Independent Release/Renaissance Records (Distribution)

Review by Mortuai

One troubling aspect of musical genres these days is the ‘me too’ factor – the tendancy of a band or group of bands to become the de facto ‘standards’ for a genre and the tendancy for a great percentage of subsequent acts that come along to emulate those standards to the point of sounding like ripoffs. Fortunately enough, there are also groups who may be technically classified in the same genre as others but refuse to be pigeonholed into the so-called ‘standards’ – birds of a different feather who fly in the face of convention. One such group – in case you were wondering about the multiple avian references in the previous statement…is Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico’s El Cuervo de Poe (loosely translated, “The Raven of Poe”, referring no doubt to Edgar Allen Poe’s infamous tale). Originally founded in mid-2004, the band recorded and released an independent four-track demo in 2005 before expanding their lineup to include soprano vocalist Julia Gaos and violinist Jerrel Shaw. Following this membership upgrade, the band entered and won a Mexican national band contest and began work on what would become their debut album, “Vox Corvus – La voz del Cuervo” (or ‘The Voice Of The Raven’ in both Latin and Spanish). The album was originally published in June of 2007 as a Mexican-only independent release, but in early 2008, the group was signed to Renaissance Records, who have made the band’s music available to a much wider audience. As could well be expected given the band’s moniker, album title, and apparently all-black wardrobe, El Cuervo de Poe are most definitely gothic metal but their sound is at least relatively unique – very much unhindered by any sort of ‘me too’ factor – and amazingly enough, this is not entirely due to the female vocalist, though she certainly does play an important part in their overall effectiveness. Rather, it is the sheer variety of musical influences that can be heard within the contents of this single disc – straightforward sludgy gothic metal riffs, classical violin and piano passages, a few flamenco-guitar bits, occasional moments of tasty lead guitar shredding, circus music (no, seriously…circus music), and traditional Latin American dance rhythms that make this release truly interesting. One issue I should probably bring up before continuing is my major problem with the album in general, namely the squashed tone of the distorted rhythm guitar – most often, it sounds flat and overcompressed, which is a shame because the rest of the instruments and vocals are generally full and rich, though the drums also sound a bit hollow in places. It’s a shame but considering how many things the band does right, it’s not something which is going to completely ruin the listening experience. About the only other problem I have with the music is leadoff track “El Circo” (“The Circus”) which tends to not so much flow rhythmically as lurch along, especially near the end of the track, where it seems particularly unbalanced. Perhaps that was the intent, but it doesn’t work nearly so well for me as the rest of the album. The vocals are superbly done all the way through, however. All of the lyrics are in Spanish, so I had to do some translation in order to figure out what was going on, for the most part, the lyrics deal with the standard gothic subjects of confusion about purpose in life, loneliness, and detachment, but there are some notable and interesting exceptions. Julia‘s voice is a clear soprano and in addition to singing some lovely melodies, she certainly hits some impressive high notes here and there but is also able on various tracks to tone it down to a more melodic midrange when the need calls for it. One convention of gothic metal does find its way on here in two spots, namely the ‘beauty and the beast’ concept, as guest deathgrowler Jorge Garcia contributes tradeoff gutteral roars in “Claroscuro” and an extended death-howl on the otherwise melodic “Mascaras” that is almost amusing due to the fact it shifts in tone to match the melody being played simultaneously by the violin. While the other pieces all range from good (“Tormenta”) to excellent (“Puertas Voladoras”), two other tracks are the true surprises on the album, and those suprises really help the work as a whole to stand out among the crowd. One is “Tango”, which, as the title implies, is indeed a traditional tango played metal-style with Julia’s vocals turning downright seductively sultry as she teases the listener with enticingly-spoken passionate lyrics. The real killer of this album, though, is without any shade of doubt the bizarre cut “Paredes Blancas”, which translates to “White Walls”. The white walls in question are fairly clearly the padded walls of an asylum patient’s room, and even without benefit of translation, the effect is conveyed incredibly well. The song starts out with violin scratches and squeals which sound eerily like swinging, squeaking chains, but disturbing as that is, it is nothing compared to the effect when Julia enters a few moments later with a series of skin-shivering high screams that collapse back into psychotic-sounding laughter before she explodes into a rapid-fire maniacal sputter of words which sound very much as though they were culled from the head of a raving lunatic, you don’t need to understand what she’s saying to get the impression it’s not exactly sane. Near the end of the track, she continues to sound more and more unhinged, going so far as to start madly screaming the same word over and over again in increasing desperation. It’s been said there’s a fine line between insanity and genius I’m not sure which side this track really falls on, but it’s impressive regardless for its sheer ability to unnerve the listener if nothing else. “Vox Corvus – La voz del Cuervo” may not be perfect, no, and is probably not for every listener, but it is certainly interesting and evocative. While nothing else will stick in your head quite like “Paredes Blancas”, the album definitely grabs your attention while you’re listening and pulls you along for an enjoyable ride.

Rating – 80/100

 

Tracklist

  1. Intro
  2. El Circo
  3. Puertas Voladoras
  4. Paredes Blancas
  5. Angelus
  6. Tango
  7. ¿Quien te dijo que no tienes enemigos?
  8. Claroscuro 
  9. Mascaras
  10. Tormenta
  11. Teatro Ambulante

 

Line Up

  • Julia Gaos – Vocals
  • Vicente Marquez – Guitars
  • Gustavo de Alba – Guitar
  • Jerrel Shaw – Violin
  • David Martinez – Bass 
  • Oscar Muro – Drums  

 

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