The Butcher's Ballroom

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5 juin 2008, 7h42m

A bizarre sextet originating from the depths of Sweden, Diablo Swing Orchestra (D:S:O) have quickly emerged as a force in and . With a semi-historical back-story in one hand, a cello clutched in the other and the courage to embrace ideas from genres as diverse as and in their hearts, this is one band that stands up and demands the world’s notice.
As D:S:O's debut album, The Butcher's Ballroom will be an extremely important factor in the development of the band and the gathering of their fanbase. It achieves both of these admirably – an extremely strong, if slightly unusual foundation has been formed for the style and future of the band. In the gathering of the fan base, it is evident that they have formed an almost fanatical cult following on Last.fm, their forums and Myspace. In fact, a fan on Last.fm led me to this band.

The first song on the album, the wonderfully and aptly titled "Balrog Boogie" is the groups main foray into swinging jazz style. It begins with a drum intro in the best swing improv style and the bass comes in with a delightfully bouncy line, followed by some extremely odd guttural vocals, which heavily contrast with Annlouice Loegdlund's Latin lines. The song continues in this wild style, careering along through style changes and allowing each member of the band to demonstrate his or her skills. One of the finest tracks on the album, it uses the concept of jazz improvisation used by legends like Miles Davis and adapts it to metal, making what can only be described as D:S:O.

The final notes – and giggles – of the boogie fade into the gothic styled "Heroines", which makes heavy use of Loegdlund's vocals – amongst the best they will appear on this album – over staccato guitar and bass rhythms and swelling electronic sustains. Possibly the least 'alternative' song on the album, this one will probably get the most airplay, and it once again an example of D:S:O taking a genre, this time /metal, and making it their own with unique vocals, an awesome cello solo and just fantastic song composition.

"Poetic Pitbull Revelations", the next song on the eclectic mix, takes us on a trip to Spain. Foot-tapping trumpeted flamenco themes and acoustic guitars, along with crickets and percussion, fill out a detailed and atmospheric sound-scape, and Loegdlund's vocals and the cello and bass sound serve to make it even more epic. Probably my favourite song of the album, this one really captures D:S:O's talents as a band and as individuals. We also first hear the male singer, Daniel Håkansson, demonstrating his great versatility on the verses of this track.

The tolling of church bells calls you to the fourth track, "Ragdoll Physics", followed by a burst of static-y electronics. A burst of drums, guitars and bass, then the melodramatic vocals, again, in Latin. Håkansson sings again on this song, and really demonstrates the contrasts between his voice and Loegdlund's. In many ways, D:S:O subverts the "Beauty And The Beast" style that most bands with a male and female singer fall into – Loegdlund is the Beast and Håkansson is the Beauty. The song fades to black.

"D'angelo" is an atmospheric ballad of acoustic guitar and soaring – somewhat overdramatic but nonetheless well done – soprano. There's not a lot to it, as it serves mostly as an interlude to lead into the next song: "Velvet Embracer". There's no other way to say it – it kicks arse. Guitar, drums and bass jump out of nowhere, building to an enormous crescendo of metal riffs and operatic vocals, in a way that's similar to Nightwish, but on crack. Suddenly, it's gone, and all that remains is a mournful cello solo. Suddenly, the palm-muting and cymbal clashes are back. I've changed my mind – this is my favourite song from the album.

Another interlude piece, "Gunpowder Chant" oozes menace, with a synthesised didgeridoo line serving as a base for acoustic guitars and drums to dance around and over, building to a slow climax, with the cello and electric guitar and bass jumping in, but still maintaining the feel. Suddenly, and once again seemingly out of nowhere, the tension is lost in a techno-like fade and mix. Then it's gone and a more traditional sound returns. Insofar as a D:S:O song can be typical, "Infralove" is – not that that's a bad thing.

A sudden pause, and then the opening riff of "Wedding March For a Bullet" jumps around your ears, closely trailed by the patented D:S:O "Epic Crescendo©". Loegdlund shows off a bit more breadth in her vocal talents throughout this song, leaving behind the melodramatic opera style for a more rock-y and heart-felt sound, which I think is preferable. The riffs in this piece are particularly good, and the ending rates a special mention as a great performance by Loegdlund.

The keyboardist, Pontus Mantefors, leaps to the fore in "Qualms Of Conscience", the third and final interlude piece, with a well-constructed piano solo, which mixes various musical themes and genres to build and then fade into the guitar riffs and slightly eerie keyboard sounds of "Zodiac Virtues". Håkansson sings once more on this song, alternating parts with Loegdlund in a similar way to "Ragdoll Physics". The songs also features a well-constructed bass and synth bridge that allows for a rare breather in the CD. Håkansson deserves a second mention – his voice in this song is extremely impressive. Actually, the whole song is.

"Porcelain Judas", the second last song, begins in a similar way to many of the others – with a heavily palm muted and distorted guitar line, but continues differently. The band plays with Arabian flavours in the vocal and melody lines, as well as unusual voice filters in parts of Loegdlund's lyrics. Another well-crafted and variegated piece, messing with mixing and instrumentation more than anything. It features a particularly cool, complex and well-built guitar solo, showing that Håkansson and the others aren't just good at arranging.

The final song, "Pink Noise Waltz", begins with the beating of a heart and a show of cello solidarity, which interacts with a more metal-based riff to create something truly beautiful. Håkansson's mournful – in a good way – vocal performance is consistently great, and Loegdlund appears to avoid some of her more dramatically annoying aspects. The cello plays perhaps the largest role on this song, constantly dancing throughout, though every band member gets their little chance to show off their skills in riffs and solos, particularly the keyboardist. A fantastic ending to a fantastic album, "Pink Noise Waltz" seems to combine all the varying aspects of the album into one shredding song, finally fading out into a slightly bemusing ending of light guitar and bouncing drums.

The album's course is a wild and twisted 50 minute journey, breaking genre and convention barriers the whole distance. Despite this, however, each song never feels disconnected from the others, each flow into the next with no major breaks, and the shared themes and very distinctive aspects of the band mean that it all carries through as one album from a unified band. Annlouice Loegdlund delivers flying soprano vocals that float above the mix, which I'm not certain I like particularly, but are certainly atmospheric and distinctive.

Daniel Håkansson and Pontus Mantefors provide the majority of the sound with well arranged guitars, keyboards and effects, and Daniel also adds his brilliant voice on various song. Andy Johansson and Andreas Halvardsson give depth and drive to the music with excellent bass and drum work, respectively. The bass is particularly fine, and you can hear it in solos well above the mix at many times. The final member of the band, Johannes Bergion, plays the cello that is such an important part of D:S:O's distinct sound and puts the final touches onto the tone of each piece.


My third review for www.ozprog.com

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