Column: The Path to Paradise Begins In Hell – Symphonic Metal

The Path to Paradise Begins In Hell

Last month, I discussed the three albums that led me on the way to become a metalhead after I decided to find the heaviest matter of the universe. Those three albums became the springboard that would eventually lead me to the kind of music I would enjoy now as an adult. Because my subgenre of choice was symphonic metal for a good portion of my teenage years, it became a springboard of sorts into other genres that I would end up enjoying as well. However, before we get there, I decided to backtrack into this subgenre that I have revisited with caution since I stopped being involved in its fandom in 2014.

Fandom Years and Toxicity

As I explained, late 2009/early 2010 was when I fully became immersed into the subgenre after something in me clicked about classical music and metal going hand in hand as a good fusion. They were both dramatic, filled with discourse on who was the better composer or band, and where they fit as an extension of their movement/subgenre. As a late teenager, I found Tumblr after a friend bid me to join and I started a blog on the site. While looking for people to follow and things to discuss, I found that the metal community was thriving and symphonic metal had a particular, ever-growing fandom that accepted everyone and allowed us to talk about all of our favorite bands with abandon. If I remember correctly, the two biggest fandoms at the time were Nightwish and Epica, with a handful of spots for others that were niche communities. I became fully committed to it and started discussing the music and bands with abandon, becoming close to people and eventually watching as many of the important, big-name URLs began distancing and eventually moving away from fandom as a result of its toxicity.

What eventually made me leave the fandom altogether were two things that I remember vividly. The first happened in 2013, where pictures and videos of Simone Simmons came into the Epica tag during their Retrospect show. The first thing that everyone noticed, myself included, was that Simone looked plumper than usual. I initially dismissed it as unflattering camera angles and moved on to look at the rest of the posts on the tag. Things quickly went south as a lot of people on the tag called Simone fat and ugly, and started making fun of her for wearing make-up. I just remember sitting on my desk at home, staring openmouthed as these comments and posts rolled in. It later turned out that Simone had been pregnant at the time, and she was just starting to show. This made me take a step back and look at the fandom as an outsider looking in, allowing me to fully understand the implications of the opinions people had on a person. It soon became apparent that the commentary had reached Simone; however, this still didn’t stop people from continuing to make fun of her, and I stopped following the tag soon after.

However, what truly broke the camel’s back was Nightwish replacing their singer, Anette Olzon, with Floor Jansen. In early to mid-2012, Nightwish was still on tour promoting their most recent album at the time, Imaginaerum, and they had Kamelot as their support band, with singers Elize Ryd and Alissa White-Glutz in tow. After Anette fell ill in Colorado, she had asked for time to recover. However, this fell on deaf ears, and Nightwish continued that particular show with Elize and Alissa as the main singers. Of course, given Nightwish’s track record with their female singers – think of Tarja Turunen’s controversial dismissal in 2005, where no explanation was given at the time – I feared for whoever would take the mantle of lead singer and didn’t bow to Tuomas Holopainen’s vision of Nightwish. When Floor was announced as the singer about a year later, I was livid because I had a feeling she wouldn’t be able to use her full vocal potential.

Meanwhile, this announcement sparked a massive singer war in the fandom, with many applauding Floor taking the mantle, while, in the same breath, dismissing Anette as a poor singer. The smearing got so bad that people started bowing out and eventually left or deactivated their Tumblr accounts. I quietly left the fandom, fully retiring from the tags in early 2014. After that, I only listened to the bands that I still followed, but I eventually lost interest. The fandom had ruined my love for symphonic metal and I eventually moved into black metal in mid-2014 after its history and questionable academic background caught my attention.

Symphonic Metal Gateway Albums

For this edition, I decided to showcase other albums that were an important part of my listening experience back then before I stopped listening to symphonic metal for a period of time. I already mentioned Epica in the past, so they will not be on this list. I will also not mention Nightwish; after all, I still have a lot I want discuss about the band as a whole, but I will save that for another day.

