"They are indeed very unique, and the potential of this band is frighteningly real … in the days to come … there is no doubt in my mind there are greater sounds on the horizon."
– D. H. Pierce (Progressive Ears: October 5, 2003)
It's not very often I begin a review by quoting myself, but in reviewing this I wanted to take a cue from the CD's title and really write this as my "true self". Since writing that review, I have come to know Stella Tormanoff and Thorbjorn Englund rather well and they have become rather close friends of mine in the process. By being my "true self", I will certainly give my honest opinion of the release in the words that I write here. Being one's true self is one of the things that I personally believe in the most, and I am sure the both of them wouldn't want it any other way.
When I wrote those words about their debut CD Faithbringer, I could tell immediately there was something very unique and very special about this project. They certainly showed a lot of promise with that release. The main problem with that release was its production. The album had a very thin sound, and unfortunately didn't do the songs complete justice. Even with that, elements such as Stella unique vocal stylings and her highly original approach to her lyrics and Thobjorn's stellar musicianship and arrangements shown through much like the stars on the darkest of nights. In this review here, I want to examine the progression of Star Queen from Faithbringer to this present release Your True Self. Have the band progressed? Have they began to fulfill on the promise they showed the album before? I would certainly say yes, and in fact in my opinion exceeded it!
Thorbjorn and Stella appear to have completely taken the matters of this release completely into their own hands. Thorbjorn took over the producer's chores, and sonically there is a huge improvement over Faithbringer. The sounds of each individual instrument are very well defined, and also the sound throughout the CD has a much warmer and fuller sound. In addition to his production duties, Thorbjorn of course contributes some stellar guitar work. In addition to the speedy and fluent Malmsteen like neoclassical stylings he has displayed his past work, Thorbjorn also gets a much warmer tone from his Fender and also does some very impressive layered guitar sections. His arrangements throughout all of the songs are nothing less than fantastic, most notably in the song "Rainbow" (more on this song later in the review).
Stella in addition to writing the lyrics and music for Your True Self, also created the album's cover art. With a mask glowing in red on the front cover and various Photoshop creations within the booklet Stella shows yet another side of her artistic abilities and talent. Stella's vocal styling on this release seem to be more conservative then their more risky style she used at times throughout Faithbringer. She chooses this time to feature her deep rich voice in a more haunting kind of way. She does however utilize her risky approach in the song "Revelation Of Our Malice" where she whips her voice forward and back throughout the song effortlessly in a boomerang like effect. Her lyrics again as before never cease to amaze me with their depth and unique way of expressing her ideas. If one takes the first letter of each line in the song "Virginia And The Wizard", it spells out "The Mystical Force Of Dark Mind Force Of Freedom". This is just a small example of the seemingly endless pool of lyrical ideas within Stella's mind. Read deeply and perhaps the listener will solve the riddle of the queen…
Another positive about "Your True Self" is the addition of 2 very fine musicians in bassist Peter Uven and drummer Mats Holma. While there was stellar musicianship (from multinational sources) displayed on Faithbringer, the arrival of these 2 locals really does much to solidify Star Queen's sound. Peter Uven is a monstrous addition to the band, and brings another very unique element to the music of Star Queen by adding a 70's style bass playing which I can best describe as being somewhere between Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler and Uriah Heep's Gary Thain. This earthy and active style contrasts beautifully with Englund's neoclassical styling and goes a long way in giving Star Queen an even more unique style. Each band member plays an important role here, and it really pays off in giving Star Queen an even more original sound than before!
To the songs on this album, there are so many great tunes to choose from. When first putting this CD on, it really begins rather abruptly with "Exile" that just comes across as a song that attacks without warning. "Virginia And The Wizard" begins with an Arabian styling then goes into a slow and ominous rhythm that would make Ronnie James Dio proud. "Crystal Heart" features a nice funky pattern by Uven driving the tune. "Labyrinth Of Spleen" is simply gorgeous with Stella's haunting vocals gliding gracefully over Thorbjorn's classical guitars.
Once or twice in a band's career there is a possibility of them creating a song that realizes their potential. Star Queen achieves this in the song "Rainbow" which I have to admit completely took my breath away when I listened to it. It starts slowly with a very poignant section that builds and builds as it goes along. Uven lays down a very Geezer Butler like pattern beneath Englunds guitars and the string keyboards, until it is released with Stella singing over the acoustic and electric guitars. The song goes through several movements, each building to a climax. The song's middle section the song kicks into a more uptempo section and England takes a skittering and exuberant solo which again builds to a climax, then glides back down into a very sad sounding section featuring a piano and a very sad melodic solo going over it all. Then Stella returns and sings the final section which is sort of a reprise of the first section that she sings. The main word that comes to my mind in expressing my feelings for this particular song is the word "magic". It is appropriately titled, because I think of a dark and ominous storm and the feeling one gets when the rainbow emerges when the sunlight finally shines through.
I have to say in all honesty, that I am so proud of Star Queen releasing an album such as this. I hope those reading this review; will consider my words to be a written description of the music contained within. The words of my true self, written to you the reader…
2. Your True Self
5. Virginia And The Wizard
6. Crystal Heart
8. Merciless Faith
9. Cryptic Epistle
10. Labyrinth Of Spleen