Dark Sarah returns with another symphonic/cinematic metal horror fantasy concept album filled with lush orchestral arrangements supported by a metal backing that highlight the beauty of Heidi Parviainen’s vocals.
As is quickly obvious, even to those unfamiliar with Amberian Dawn, Heidi is a classically trained singer with a phenomenal voice and the genre cinematic metal is one that could almost have been created for her. After parting with Amberian Dawn in 2012, Heidi started her solo career and Dark Sarah became the name of the project. In the first of the concept albums, Dark Sarah describes the journey of a young woman left at the altar who goes the edge of a breakdown only to have something inside her wake up and she changes into a darker reflection of herself, Dark Sarah. The album Behind the Black Veil takes you inside the mind of Sarah as she struggles with her two personalities. The album itself was crowdfunded in three parts, and several videos have been produced and released. Following the release of that album, Dark Sarah went on to release The Puzzle in 2016, which continued the story of Dark Sarah from Behind the Black Veil and then in 2018 The Golden Moth, the third part of the Dark Sarah saga was released. In Grim, Dark Sarah as band begins a new story with new characters again in a concept albums setting. This time we hear the story of Luna, who has to journey through a mythical world facing dangers along the way.
Fittingly, the album starts with “My Name is Luna” which introduces us to the hero character in the story. The song starts out with some atmospheric keyboards and sound effects of wolves howling before Heidi’s vocals come in smooth and quietly building in a style not unlike 80s pop songs and that continues into “The Chosen One” until the metal riffs start. Instantly the drums and guitars make their presence felt and while the verses are somewhat quiet and restrained, Thomas Tunkkari’s drums punctuate the silence and carry the song until the guitars come in for the chorus sections where Heidi’s vocals switch to operatic showcasing her vocal range and ability to shift styles completely. Production quality and mixing is understandably great once again, highlighting Heidi’s vocals while not losing the power metal feel in the songs when present. Obviously keyboards do play a large role in the overall sound, but the strength of the drums keeps the metal firmly in the mix until the guitars can come in to emphasize that.
“Illuminate” brings a stronger sense of melody and near pop sensibilities with the guitars playing a stronger role in the overall sound almost as if they were warming up for “Melancholia”, a much darker song overall and one in the story where Luna learns of her fate. Throughout the track the layered vocals add a haunting feel to the song and the break in the last part of the song just before the guitar solo has the feel of something you’d hear in a Broadway play.
“Iceheart” is largely a ballad showcasing Heidi’s vocals with some keyboard backing and for a bit it seems as if “La Folie Verte” will follow in those same steps as the song starts out with a very theatrical feel but does bring in the rest of the band and actually highlights some bass guitar work from Rude Rosthsten. Again the vocals are epic in the song, especially in the chorus, which is made even more powerful by the careful attention to the arrangement.
“The Wolf and the Maiden” features JP Leppäluoto (ex-Charon) making a guest appearance on this album as the wolf and the interplay and some of the song structure itself almost makes it a homage to The Phantom of the Opera with Christine and the Phantom. Those familiar with other Dark Sarah albums will recognize JP Leppäluoto as the voice of the Dragon.
The overall energy on the album continues to build into “The Hex” which sounds very much like a standard power metal song until the vocals begin, where the guitars go away for much of the verse sections and then return for one of the catchiest choruses on the album. As we near the end of the story, the tone gets darker as the tension builds and our hero Luna prepares for a final confrontation, a feeling that is conveyed very well in “All Ears!” and helped along by the bass guitar work of Rude Rothsten once again. Eventually we get to the final showdown with the villain in “Mörk” featuring Jasse Jatala as Mörk, a vocalist who reached 2nd place in The Voice of Finland according to Encyclopedia Metallum. As one might expect, Heidi’s smooth, ethereal vocals and those of the epic chorus contrast greatly with the gruff, raspy shouted ones of Jasse in a song that has everything from metal guitar solos to airy orchestral sections to a seemingly out of place piano bridge.
Dark Sarah show in Grim that the band is simply not finished and likely has many more stories to tell. From a listener perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in the beautiful vocals of Heidi Parviainen, but stopping there neglects the talent in songwriting and composition that goes into ambitious concept albums like this as well as the strong musicianship evident throughout the work. The overall package is similar to that of a stage play where the strong performances become larger when in context of the whole work.
Written by John Jackson
1. My Name Is Luna
2. The Chosen One
6. La Folie Verte
7. The Wolf and the Maiden (Feat. JP Leppäluoto as Wolf)
8. The Hex
9. All Ears!
10. The Devil’s Peak
11. Mörk (Feat. Jasse Jatala as Mörk)
12. The Dark Throne
Heidi Parviainen – Vocals
Erkka Korhonen – Guitar
Sami Salonen – Guitar
Rude Rothstén – Bass
Thomas Tunkkari – Drums
Release Date: 17th July 2020
Record Label: Napalm Records
Video for ‘All Ears’
Live video for ‘Melancholia’
Live video for ‘Iceheart’
Live video for ‘Aquarium’