(2017) Ember Falls: Welcome to Ember Falls

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Artist: Ember Falls
Album: Welcome to Ember Falls
Release: 17.02.2017
Label: Spinefarm/Universal Music

 

It’s no secret that I’ve been a huge fan of Ember Falls ever since I learned of their existence in 2016, nor that my first opportunity to chat with them and hear them play live at South Park did nothing to diminish my enthusiasm towards them and their hopefully bright career. Ember Falls was one of our most-followed live bands of 2016 and for myself and Lene, we both agreed that they should take Most Potential in our 2016 review. Their long-awaited debut album is finally about to be released in a mere 2 weeks, and my anticipation to find out if the album will live up to its first single (“Shut Down with Me”) is about as high as it gets.

So, with no further ado, let’s get into it!

01. The Cost of Doing Business
“Slowly see the tragedy / Us clueless monkeys lost at sea…”
The album starts off in a beautifully aggressive way with “The Cost of Doing Business”, which you should have already heard by now. A long note followed by a loud growl of “well fuck!” by Kalle “Calu” Laakso is the first thing to be heard and what follows is a high-energy hit song with incredible vocals and a worthy message that hints at a distaste for big businesses taking advantage of the earth and leading it to ruin. I’m always a sucker for a positive environmental message, so my initial thought was, “Hell yeah, this album is going to be great!” Tuomas “Thomas Grove” Välimaa‘s voice is the perfect blend of gritty and melodic, and the growls/guitars provided by Calu and guitars by his brother, Jussi “Jay V” Laakso, add enough heavy to make this song an instant favorite for me. It has a wicked beat that makes me want to pump the hell out of my fist, even in my living room. It’s got everything I like in a song. Off to a great start!

02. Falling Rain
“I am bleeding my dreams away / Like a fire in falling rain…”
Score two for this album already. The electro bits and drums in the beginning are as catchy as can be, and the vocal melody is solid and just gritty enough. It’s followed by a second verse that is growled by Calu in its entirety. This is one of the songs that gets most easily stuck in my head; “I am bleeding my dreams away” is one of my favorite lines on the album (Blade Runner, anyone?), in a very singalong-able chorus. This song is the perfect blend of heavy and catchy, with enough metal riffing and soloing from Jay V to satisfy my need of wicked guitars. Though it’s hard for me to pick, this could be my favorite track on the album (excluding “SDwM”).

03. Of Letting Go
“I know that time is a cold and cruel playwright…”
An electronic intro, with “let go with me tonight” naturally introduces “Of Letting Go.” Have I mentioned how much I like the blend of what reminds me of 90s dance music (has the dance genre changed all that much in the last 20 years?) with heavy music? There are some poppy breaks and the chorus is pretty chill in this one. The piano lines from Mikko “OneOfHaze” McMenamin in particular stand out in this track, and they didn’t skimp on the solos either – it starts so relaxed and then just soars while Calu screams in the background, builds it up masterfully (nice pacing, says the phantom), and then ends on a high point! Jussi “Ace” Saurio is worthy of mention as well at this point, as the drums are incredibly tight and don’t fall victim to lazy rhythms or poppy sounds at any point.

04. The Enemy You Need
“Never let your flame burn / Never let your bad blood flow…”
A strong electronic bit introduces this track, with some deep vocals to follow. Grove gets to show off his diversity in the stylings of the bridge in this one as well, with some quick parts that I had trouble describing (the phantom called it “late 90s/early 2000s poppy”), but are definitely fun in a way that makes you fondly remember the songs that many metalheads hate admitting they liked before they discovered metal. Even if that part is pretty poppy, the chorus turns back towards metal with some heavy drumming, and then the song goes into some proper shreddage by Jay V. This song has the effect of sounding like so many tiny bits of other things that I can’t trace any of them back to their origin, mainly in the melodic lines and vocals, and even a bit in the song’s progression. Either way, we’ve got yet another really fun song!

05. Freedom
“I’ll take you far where the sirens sing…”
Right at the time you need a little rest from the higher-energy songs, the album graces us with its one and only ballad. I was originally of the opinion that this was yet another romantic song, until I read the lyrics and promptly had my mind blown, as it seems that this is more of a love song written to the earth – lines like “I won’t let the heat consume” and “there is nothing without you” make so much more sense in this context!

