It is hard for me to be discreet about my not so secret affinity for female fronted metal bands. But still, loving them like I do, I often get very disappointed.
Thankfully not this time.
Kowai’s début album, Dissonance, is a good example of modern gothic-metal, dark riffs, melancholic imagery, bombastic symphonies, evil grunts and a sweet, beautifully colored voice.
Kowai is a Dutch gothic metal band founded in 2006 by two guitar players, heavily influenced by old school gothic, doom and symphonic Dutch metal bands such as Within Temptation (mostly their old doomish era as in “The Dance”) and After Forever. The current line-up consist on six musicians which last names, I’m afraid, my hispanic accent won’t allow me to pronounce but thankfully I just have to write down. Fronted by Laura van Nes (vocals), along with founders Bertran Zwijnenburg (grunts and guitar) and Arjen Bosma (guitar), drummer Joost Lobbes, bassist Rik Beerthuizen and Ruben Marrenga (keyboard). Being Dissonance a self-release, and most important, a debut album by a kind of obscure band, it is nice to see big names such as Joost van den Broek (Epica, Stream of Passion, ReVamp and Nemesea) and Jeffrey Revet (Stream of Passion/Milkmark) producing it. but having the aegis of these two caesars I personally expected something better on the production side.
And I know I sound like an evil witch saying that, I would never say I’m a connoisseur, but with the copious amounts of symphonic and gothic metal I’ve heard in my life, I may have developed a somewhat trained ear. The production is not bad, obviously, most of the time I have nothing to say, but there are certain things, as the drums, that are not fully up to the rest and sound, at times, kind of odd, some certain passages that sound empty, some things that just don’t match properly. This is why I have some mixed feelings and a bitter-sweet flavor in my mouth. That said I’ll go straight to talk about music and songwriting, because if it was just for the songwriting, this album would be in my top 30, gothic category.
At this point I should assure myself of not start comparing from the beginning and try to face this kind of releases as a new thing instead of Epica’s and Nightwish clones. Kowai made it easy though, because while Dissonance keeps affable forms that sound somewhat familiar (because it keeps the same structures of every gothic metal album out there), they have an identity that excites me. The whole album song-writing is much more solid than I would expect from a début. Insert claps here.
Every track is radio friendly, but there are certain songs that are my favorites simply because I like the guys use their different influences, an example, if you are here for gothic metal I believe In Retrospect will surely please your taste, the chorus inevitably reminds me the sound of the new Tristania album (that is somewhat the old Tristania with Mariangela Demurtas), but with the single difference that Laura has a more operatic voice. You remember I said that gothic metal bands often dissapoint me? It is because all these copies of Tarja that never get to touch my heart, they may have great technique here and there, but when it comes to emotion I feel nothing. Well, Laura, this beautiful young woman, has has what it takes to reach hearts, as she allows herself to FEEL while she sings, and makes of every song a pleasant experience. But what I really like about her is that she’s not over using the operatic style all the time and knows how and when to be more dynamic. Her voice is sweetly colored, a blend of a young Sharon den Adel and an energetic Charlotte Wessels.
Fallen Behind goes for a more pop oriented sound with guitar riffs ala Epica, a very catchy verse and a piano melody on the chorus that sounds a lot like sir Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish). Pride starts as a beautiful ballad atmospheric and melancholic, and in the middle of the song things get heavy and the song becomes a proper power ballad. But in the heaviness field, I’d say Man’s Downfall explores more deeply the symphonic and heavy metal roots of the band, where Bertran shows proudly his grunts (reminding me an After Forever era I terribly miss), and Laura’s voice sounding so similar to Sharon Den Adel that is scary. Undisgraced brings the doomish sound I was waiting for, slow drums and raw guitars with some of that specific orchestration I like around the verses, Ice Cold Sun keeps on that line and gives an end to Kowai’s surprisingly good début album.
As a composer, I understand that making music involves much more than writing notes on a musical staff, and that is hard to describe that feeling you got when you go completely blind to a new project, entrusting the soul and somehow the life to your own good ear and ardent heart. I personally like the way Kowai doesn’t keeps a song in the same straight and boring line and combines the dark heavy riffs and the intense atmospheric keyboards with almost a cappella apparitions of the singer, solos and mini-solos, which are not all totally fantastic but are much appreciated.
For delectation of Within Temptation, Sirenia, Stream Of Passion, Leaves’ Eyes, Tristania, Delain fans, this is something you should totally check out. I know I am looking forward to the next release where hopefully the drums will sound 100% real and heavy, and maybe even Laura will dare to go further, because I know she has much more to give.