Exploration of the ominous from hard rock heroes – chained to a literary pillar yet free to roam.
Their return to the Frontiers Records’ fold may have set some boundaries for this British ensemble whose bombast has been on the wane lately, basically since the group emerged from a four-year hiatus in 2010, and their molten, if nuanced, heaviness came at a price, bright melody bearing the sacrificial cost of it and making “Gothica” careen to metal. Perhaps, that’s why deliberate pop edge of cuts such as “La Luna Dra-cu-la?” feels forced, but the overall murk of the ten tracks is inherent to the album’s theme of a well-defined distress which can hardly be surprising given the origin of a rock ‘n’ rolling “Jekyll And Hyde” and some other numbers. Finding inspiration in books was Gary Hughes’ habit from the start, so he shouldn’t be accused of trying to seize the “Game Of Thrones” moment, albeit an upbeat one, in “The Wild King Of Winter” yet in most aspects songs of “Gothica” belong to here and now.
The listener is transported into this time capsule with an a cappella lead-in to “The Grail” sparing no epic expenses to create a darkly arresting atmosphere and move from folk motif to a tight, coiled groove where riffs vie for a link with vocals, while the romantic core of the sci-fi-tinged “Travellers” unwinds to reveal the band’s tender underbelly – its exquisite texture powered by the septet’s hydra-like attack. But whereas orchestral moves which carry “Man For All Seasons” land on TEN-patented cliches, they’re comfortable in the tune’s deceptive familiarity, or continuity, and “Welcome To The Freak Show” has managed to marry glam to gloom and remain rooted in infectious big beat. Still, it’s on “Into Darkness” that different elements of the ensemble’s palette get mixed bringing the record’s cinematic layer to the fore: a rather needless endeavor able to ruin the mystique the music’s been forming, without losing any charm there was.
Not Gothic by any means, it’s alluring in a library kind of way, and no fan will walk out of there looking glum.