Monday, June 4, 2018

Album Review: Trillium - Tectonic

If you've been following melodic metal for the last decade, you know who Amanda Somerville is. Between her guest appearances on numerous albums, her role as Tobias Sammet's live sidekick on Avantasia tours, and her collaborative albums with Michael Kiske, she has been seemingly everywhere. Even if you don't think you know her, you do. That makes it a bit odd that in all that time, she has only one metal album to her own name. Trillium's first album, "Alloy", was a darkly beautiful album that fused melody and drama, and served as a showcase for Amanda's standout vocals. Seven years after that album, and after much life got in the way, Trillium is back (with a slightly altered name) to continue reminding us of Amanda's underrated talents.

There are a lot of women in metal today (a great thing to see), and a large number of them have classical training. But even among that group, Amanda is unique, and doesn't sound much like any of them. That could make her a bit more of an acquired taste, but I for one have long been a fan of her less fragile delivery.

This time around, Amanda and Sander Gommans give us an album of dark, dramatic, heavy melodic metal that sounds exactly like Trillium. When "Stand Up" introduces some orchestral decorations, there's a natural echo of last year's album from The Dark Element, but with enough of a twist to make sure this is no copy of anyone else. By the power and charisma of her voice alone, nothing Amanda does can sound like anything but her.

Then there are the two singles you might have heard already, "Time To Shine" and "Shards", which hit the sweet spot of having enough metallic heft in the riffs, while still boasting big, muscular melodies that give ample room for Amanda's vocal power to shine. Pardon the pun.

And we get "Full Speed Ahead", which charges forward with a thick, deep riff that is heavier than what you would expect from a melodic album. At many points on the album, during verses, the album's sound is ethereal, like a fog slowly creeping over a lake under the glow of a full moon. It's beautiful, but in that way that makes your hair stand on end. You can't look away, but you know something might be lurking just beyond the scope of your vision.

Over the course of the album, the pair delivers music that is almost a musical theater version of where melodic metal is today. There's enough heightened drama, and skyscraper moments, to make the comparison work. Yes, Broadway would never dream of being so heavy, but the writing is not without similarities. There's a long history of this, going all the way back to Jim Steinman turning his stage musical into "Bat Out Of Hell". Great music needs to make a connection with the listener, and mining drama is one way to gather the fairy dust needed to sprinkle over a set of songs.

The only downside to this album is it lacks that one giant song that demands to be remembered as a classic, the way Amanda's duet with Jorn, "Scream It", did on the first Trillium album. But reaching that height is a rarity for anyone, so it's by no means a demerit that song still stands above all else.

"Tectonic" took a long time to be brought to life, but the wait was worth it. Seven years ago I was hugely fond of "Alloy", and while this album is a different beast entirely, it makes the same case for Trillium's importance. Amanda Somerville has a different perspective on melodic metal, and being able to see the same thing from different angles is a vital skill. "Tectonic" isn't just an album of striking and haunting songs, it shifts our understanding of what melodic metal can be ever so slightly. Having your eyes and ears opened is enlightening, and that can be even more important than music.

Don't sleep on Trillium.

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