The song itself was familiar from their live shows, and the “whoa-oh-oh” part has already proved to be perfect for putting phones and lighters in the air to wave back and forth. What really pleases me about this song (other than its phenomenal lyrics) is the dynamics – prior to the solo, the song remains quite peaceful (the marching army-esque drums are cool!), and then the solo brings a new level of life to the song, and while it’s a rather short solo, the whole song is lifted up by it, and interestingly, it never really ends – rather, the vocals are added on top of the guitars, which linger until the very end. Grove’s vocals absolutely soar, and the backing female vocals harmonize to make it quite beautiful on the whole. At this point, the phantom mentioned as well that the bass is mysteriously quiet in the mix – Olli “Oswald” Heino is doing his work as he should – for example, the bass lines right in the beginning of this track are fantastic – but it is awfully quiet, which is a true shame. Minus points to the mixer (Jacob Hansen) for skimping on the bass in the mix.

06. COE
“The hour is late for a bloodless way out…”
Will we ever find out what “COE” stands for? This was the second single, and the first to feature a lyric video prior to “The Cost of Doing Business.” I confess that this song took a few spins when it was first released before I was totally convinced. I’ve been a big fan of this song live and was sure it would be the next single, but somehow the album version didn’t grasp me right off the bat. I believe that this was simply because “Shut Down with Me” set the bar so high for this band that nothing could touch it immediately. However, at this point, nothing has proved to be worse than “SDwM” either, so take that as you will. I really liked Aqua back in the 90s and for whatever reason – it’s not like this sounds anything like Aqua – but this song gives me the same sort of happy goofy smile that Aqua gives me. Maybe there’s some more late 90s/early 2000s pop influence in here as well? Either way, strong beat, catchy music, great lyrics… the standard still holds!

07. Rising Tide
“Cold, we’re naked and torn / We are spinning in the eye of the storm…”
Most songs on this album have an electronic intro – normally I might get bored of that but the sound is unique and interesting enough each time that I really enjoy it, with no exception here. The song has a blend of good energy and a kind of chill beat, and the intro vocals are immediately reminiscent of HIM, likely due to the depth of Grove’s vocals more than anything (though I think this is far better than anything HIM has done in ages, if not ever). I dig the chorus in this one, which has a nice level of passion, and this is another song that shows off Grove’s skill, as it stretches from deep all the way to some pretty high notes in the chorus. The progression of the music and vocals builds up nicely in the second verse, making the second round of the chorus even more explosive. There’s yet another nice solo, and the song ends sharply on a nice high note.

08. Open Your Eyes (ft. Niko Moilanen)
“My greatest enemy turned out to be my own ego…”
“Open Your Eyes” proved to be quite a pleasant surprise. Thanks to Instagram, I knew that Niko Moilanen of Blind Channel must have a guest appearance on the album, but I confess that I had forgotten all about it. So when I heard a familiar voice rapping on this track, I was immediately delighted to hear the product of a collaboration of which I had no immediate recollection. Moilanen takes care of the majority in the vocals in the verses, and the song has an immediate Meteora-era Linkin Park vibe (which I am okay with) as a result. Grove still sings in the (very catchy and powerful) chorus, so he hasn’t taken a full back seat. I’d love to see this live with Moilanen as a guest – they’ve already done “SDwM” with Blind Channel’s Joel Hokka at South Park 2016, so dare I to dream? There’s another interesting message lyrically here, great dynamics, and again, it’s so very, very catchy!

09. One More Time
“I lie to underline / What you are doing to me…”
The guitar-heavy intro in this one is slightly deceiving, as this is one of the least heavy songs on the album. If you’re less into the metal side of the band and more into the electronic side, this may be an immediate favorite. The verses have a bit of a disco/dance beat, with a faster dance beat in the chorus. The electronic bits in this one are particularly strong and it has hardly any growling. The main heavy element present is Grove’s gritty vocals, which are near-constant throughout and save the song from becoming overly poppy. There is a wicked industrial-style solo/breakdown that made me think ‘heavy dubstep’ (though I confess that I don’t honestly know what the definition of ‘dubstep’ is… this is just the sort of sound I associate with it). It does start to signal that the album is winding down though…

