Kowai – Dissonance
Rating: 4.25 / 5
Are you a long-time fan of female-fronted metal? Do you who miss the music of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s, when Within Temptation, Nightwish, and Epica were first experimenting with the combination of symphonic metal with gothic undertones? Most newer bands have steered clear from this sound since then, probably to avoid drawing obvious comparisons. Kowai, however, embraces their genre’s history with open arms. The Dutch newcomers’ debut album, Dissonance, oozes with the wintry soundscapes and whimsical themes of their influences while leaving their own stamp on gothic symphonic metal.
Dissonance contains everything you’d expect to hear from a gothic symphonic metal band with a female singer: lush keyboards / synths, rhythmic guitars, haunting melodies, and semi-operatic vocals contrasted by occasional grunts. What sets Kowai apart is the varied, melancholy-toned guitarwork that hearkens Anathema’s Alternative 4 and Judgment days, and Laura van Nes’s range as a singer. She has a warmer, lower voice (maybe borderline alto / mezzo-soprano?) that taps into both power and a rare emotional depth, and reminds me more of Marjan Welman (Autumn) and Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering) than Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) or Simone Simons (Epica). Whether they intended so, Kowai wrote their music around Laura’s voice, selecting the right pitches and keys so she can use her voice naturally rather than strain for consistently high notes. Listen to “In Retrospect,” “The Promise,” or “Undisgraced,” and you’ll hear what I mean.
I really enjoy listening to Dissonance, so much that I often play the album again after reaching the end. And no, it doesn’t get boring! This album’s balanced, smoothly flowing mix of bombastic epics (“Yield,” “Ice Cold Sun”), uptempo forebodings (“Undisgraced,” “Man’s Downfall”), and musing ballads (“In Retrospect,” “Pride”) will satisfy just about any listener. My only critiques would be that a) Laura’s high notes sometimes sound weak, and b) the musical approach lacks originality. Then again, it’s damn near impossible for gothic symphonic metal bands to be original these days. Kowai do what they do extremely well, and that speaks volume for a band with only one album under their belt. If you like Within Temptation, Epica, Delain, Xandria, or Stream of Passion, I invite you to lose yourself in Kowai’s Dissonance. You won’t be disappointed!
Highlights: “In Retrospect,” “Yield,” “Undisgraced”
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Coming Soon: The next installment of Mini-Review Monday will feature Ideal Zero’s first full-length album In Perfect Darkness. Since I received the album only a couple days ago and need some more time to listen to it, I’m aiming to have the review online in 2 weeks (March 24th).