Album: Letters to Myself
Label: Spinefarm Records
When one door closes, they say another opens, and that was true for Jake E. [ex-Amaranthe], Jesper Strömblad [ex-In Flames], Peter Iwers [ex-In Flames], and Alex Landenburg [ex-Rhapsody, ex-Annihilator]. This group of well-known artists have come together to create a band known as CyHra (‘sigh-rah’ for those of you who haven’t heard it pronounced out loud yet) after leaving their respective bands. They also recently announced a new member, who had helped out with some of their solos on the album: Euge Valovirta [ex-Shining].
I’m not sure about you guys, but I have been massively hyped about this band since I learned of their existence. I liked Amaranthe once upon a time, but on the release of Maximalism last year, I’ve pretty much given up hope that they’ll be good without Jake E. Meanwhile, In Flames hasn’t really been good for nearly 10 years, which incidentally coincides with the time when Jesper Strömblad was still a member. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. I have wanted this album, but more than that, I have had some really high hopes for it, needing it to be great so I can let go of those two bands who lost their ‘it’ value.
What is further interesting about this is the sound potential. I mean, let’s be real for a minute – Amaranthe and In Flames are pretty much on opposite ends of the ‘metal’ spectrum (if you can even call the former a metal band anymore). How will Jake E.’s polished and produced clean vocals work with the kickass riffing and heavy rhythms of the ex-In Flames guys? With power metal classic Alex Landenburg on board and hardcore heavy guitarist Euge Valovirta, that gap could be pretty effectively bridged.
Check out the first single on Spotify here:
The album opens with “Karma”, which I’ve become fairly familiar with by now, as it was released in the end of August. The song immediately feels like good old nostalgic In Flames, with riffing that is very clearly Strömblad’s. I actually got a big thrill on hearing it, knowing that sound could be back once more. The vocals come in and the contrast is pretty stark – you have the classic mid-era In Flames guitar song matched with a bit of an overly-produced, overly-clean sound. On the whole it actually doesn’t bother me, but it was a bit of a shock on the first few listens. I do think that the song would benefit from a bit less polish in the vocals – Jake could use a bit of grit in his voice to allow the sounds to blend together a bit more cohesively.
In the end, this does sound a bit like more of a mix of In Flames and Amaranthe than the album as a whole, and thus slightly misrepresents the album. However, I understand why they would include a song like this, and put it up front – this is to get fans of the band members’ old music excited for the album and ready for this new thing. In fact, this song is possibly the least original track on the album, and the rest of the music is far more unique.
“Heartrage” has a nice heavy intro with some good drum rolls, and a bit less polish in the vocals, so it’s already better than the single, and peaks with a nice, powerful chorus. The hints of pop are downtuned from “Karma” already, but Jake E.’s influence is still clearly there. “Here to Save You” starts slow but doesn’t hide its electronica, which acts as a backing sound rather than a ‘focal’ point, which I think works quite well. There are some progressions in there that sound familiar from some Amaranthe songs, though they’re in there so sparsely that it’s not bothersome.
“Muted Life” has a good feel to it and the layered vocals in the chorus combat the over-polished sound to even things out. I like the way Jake E. sort of whisper-sings in the verses as well. “Closure” has some classic Strömblad guitars and dark melodies, but with a modern and revitalized feeling. Again, this still isn’t In Flames and I mean that in a good way. The passionate chorus makes this feel like a fantastic song to raise some lighters to in a dark live setting – as far as ballads go, this is a definite winner.
The album turns up the heavy then with “Letter to Myself”, while “Dark Clarity” does a great job of blending disco rhythms with metal. As well, these songs have a lot of emotion packed into them, which comes across powerfully via the vocal strength of Jake E. A lyric sheet might have been nice for this album, as songs like “Holding Your Breath” have a lot of feel to them and I’d love to get into it more here, but I’d need to be certain of the lyrics. As well, the phantom was actually quite surprised that all of the vocals were done by Jake E., as he hits some impressively high notes.
“Black Wings” and “Inside a Lullaby” start the wind-down, with the former using the last of the high energy, and the latter as another ballad that blatantly shows off Jake E’s talent. Both ballads on the album are beautiful, but with the addition of some gorgeous piano, this one truly soars. The most risky and unusual song on the album is by far “Dead to Me”, which has a spoken-word part that sounds a bit like it belongs in a hip-hop song. It’s actually a pretty good song on the whole, though I’m still uncertain as to whether I like the spoken parts or if they distract from how good the rest of the song is.
For fans who are hoping to hear a blend of Amaranthe and In Flames and nothing more, I suspect you’ll be satisfied with this album. However, if you hold these guys to a higher standard and hope to get something that has the feel of both In Flames and Amaranthe, yet is its own unique sound with an entirely different vibe from either predecessors, then you will, I think, be quite happy with this band. CyHra has the emotional charge of bands like Linkin Park with the musical maturity of the best heavy Gothenburg metal, making this a fantastic debut. A lot of music gets ruined by bands who want to write tunes but have nothing to say, or the bands might have something to say but not the musical originality to back it up. Cyhra has both aplenty. The album on the whole is very diverse, with upbeat tracks interspersed with milder pacing and beautiful ballads. I’d definitely recommend giving it a listen.
Rating: 9/10, 5 stars
3. Here to Save You
4. Muted Life
6. Letter to Myself
7. Dark Clarity
8. Holding Your Breath
9. Rescue Ride
10. Black Wings
11. Inside a Lullaby
12. Dead to Me