10. Shut Down with Me
“We are the resistance / A wrench thrown in the system / We are the sound of spirit / To kill the machine, kill the machine, shut it down!”
Ah, the song that made me fall in love with this band, and in an interesting late slot on the album no less! I don’t know if I’ve ever truly expressed my love of this song at length before. For starters, I discovered this song properly in first-quarter 2016 and have been listening to it pretty constantly the rest of the year and I am still not sick of it, and that says a lot. I am notorious for loving a song and listening to it so much that I never want to hear it again. It also has pretty much everything a song needs – a solid rhythm, catchy tune, great lyrics, skillful solo, wicked and thought-provoking music video… you can’t ask for anything else. The only thing is, if you compare the album version to the video version, the mix is clearly better in the video. It’s a bit heavier and there’s clearly more depth to it. I’m going to put the fault again into the mixer on this one. The weirdest thing though, is that unless I am mistaken, Hansen also did the mix for the video…

11. The Lamb Lies Down in Sacrifice
“So let me rise beyond the paralyzed / A world of lies / I’ll burn your made-up paradise…”
The album’s closer is one of the most diverse songs musically, with a sort of 90s video game sounding electro-heavy part in the beginning (for my fellow geeks, it brings to mind the Final Fantasy IX soundtrack, fourth disc), which immediately switches to a screamy thrash part with Calu on vocals. Then it changes again when Grove’s vocals start and it gets… jazzy? The chorus is catchy as hell though, with one of my favorite lines on the album: “Take a bullet like a gentleman / Your god just might be on your side”; I love the mental image that instills! As well, the blasting double-kick drums in the chorus get me pretty hyped up. The solo again goes in the thrashy direction, with the electronic shot before the solo in perfect position, and the guitars trade off nicely. More bands should mix poppy sounds with thrash… I might might start liking both genres more! There’s a full-on jazzy breakdown just afterwards that’s works shockingly well – I would love to see a steampunk music video to this song! This could be considered the “Deja FU” of this album, as it’s a surprising blend of genres that you wouldn’t think would work, but it totally does! The song, and album as a result, ends very abruptly, but on a definite high note.

 

So did the long-anticipated album live up to its hype? Well first of all, the musicianship on the album is incredible. If you like your heavy metal with guitar solos, you’ll not be disappointed here. Calu and Jay V do wonders for the genre with their well-written and nicely paced rhythms (and Jay V’s solos) – it’s not just guitar wankery either; it’s quite stylishly done. As well, Grove’s vocals are delightful. His deep notes are graceful and he adds grit into the sound exactly where it is needed throughout. The rhythm section is what keeps the album from falling too far into the pop zones as well, though I think Oswald’s bass was sadly underwhelming in the mix throughout. And as I’ve already said, with music like this, the drums can make or break the overall sound, and to Ace’s credit, the drums are fantastic and never sink into that repetitive ‘basic beat’ pop drumming that plagues so much music. The album may run the risk, with some people, of being too catchy and getting old fast, especially if you play it a lot, but I’ve been listening to it at least once daily on average for the last month and I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, so hopefully others can say the same.

I’m not a big technical buff and might not have noticed it personally, but the phantom pointed out the biggest flaw in the album, which is – as you may have guessed – the mix. All of the songs are great, but it feels as though the mix is completely centered around the vocals. When Grove is singing, the song is “on,” and when it’s just the music, everything sort of takes a step back. Also the bass is just too quiet throughout. Contrast this to the mix in the “SDwM” music video, which focuses slightly more on the heavy and gives the song the depth it requires. On the plus side, this does mean that the live translation of the songs tends to lean toward the heavy side with the electronic parts in the background, thus meaning that these songs have the potential to sound even better on stage. I won’t dock any points for mix, since I might not have noticed it personally (thanks, phantom, gees), but if I was a more objective writer, it could’ve cost them at least half a point. The thing is, just because the mix is suboptimal doesn’t make it a bad album by any means… just the contrast between the two versions of “SDwM” highlights how much better the album could have sounded if the mix had been better.

Still, 2017’s off to a good start if the first album I’ve heard gets a full score! If you are in Tampere, or have the ability to be there tomorrow (February 1st, 2017), I heartily recommend that you go to the advanced listening party of this album and hear it for yourself! Details can be found HERE!

Final score: 10/10, 5 stars.

Tracklist:
1. The Cost of Doing Business
2. Falling Rain
3. Of Letting Go
4. The Enemy You Need
5. Freedom
6. COE
7. Rising Tide
8. Open Your Eyes (ft. Niko Moilanen)
9. One More Time
10. Shut Down with Me
11. The Lamb Lies Down in Sacrifice

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