Bart M. : If there's one thing you can annoy me with its female fronted symphonic metal. Somehow a lot of those bands have sprung up over the last couple of years and there's obviously a demand for it because certain names keep coming up in social media. I often get the shivers when listening to this kind of music and it was with some skepticism that I started listening to Unshine's 'Astrala'.
The intro is predictable but therefore no less promising for what's to come, and what comes next doesn't disappoint at all! Especially at the third song, 'Jack's Feast', my sensors began shaking because suddenly I was hearing some lamenting doom-influences! Of course that's no guarantee for a good sound, but Unshine manages to bring it in a very good way. The somewhat standard songs ('Kainuun Kuningas' and 'Druids Are-A-Coming' for instance) are alternated by songs that I think are definitely above average in the genre. Closing anthem 'The Forest' is a perfect example for this. It reminded me strongly of Therion's 'The Siren Of The Woods', but in a solid, modern performance with some great guitar soloing at the end. The album is a very coherent whole on which songs are connected musically (meaning some songs begin with the melody the previous song ended with), and the one negative thing is that at the end of some of the songs there's a slightly too long silence, which kind of cancels out the fluidity that would otherwise be there.
The mistake most symphonic and folk bands make (in my opinion) is that all of a sudden every instrument but the synthesizer becomes part of the rhythm section. (In the previous sentence the word synthesizer can easily be replaced by violin, flute or accordion.) It's a lot better if those instruments play (literally and figuratively) a more modest role, and although from time to time the synth is pretty evident on this album, I think Unshine manages to create a very good balance. I am especially charmed by the guitarwork. Also, the vocals are not too resounding or opera-like and are overall at a level that can also be reached in a live setting, and quite pleasant to listen to.
'Astrala' may be slightly predictable from time to time, but it's definitely a very strong album. So, put on your robes, grab your staff, put your cat on your shoulders and enjoy this druid metal!