Sister, the third album from young Swedish heavy metal band In Solitude, captures the group as they step out of the shadows of their forebearers to stake a claim on their own patch of darkness.
Sister, the third album from young Swedish heavy metal band In Solitude, captures the group as they step out of the shadows of their fore bearers to stake a claim on their own patch of darkness. No longer can they be pegged as a Mercyful Fate tribute band. Their last album, 2011's The World, the Flesh, the Devil, was such a successful channeling of the classic early work of those Danes that it was eerie to behold. That prior album could only be heard in terms of heavy metal as defined in 1984. Sister, on the other hand, has inroads into goth, death rock, post-punk and more, and yet stays tremendously attached to its metal roots.
Recorded at Stockholm's Studio Cobra by producer Martin "Konie" Ehrencrona, Sister sounds like neither a typical modern nor retro-metal album. Ehrencrona, known in Sweden primarily for film and television soundtracks, has never before produced or mixed a heavy metal band. What he's done when given the chance is astonishing. Rarely has an album so dark in content been so warm and open to the ears. It's a soft mix, with rounded highs and full, resonant bass. Whether played loudly in a cement-floored club full of beer drinking metalheads or quietly through headphones alone in a darkened bedroom, Sister beckons the ear and is a captivating listen from start to finish.
A great deal of Sister's malevolent charm comes from Pelle Åhman. In the past, he was beholden to the low- to mid-range delivery of Mercyful Fate's King Diamond, but here he expands both his influences and his style and has found his own voice. His singing on this album is its biggest revelation. From the softest croon to gutsiest howls he's ever recorded, Åhman sounds confident, assured, and strangely free. He's no longer just the singer but a front man, able to direct the listener, hold attention, and carry a song with only his delivery. He fearlessly takes chances and succeeds every time. For example, on "A Buried Sun" he manages to pull off both a Danzig-esque purling and a soul-bearing howl that is reminiscent of Nick Cave. Few would be so audacious.
It's not just Pelle Åhman that has broken out of the proverbial shackles. As a band, In Solitude has made huge strides toward finding their own distinct sound. Though there are moments where the music is a bit too reminiscent of another artist -- opening track "He Comes" could be the best track Mission U.K. never thought to record -- those are the exceptions to their successful hybridization. Album centerpiece "Pallid Hands" is not only the best song In Solitude has written, but its mix of Killing Joke post-punk assault (accentuated by Pelle Åhman summoning a touch of Jaz Coleman's feral power) meshes perfectly with the chugging rhythm straight from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. If ever a song could be called galloping goth this is it.
Yet there is more to In Solitude's growth than just incorporating sounds outside of metal's standard lineage. They've also drawn deeper from metal's past. The retro-rock hearts of "Lavender" and "Horses in the Ground" show the strength of those classic sounds, without falling prey to the trap of slavish recreation that has, sadly, become the norm for any who venture too close to 1972. Throughout the album, guitarists Niklas Lindström and Henrik Palm explore a broad variety of tones and styles outside their prior wheelhouse built by Mercyful Fate's Hank Shermann and Michael Denner. There are moments of harmonic interplay reminiscent of Judas Priest's K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton, and tonal nods to the classic Scorpions pairings of both Uli Jon Roth and Matthias Jabs with Rudolf Schenker.
With Sister, In Solitude did the one thing that seems unforgivable in the increasingly orthodox world of metal. They changed. Yet few, if any, who choose to listen will find those changes a step in the wrong direction. For Sister is the sound of a band growing and coming into their own, drawing on disparate influences inside and outside the genre. They've taken Fate into their own hands and in the process made one of the best records of the year.