Artist: Moonlight Haze
Album Title: Animus
Label: Scarlet Records
Date of Release: 18 March 2022
When it comes to symphonic heavy metal, I can be a picky chap. I’ve not been much of a fan of any of Nightwish’s last few records, even with the incredible Floor Jansen on vocals, and Epica’s most recent is the first in a while that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. And I’ve never really been a fan of Within Temptation at any point. Cutting to the chase, this kind of heavy music has to be right out of the top drawer, and right in my wheelhouse for me to give it the time of day. Take ‘Gods Of Debauchery’ by Seven Spires as an example. But I never cease my search for the next band to capture my imagination, as this review will attest.
Moonlight Haze hail from Northern Italy and were founded in 2018 by vocalist Chiara Tricarico and drummer Giulio Capone. Not ones to let the grass grow under their feet, they recruited three further musicians, and have released two albums already, 2019’s ‘Da Rerum Naturna’ and ‘Lunaris’ a year later. ‘Animus’ is the title of their latest full-length as they continue their quest for greater exposure and recognition in the symphonic metal world. And, if I am qualified to make such a call, I’d say that ‘Animus’ offers the quintet a decent chance at boosting their fanbase.
What Moonlight Haze offer is a very listenable and upbeat style of melodic symphonic metal, with a demonstrable power metal edge. It is a nicely crafted affair, with plenty of compositions that have immediacy, and deliver a potent shot of saccharine ear candy in the process. And, in Chiara Tricarico, Moonlight Haze are blessed with a frontwoman that has a powerful voice that commands some attention right from the very beginning. Versatility is her friend and whilst her occasional growls are not the best, I like the fact that she isn’t afraid to deliver them alongside both lower and higher-pitched, more melodic singing.
Unfortunately, what lets Moonlight Haze down, in my opinion, is the production and the lack of originality. With two guitarists, I definitely wanted the songs to sound heavier, certainly to have more metallic bite. Unfortunately, the symphonic arrangements tend to dominate the songs, leaving Marco Falanga and Alberto Melinato’s riffs rather diluted in the mix. It is an age-old problem within this genre, and it frustrates me because I really do want some aggression in the music, even if it still takes a back seat to other elements. The rhythm section of bassist Alessandro Jacobi and drummer Giulio Capone do their best to drive the material along and create a firm spine to the music, but the guitars do suffer and that disappoints me most of all. There’s a lack of a cutting edge, or music to grab hold of my attention.
In terms of the originality, I don’t think I’m being unkind to question Moonlight Haze’s identity here. I’ve said many times that originality is not everything, especially when the end product is very enjoyable. But in this case, the band sound a little derivative and don’t stand out from the crowd very much. What it means is that a lot of the material on ‘Animus’ is reasonably forgettable. Not necessarily while the album is playing, but certainly afterwards, I forget large swathes of what I’ve just listened to. For all the melody at play within the eleven tracks, the Italians rarely hit me with an instant earworm, or a chorus to beg me to return to. It’s all very ‘nice’, but nothing overly exciting.
As I said before though, my thoughts are unlikely to meet with universal approval and I may end up being in the vast minority. There is a definite market for music like this and those who have a weakness for it, will no doubt embrace it with open arms. And, if I’m being totally fair, there are a few songs here that are stronger than the others and deserve a little mention within this review.
For a start, there’s the up-tempo ‘Midnight Haze’ that sits mid-album and benefits from one of the strongest rhythms on the album, as well as a catchy chorus that has more of an impact upon me as most others. ‘It’s Insane’ is an undeniably spritely affair, with lashings of symphonics to counteract the unashamedly pop-metal veneer. And arguably, ‘Kintsugi’ feels like the most it has the most gravitas, being a free-flowing composition with a very catchy chorus alongside a touch more variety and bombast, not to mention a more-than-decent lead guitar solo. And finally, there’s the title track that is a little rougher around the edges by virtue of Tricarico’s raspy growls, but also sufficiently bombastic thanks, in particular, to the inclusion of layers of choral vocals.
I really don’t want to come across as being too negative when ‘Animus’ is such a slick, polished, and upbeat affair. It’s just that I wanted it to stand out from the crowd more, to offer some kind of edge, or try to introduce something new, however small it might be. Sadly, it doesn’t really do any of these things. As such, it is perfectly ‘nice’, but it is also far too safe and ‘beige’ for my tastes. If this sounds like your kind of music, all power to you, and I hope you check out Moonlight Haze accordingly because you’re bound to find an album very much to your liking.
The Score of Much Metal: 71%
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