July 15, 2020 Dark Sarah – Grim (Album Review)
Dark Sarah, the brainchild of Vocalist Heidi Parviainen, returns with Grim on Friday, July 17, 2020.
Giving a brief look back, Parviainen formed the Dark Sarah project in late 2012, after some dramatic changes with her previous outfit Amberian Dawn. Her first three full-length albums eventually formed a close-knit trilogy, wrapped up as “The Chronicles, “2015’s Behind the Black Veil, 2016’s The Puzzle, and 2018’s The Golden Moth, all of which came through Inner Wound Recordings. For Grim, Dark Sarah’s first album with Napalm Records, the band lineup is largely the same, with Parviainen on vocals, Sami-Petri Salonen and Erkka Korhonen on guitar, Thomas Tunkkari on drums, and Rude Rothstén on bass. Juha-Pekka “JP” Leppäluoto, who was promoted to full-time member when reprising his role of the Dragon on The Golden Moth, makes a guest appearance here.
All these factors in place, Grim is a stark departure from earlier Dark Sarah records, but despite its title, Grim is anything but. Much like the immediate visions painted by the shadowy name of the project itself, Grim emotes emotions that never quite sink to zenith. Instead, the trials and tribulations of a new character, Luna, are brought to bear with “My Name is Luna,” the opening track, broadsided by lush electronic tweaks and smooth gallops, both of which drive most tracks of Grim. After spending the better part of her prior albums with numerous vocal accompaniment—the last two in particular—Parviainen has cleared the decks and walked the blank canvas on her own to fully appreciate the Luna character. Of course, there are still two guest appearances here, but overall, the pipes of Dark Sarah are left to climb the rafters on their own.
With “The Chosen One, “and,”My Name is Luna,” its introductory interlude, as well as “The Dark Throne,” the album opens and closes with tracks that could be shelved in the electronica bucket with ease. Even with the shift in instrumental and elemental properties, Grim is still a much more vocal-oriented record; the guitars and keyboards make their presence known as before, especially on leads and progressions on tracks like “Illuminate.” However, as the tracks reach their peaks, it is hard not to get lost most of all in the angelic notes laid down by Parviainen.
Moving along, tracks like “La Folie Verte” verge into Danny Elfman territory, keeping with the outfit’s self-imposed “Cinematic Metal” tag. Later, cursed visages of Black Metal drive tracks like “Mörk”; this one in particular features the traditional Heavy Metal voice of Jasse Jatala, a recent hometown contestant on a Finnish talent competition. Other songs managed to mix the familiar blast beats of Black Metal with the biting operatic work of Parviainen, glued together by futuristic keyboards that would make thirsty fans of The Kovenant pleased by the comparative nod.
The imagery surrounding the band has taken another sharp turn. Compared to the steampunk of The Golden Moth and its predecessors, Grim could very well be a warp through time, toward an almost cyberpunk realm. The lofty airships and fantastic beasts of recent albums are gone, replaced by stark white/black duality of costumes, the symbology of lunar modules, and a simpler, crisper presentation overall. This fresh coat of pain is brightened by the video for “Illuminate,” which shows Parviainen alternating between white and black outfits amidst her bandmates, who always pick the latter shade. The third video, for “All Ears!,” is a bit of a turn, as it instead features Parviainen dressed as a third-world dictator, addressing her troops, her fans, her countrymen, but the actual track backs up this approach.
Appearing halfway through the album, the featured guest appearance of JP Leppäluoto on “The Wolf and the Maiden” is perhaps the most obvious example of the growth since the last album. Whereas The Golden Moth was almost a spoken conversation between the two characters voiced by Parviainen and Leppäluoto, their work on “The Wolf and the Maiden” leaves that technique behind and mixes Electronic and Heavy Metal aspects. Closer “The Dark Throne” cements any remaining doubt, with crisp, haunting instrumentation underneath a biting solo vocal from Parviainen.
Everything about Grim is a reminder of the health of growth and change. The Chronicles trilogy was a fun escapade, and the band made each album count in telling the story of the jilted Sarah as she transitioned into her darker, more powerful self, Dark Sarah. Grim takes a different path, one perhaps rooted on solid ground and the sounds backing Parviainen on her new vocal journey have changed accordingly.
Grim offers a fresh path paved by familiar friends, and fans who enjoyed The Chronicles are likely to appreciate the refresh this new album offers. As such, Cryptic Rock gives the refocused Dark Sarah effort 4 out of 5 stars.