It is inevitable, given the derivative nature of the press, that Absynth Aura will be compared to lacuna Coil for the two simple reasons that they hail from Italy and they have a female singer. However, now that we’ve got the tedious comparisons out of the way let’s start simply by saying that any further comparison is purely down to lazy writing and is undeserved by a band who have a far more varied sound than Lacuna Coil and, without wishing to put LC down, an infinitely better guitarist in the form of Michele Vioni whose solo’s rip apart more than a few tracks on this interesting album.
So having got what Absynth Aura are not out of the way, let’s look at what might make them worth your time. Formed in 2007, Absynth Aura comprise four musicians – the aforementioned Michele on guitars, the wonderfully voiced Claudia Saponi (of whom more later), Giorgio Terenziani on bass and Marco Renzi on drums. The band formed around Claudia’s desire to craft a song for the “virus free generation show”, organised by the Charitable group CESVI (an Italian organisation that works for global solidarity) and the experience proved so positive that the musicians decided to join together full-time, thus forming Absynth Aura. ‘Unbreakable’ is the band’s first album, initially completed in 2010 it’s taken some time to filter out of Italy, and it is easily one of the most diverse albums in female-fronted metal, drawing from a range of influences over the course of its eleven, not always successful tracks.
Opening with ‘believe me’, it’s clear that Absynth Aura are capable of packing a mean punch. The guitars churn with a hint of nu-metal ferocity, but from the beginning it is Claudia’s show. Capable of delivering a wide-eyed and innocent vocal when the mood takes her (check out the chorus) she can just as easily switch to gritty, leather-clad front woman mode when it is called for, and her performance on the verse is as gutsy as the chorus is pop-inflected melody. Meanwhile the band plough on behind her, heads down, occasionally kicking out a riff of real power whenever it won’t distract from Claudia’s powerful presence and Michele’s all-too-brief solo sizzles with authority before the track draws to a close. ‘Desert flower’ operates in a similar fashion, Claudia playing on her pop-princess abilities, her vocals as sweet as anything Sharon Den Adel has put her name to, only for Michele to once again steal the show with an awesome solo on the bridge. It’s a grand, romantic, melodramatic sound that the band aim for, and with a production job to match they hit the target dead on. It is, however, on ‘that’s why you die’ that Claudia really shines. The song opens with a gentle acoustic part before suddenly forking off into gothic metal, territory, all synth orchestration and snarling guitar. Claudia, meanwhile, lulls you into a false sense of security with a performance that references Kate Bush’s wide-eyed innocence before she summons a hitherto unseen demon and tears into the chorus, a gritty edge creeping into her performance that sets her quite apart from her peers. It’s very theatrical, Claudia adopting a different tone and mood for each song, and as a result the album is rarely dull even if Absynth Aura do occasionally slip too far into mainstream territory as they do on the somewhat cloying ‘smile’, an ill-advised ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Alanis Morisette album. Happily ‘understand my fight’ rescues the situation with an almighty, chugging riff and echoing vocals that suddenly coalesce into Claudia giving it her best Dickinson; her fiery delivery at odds with the cheesy pop-diva who graced the previous track, whilst Michele apparently listened to Firewind before delivering up a solo that is simply insane in its speed and dexterity. ‘Looking for the one’ is a piano-led ballad that is powerfully delivered and despite feeling like it belongs to another album, it’s something of a guilty pleasure thanks to the sheer power of Claudia’s delivery. Next, there’s the oddball ‘life’ which sounds like Tori Amos fronting Dream Theater covering Evanescence, especially when the shamelessly emoting Fabio Dessi joins in on vocals. It’s hard to explain the emotions that run high here – in these days of post-whatever genres and heard-it-all/seen-it-all teenagers, the irony-free arrangements are partly refreshing in the way that they hark back to more innocent times, partly infuriating when they go so completely over-the-top as they do on many of the tracks.
Heading back to heavier pastures ‘the fire in my eyes’ sees Claudia pushing her lungs to bursting with a powerful delivery that matches the ambitions of the band, although there’s an odd backing track that bleeds through that sounds like the control room discussions somehow captured on the master track. The track that started it all is up next and it’s a bristling, heavy blast entitled ‘will is power’ that falls back on a memorable, pop-driven chorus that will undoubtedly have fans singing along. The title track is equally upbeat, relying wisely on the heavy guitar attack of Michele to counteract the sweetness found elsewhere, although the verse is, once again, pure pop territory dressed up in hard rock clothing (think a gothic metal version of Bon Jovi) and whilst it’s easy to admire the passion and delivery, most SonicAbuse readers will undoubtedly find the whole thing rather too sugary for their tastes. That said, Giorgio shines on this track with a sublime, jazzy bass solo that is promptly followed up by an equally brilliant guitar work-out from Michele and you long for more such instrumental excursions. Final track ‘zombie’ (yes that one) does an equally fine job of showing off the various musician’s skills with a syncopated beat backing some brilliant work from the guitar and bass before the vocals kick in showcasing a brave reworking of an established and overplayed track.
It’s hard to know what to make of Absynth Aura. For every great track (and there are several) there’s a track so unabashed in its cloying sentimentality that you’re not quite sure where to look. For the record the musicians are first rate, Claudia has a fantastic voice and for their reworking of ‘Zombie’ alone they deserve no small amount of credit. However, to really excel Absynth Aura need to reign in their more extrovert tendencies, cut back on the overt pop sensibilities that often undermine solid ideas and riffs and develop a harder backbone. ‘Unbreakable’ is by no means a bad album, and fans of well played, metallic pop will find plenty to admire here, but for the average metal fan I suspect the album will be simply too lightweight to bear a purchase. That Absynth Aura have potential is without question, if, on the next record, they can harness that potential and forge a tougher, more adventurous sound then the world surely will be at their feet. For the moment, however, this is a fine, if rather soft-bellied, start.