Xandria - Salome The Seventh Veil

Xandria – Salome – The Seventh Veil (2007): Although Xandria remains the first band whose music created that Pandora station from long ago, I didn’t get to their albums until after I had gone through the gauntlet in symphonic metal. They were actually the last band whose discography I got to in late 2010. During this time, the band had lost their lead singer and had gone through numerous line-up changes over time. After listening to the band until I could no longer stand them, I decided to shelve them for another time. Even though I have enjoyed their last three releases (even mentioning their latest album as one of my top 10 albums of 2017), I actually enjoy their past records more. Granted, India and Kill the Sun are somewhat unmemorable, but Salome and Ravenheart are what truly made me love this band as a whole. Eventually, Salome won out as my favorite Xandria album, just because there was more eclecticism in the music and the thematic concepts behind the album. Given my musical background, this has been a surprise to absolutely no one.

Revamp - Wild Card

ReVamp – Wild Card (2013): Having encountered Floor since her work in the defunct band After Forever, I didn’t gain an appreciation for her as a singer until I discovered ReVamp in 2010. Apparently, following the end of After Forever, Floor had created a band called ReVamp and had put out an album in 2010. However, in 2011, Floor had announced that she was taking a break from music, as she had suffered a burnout. This gave me time to fully look into her vocal catalogue and see whether I would like parts of it. Because of her vocal versatility, I figured she would want to stay in ReVamp, where it allowed her musicianship to shine and allowed her to exercise control in what she wanted to do. Wild Card was an incredible album that fully showcased her talent and her charisma, and it showed just how good ReVamp was as a whole. Of course, as it came to pass, she joined Nightwish and ReVamp disbanded. In an ironic twist, despite Floor being an excellent singer, I actually consider Endless Forms Most Beautiful to be a highlight-reels album. According to a post I made regarding my own liveblogging session with Endless.

Granted, I love it when an album references its predecessor or it references a new sound that may become prominent in future works, but what I don’t understand is why they did that. Usually, a good album stands on its own due to its subject matter, and the references are few and made in passing. There were moments where all I could think of was “This is ripping from ‘Dark Chest of Wonders’ or another song from Oceanborn, Once, and Imaginaerum. [“] They could have also made use of Floor’s (now) vast vocal range, which could have worked out in their favor. […] Put it this way: this album is not very cohesive to begin with, and its failure to not take advantage of what it had was what made it fall short. (full post)

Needless to say, I feel vindicated and Floor deserves better.

Krypteria - All Beauty Must Die

Krypteria – All Beauty Must Die (2011): Although this band had a small following on Tumblr, what truly sold me on their music was their second album, Bloodangel’s Cry. Having listened to some of the major songs on Pandora, I was already familiar with Krypteria’s music prior to being involved in fandom. This led to look into their discography and I found myself really enjoying All Beauty Must Die. I can actually place this album at a moment in time – it was heavily played throughout my last semester of high school. There were a lot of things going on at the time – running my final theatre show, graduating, going to college – and this album helped ground me and keep me sane as the final days of high school played out. I played this album so much between this transition period that I eventually memorized and grew sick of it. I shelved it and didn’t touch until very recently. I felt I needed to talk about this album for two reasons: The first is that Krypteria was one of those bands that got overlooked in the “female-fronted genre” of metal music, as the market became saturated with numerous bands over the years. Their albums were excellent, if a bit formulaic, but they worked within this aesthetic that Nightwish had pioneered years prior. The second is that Krypteria was the first band that I encountered with a heavy religious background, as their music references a lot of choral, religious, and classical music that I haven’t heard in many bands (except Batushka, that is). Considering that Ji-In Cho, the singer of the band, had a degree in both music and theology, this made sense. Granted, the religious overtones weren’t overt, but it was there enough to make me think about religion in metal music.

And it came up eventually.

With that, we finish the second chapter into gateway albums! It was fun to go back and listen to all of this music that I fell in love with so many years ago, even when most of it is now bittersweet. It may have been years since I removed myself from symphonic metal as a whole, but I still proceed with caution when an album of that genre piques my interest.

Tune in next time as we go into the next chapter of this gateway album saga and find out just how much time I actually had on my hands when I am determined to do something.

Hasta la proxima!

– Hera

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