September 17, 2018 Dark Sarah – The Golden Moth (Album Review)
The Chronicles, the first trilogy from Finnish Cinematic Metal outfit Dark Sarah, comes to a sweeping close with The Golden Moth, set for release Friday, September 21st on Inner Wound Recordings.
Formed by Vocalist Heidi Parviainen in late 2012, in the wake of lineup shuffles within Amberian Dawn, the Dark Sarah project released two earlier pieces of the Chronicles landscape – 2015’s Behind the Black Veil and 2016’s The Puzzle. Set to return with The Golden Moth, the band lineup is largely the same, with Parviainen on vocals (under the guise of the titular Dark Sarah), Sami-Petri Salonen and Erkka Korhonen on guitar, Thomas Tunkkari on drums, and Rude Rothstén on bass. Additionally, joining the band full-time is Vocalist Juha-Pekka “JP” Leppäluoto, reprising his role of the Dragon from “Dance with the Dragon” on The Puzzle.
In the two earlier iterations, Dark Sarah emerged as a woman known simply as Sarah, left at the altar by her husband, only to find herself transformed into her evil, meaner half, Dark Sarah. Behind the Black Veil dealt with issues of duality as Sarah attempts to work with and choose between her two halves. The second story, The Puzzle, finds Sarah cast down to the underworld, on an island of banished souls. Forced to solve a riddle and acquire three keys, Sarah eventually solves the challenge and escapes.
The Golden Moth finds Sarah on a quest to reach the Upper World – a mythical island in the sky where the gods rule. The Dragon, voiced by Leppäluoto, has become a stowaway on this adventure, and the first few tracks feature vocal interplay between Dark Sarah and the Dragon as the pair test each other’s motivation, cunning, and loyalty. Taken as a whole, the music could fit alongside early Nightwish mixed with turn-of-the-millenium Dimmu Borgir. At the risk of being pedantic, the band’s self-assigned genre of ‘Cinematic Metal’ could be adjusted into something such as ‘Broadway Metal,’ as the voices, both sung and spoken, feel more like a musical than a film.
As such, the album begins with “Desert Rose,” a brisk, half-sung, half-spoken duet which lays the premise for the mystical vibe the listener should expect for the next hour. The Dragon noisily makes his presence known in this track. Then Dark Sarah takes notice of her secret traveling companion on “Trespasser.” Again, The Dragon makes himself known, and Sarah confronts him, wary of his motives. The pair begin to trust each other, despite their misgivings when the two last met on the previous album.
Important to note, the band filmed a video for “Trespasser” where Parviainen and Leppäluoto dance around each other, briefly battle, and then join forces, with Dragon summarizing, “there’s nowhere to run under the ardent sun / you need me like I need you.” While Dark Sarah has grown from a solo vehicle for Parviainen into a full-fledged band, the singer’s voice is still the focal point here, and on this track especially, the sound and tone simply towers over everything (and everyone) else.
Fittingly, “Wheel” is a rollicking track that easily indicates the movement, as our pair have decided to join forces. The guitar work here is especially impressive, particularly near the halfway point. “My Beautiful Enemy” then opens with a melody that sounds familiar, as if it were perhaps lifted from a movie franchise recently rebooted; the similarities are brief but nagging. Nevertheless, Sarah continues to ease her reticence to allow the Dragon to accompany her skyward: “against all odds, we’re here / two souls in despair / I’m going to trust in you / although I may be a fool.” The Dragon retorts on “I Once Had Wings,” explaining his bitter tale in a fun, almost jaunty fashion. He lost his wings as punishment for transgression, and, naturally, feels his punishment was unjust, singing, “one part of me died / when I couldn’t fly / and I left the sky.“
Moving ahead through “Pirates,” the pair trade playful dialogue as they board a nearby sky ship, headed for the heavens, destined for the island in the sky where the gods rule. Once the argument ends, the song explodes into what could be the best track on the album. Then, much like the earlier track “Wheel,” the sense of adventure – and departure – is baked into “Sky Sailing” from the beginning, as its kinetic rhythms make air travel easy to imagine. The trip continues and Sarah finds herself in awe of the altitude on “Wish,” on which a few more melodies are borrowed from Disney, or perhaps Oz, only to be quickly ruined by the Dragon again lamenting his present inability to fly.
It is later on “The Gods Speak” where two well-known guest voices appear. First we have the character of Iron Mask, voiced by Zuberoa Aznárez (taking a break from her usual gig in Diabolus in Musica), followed by White Beard, voiced by Marco Hietala (Nightwish). The pair take turns admonishing both Dark Sarah for daring to make the trip to the island in the sky, and also the Dragon for being foolish enough to help her. In a way, he repeats his previous sin, as he is told, “we burned your wings for a reason.“
On the title-track, Dark Sarah makes the odd decision to break the feeling of antiquated mystique and turns to some clear electronic sounds. The choral and orchestral vibes are still here, and solo vocals from Sarah fill most of the song anyway, but for a moment, the band has decided not to obscure them with fantasy dust. The Dragon appears only briefly, and Sarah laments his fate. Finally we are left with “The Gate of Time,” a spoken word piece from the departed Dragon, a song whose title recalls the final destination mentioned by Dark Sarah during her pleas to the gods.
Like its predecessors, The Golden Moth finds Dark Sarah, both band and figure, flying on a rich tapestry within a colorful fictional world. While there are a few kitschy moments that begin to tear at the mystique, overall the album keeps a tight hold on the listener through deep vocal talents, tight musicianship, and sweeping orchestration. While the accompanying artwork and music videos do well to further the illusion, the music itself sets a strong enough picture on its own. That is why CrypticRock gives The Golden Moth 4 out of 5 stars.