Album Review: The Puzzle

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While the symphonic and gothic metal scene is busy churning out formulaic material album after album, Dark Sarah heralds a new beginning in the realm of theatrical metal music with its synthesis of storytelling and grandiose musical compositions. The Finnish symphonic metal outfit, comprising of bassist Rude Rothstén, guitarists Erkka Korhonen and Sami Salonen, drummer Thomas Tunkkari and led by classically trained vocalist Heidi Parviainen has just released its sophomore album, The Puzzle. Bombastic orchestras, spellbinding melodies and powerful riffs flourish in this concept album revolving around themes of mystery, fantasy and adventure.

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As a direct sequel to the 2015 release “Behind the Black Veil,” the tale continues as Sarah’s alter ego, Dark Sarah awakes on a mysterious island. We get to journey with Dark Sarah as she endeavours to solve the eponymous puzzle in order to find a way out of the island, encountering a host of intriguing characters along the way. The album features Dutch symphonic metal singer Charlotte Wessels, fellow Finn JP Leppäluoto and German soprano Manuela Kraller (who also appeared on the previous album) as supporting characters to the story of “The Puzzle”. Where “Behind the Black Veil” focused on Sarah’s psychological developments and conveyed a general atmosphere of grief, anger and hope, “The Puzzle” takes on a magical and fairy-like tone, and is much more “happier-sounding” than its prequel. The band has also released a digital storybook complete with lovely images as an enhancement to the listening experience, which can be accessed here.

The Puzzle kicks off with “Breath,” a two-minute long track that acts as a precursor to “Island in the Mist.” Rapid riffing and thunderous drum beats ensue as Heidi’s mellifluous voice is introduced into the song, where it glides effortlessly into to a higher pitch as the music crescendos into a triumphant ambience. The pop-influenced “Little Men,” concocted with pulsating drums mingled with harmonious synths, is a catchy and upbeat tune that captures Dark Sarah’s awe and wonder at the sight of quirky little men. Continuing in its fantasy-esque vein, “For The Birds,” a charming yet heavy song opens with an euphonious flute solo, followed by Heidi’s dulcet voice as she portrays Dark Sarah pleading to the birds for help.

One of the album’s highlights, “Dance with the Dragon” is an excellent hybrid of the grandeur of opera and the crushing force of metal. JP Leppäluoto, who plays the Dragon, is as seductive as he is menacing with that deep, baritone voice of his. The tension deriving from the verbal exchange between Dark Sarah and the Dragon, Heidi’s gasp and JP’s diabolical laughter amidst heavy bass lines and rhythmic drum beats all add to the theatrical elements of the song. Up next, “Aquarium” is a tempestuous duet starring the Evil Siren Mermaid, portrayed by none other than Charlotte Wessels of Delain fame. Her versatility in handling both clean singing and harsh guttural vocals are showcased in this track. Unfortunately, the pacing of Charlotte’s parts seemed too speedy in comparison with the wording of the lyrics, resulting in a somewhat awkward atmosphere. Last but not least. the final track, “Rain” has Manuela Kraller reprising her role as Fate, as her warm, soothing vocals complement Heidi’s in this power ballad which provides closure to Dark Sarah’s adventures.

In spite of the minor flaws present, The Puzzle is still a solid album that packs a punch in terms of its rhapsodic compositions and star-studded cast of performers. Musically, it is neither a vast improvement nor a deterioration as compared to its predecessor Behind the Black Veil, for both albums shine in their own way. I personally can’t wait for the third album, where Heidi has hinted that she is currently developing ideas about it. What will happen of Sarah’s/Dark Sarah’s fate? Only time will tell.

By Chen May
Header Photo and Album Cover Source: Dark Sarah FB Page

I live for 90s alternative rock and sad Swedish power ballads.

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