Pythia – The Serpent’s Curse
aaamusic | On 25, Feb 2012
Okay, so I’ll admit that I am no one’s go-to woman for sleek, classical/operatic female-fronted power metal. Left to my own devices, I’d rather my speakers dripped a bit of boozy rust along with its distorted chords. This, by the way, is exactly what Pythia do not do. The rust, that is. Their sound is somewhat akin to a gothic castle after a good spring clean. Grandiose, expansive, and oddly clinical. That said, there are some belters on their second full-length, ‘The Serpent’s Curse’.
The opening track ‘Cry Of Our Nation’ is sadly offputting. Directionless and overlong, with disorientating choral vocals that sound like a national anthem for metalhead opera fans in a slightly trite manner. It’s technically impressive, but the bombast somehow swamps the work the band have put in, leaving it as a glossy yet flat track. Which is a shame, because as I have said, there are great moments on here. Even ‘Betray My Heart’ hits the ground running, a moody blend of Nightwish and power metal that soars on its immense keyboards and heavy riffs, the intense and operatic female vocals giving the whole thing its ultimate spark. This and ‘Just A Lie’ are excellent in their ability to form some heavy riffs and solos lifted from the nastier end of gothic metal in order to launch the poppier moments into the stratosphere, with ‘Just A Lie’ also featuring galloping rhythm guitars, blastbeats, and a brooding, genuinely powerful midsection to go with its no-holds-barred chorus. ‘Heartless’ is one of the most purely metal tracks on here, albeit one where the angst gets a bit too drawn-out for the searing high-speed music. Unfortunately, this big metal sound backfires on ‘Long Live The King’ in much the same way it does on the opener. It’s again flawless in terms of musicianship, but in their pursuit of the expansive and immense, the track sounds too overprocessed and subsequently flat, the passion of the music being made just that bit too slick.
The band are able to switch around their sound too – ‘Dark Star’ is at the gothier end of the spectrum, with a quieter yet more turbulent sound that melts the blistering distortion of the guitars into the background until the solos, allowing the atmospheric keyboards and phenomenal vocals to shine through, which suits the narrative nature of the song. ‘The Circle’ is another good one: there’s elements of Celtic metal here in the melodies and a great sense of the band managing to reconcile their studio production perfectionism with their sense of passionate storytelling and musical power, but all in an oddly understated way, unleashing their stormy soundscapes at the moment of greatest impact, with a great ¾ time instrumental giving the song a barbed grace, and follow-up track ‘My Perfect Enemy’ manages to hybridise Pythia’s galloping operatic metal with a staccato tension and lyrical content almost recalling The Dresden Dolls’ first album. Or Victorian literature. The jury’s out.
In some respects, ‘The Serpent’s Curse’ is a victim of its own ambition: it wants to be a crystal-clear showcase of the band’s incredible technical ability and ear for a fully-fledged melody; elsewhere, it wants to be a pounding and blood-stirring experience. This uneasy balancing act is difficult at best and cripples what could be some strong numbers, but it’s exactly this drive that causes Pythia to win out in the end and create something that is patchy, yet smouldering with passion.