that stands out on the album, and which may or may not appeal to some listeners. The muted electronic transition between "Ghosts" and the third track on the album, "Sightless", is the proverbial icing on the cake.
"Sightless", "Venus’s Rapture", "Dangerous Excuses" and "From The Ashes" are probably the most heavily groove-driven numbers on Through Glass Eyes. The orchestral arrangements and electronic effects featured in all three songs are varied and tasteful. "Dangerous Excuses" concludes with a particularly soulful solo that begins over a melancholic string section and then dovetails into a muscular, yet fading outro dominated by rapid fire double-kick drum. Most impressive.
The instrumental "Cálida Brisa"--warm breeze, in Spanish—raises the curtain on what I consider the album’s second act.
"Cálida Brisa" sets the stage for the next piece, the genre-bending "Amorina", a duet between Filipovic and guest vocalist Chris McConnell that combines Flamenco arrangements with a metal underbelly. I must confess that I’m usually not a big fan of trumpets, accordions, rhythmic hand clapping, or even vocal duets for that matter, but man do those elements ever come together on "Amorina". Although Latin influences certainly are not unknown to metal, I’ve never heard flamenco incorporated in such a focused way on a metal album. The duet works, even though McConnell sounds a tad nasally and choppy for my taste. Toward the end of the song, this light, yet tragic romance takes a darker turn as chunky guitars take over and plunge the listener in a downward spiral toward the bullet train of the next track, "Nightmare Reality." “Don’t be scared, this will be one hell of a ride,” cries Filipovic. Indeed.
From "Nightmare" on through "Utter" and the album’s first single, "Evil Flamingo", the music acquires a somewhat futuristic horror vibe thanks to the more prominent, mood-enhancing electronic passages in those songs. The transition is, again, seamless, with Mediterranean influences deftly infiltrating guitar licks, solos and synth layers. Trust me, it works.
"Evil Flamingo"’s sinister synth intro evokes the Halloween theme and yanks the listener into a dizzying, seductively somber dance through shadow and flame, propelled ever faster by a muscular, full-on melodic speed assault that veers into motivated tempo and rhythmic shifts. "Flamingo" is without a doubt the climax of Through Glass Eyes, and I say climax because it feels as if every song on the album has built relentlessly toward this darkly majestic moment. Filipovic’s gripping melodies guide the listener on an emotional journey from despair through hypnotic trance, toward hope and deliverance, supported by an uplifting guitar solo three quarters in. "Flamingo" has motion picture theme written all over it.
Instead, it concludes with a bonus track, "Dead Ashore We Lay". For such an otherwise inspired album to close with an extended Viking-themed epilogue feels a little bit unimaginative and out of place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent song, but well-trodden territory. Ending on a more original Mediterranean tone arguably would have made for a stronger finish.
All things considered, Through Glass Eyes is a mind-blowing debut. The multi-layered production is slick and beefy without being overproduced, the compositions are complex, atmospheric, and dynamic, and the musicianship and orchestral/electronic arrangements are top-notch. As a female-fronted symphonic metal band, At Dawn’s Edge will likely find themselves compared to Leaves’ Eyes, Epica, Evanescence and others in the genre, but the fusion of symphonic prog metal with heavy grooves, electronic layers, world/flamenco influences and Tamara Filipovic’s haunting voice give them a distinctive sound. They apply their orchestral and electronic arrangements in a manner that largely enhances rather than detracts from their work, and resist the temptation to emphasize their considerable technical prowess at the expense of song and emotion, which is more than one can say for many better known symphonic and prog metal bands. If At Dawn’s Edge keep releasing material of similarly high calibre, it might not be long until Canada—and the rest of the world—take notice.
Highs: "Where Do I Begin?", "If Ghosts Were Men", "Cálida Brisa", "Amorina", "Evil Flamingo", "Forgotten Isle".
Lows: "Dead Ashore We Lay" (not a bad song, but unoriginal and a bit out of place when compared to the others. Sometimes, “bonus tracks” are best left off).
Final rating: 8.5/10