Carrying on the tradition of melancholic and dark metal with nods towards death and doom metal which was established by former death-doom bands in the 1990s, Italian metallers Ecnephias explore deeper than before the universe of gothic metal on their third album Inferno.
Gone are most references to death metal, with the exception of the use of growled vocals (which are accompanied by a raspier more rock-oriented style of singing as well as a more pompous type of chanting), and Ecnephias have opted for a very melodic and, at times, epic style of gothic metal which draws more on traditional metal and hard rock than death metal. Most of the tracks are kept at midtempo, and much of the riffage is akin to classic heavy metal riffage with a couple of heavier and doomier passages every now and then as well as some more mellow clean-guitared passages that are reminiscent of the melancholic alternative rock of the 90s.
There are three major sources of the melodic feel of this album. First of all, the band make heavy use of melodic guitar leads - and they use the guitar melodies to great effect. Most of them are catchy and memorable, and quite melancholic. Secondly, synths appear throughout the album, performing both ambient background layers and lead melodies (various synth effects are used, but the most striking one is the plain piano sound). Thirdly, while there isn't much melodicism to the growls, Ecnephias make use of the two more melodic styles of singing in many of the choruses, which is a strategically smart move, because it ensures that there are memorable chorus lines that you can sing along to and remember (the choruses of 'In My Black Church' and 'Chiesa Nera' have an almost Depeche Mode-esque feel to them, while 'A Stealthy Hand of an occult Ghost' features a very catchy chorus, whose melody combines the sensitivity of The Police with the appeal of Iron Maiden). It is the use of melodic guitar leads, by the way, that earns the album the last 0.5 star that brings the final score up to 4 starts (I'm a sucker for melodic guitar leads, you see).
At times, the music becomes a bit cheesy and pompous, but I think that this is an integrated feature of this genre of music. also, the level of cheesiness never becomes too much. It is there and it serves to contribute to the overall sound the way it should. Lyrically, Ecnephias combine English-language lyrics with Italian-language lyrics (and some Latin, too, I think) and the way that the different phonetic qualities of these languages contribute to the overall sound of the album is interesting. For instance, for some reason the Italian-language lyrics kind of cancel out the cheese effect, while the English language lyrics go well together with the growls.
The production is crisp, polished and well-defined, but with this style of music, it has to be, as it allows you to enjoy all the details and appreciate how the different instruments contribute to melodic harmonies and so on.
Hugely melodic, powerfully melancholic, and massively expressive Inferno is a fine piece of gothic metal, and fans of Crematory and late 90s Paradise Lost should definitely check it out.
2. A Satana
3. A Stealthy Hand of an Occult Ghost
4. Buried in the Dark Abyss
5. Fiercer than any Fear
6. Voices of Dead Souls
7. Secret Ways
8. In my Black Church
10. Chiesa Nera (bonus track)