Gardenian - _Soulburner_
(Nuclear Blast, 1999)
by: Matthias Noll (9 out of 10)
You think you already had a sufficient share of great melodic death metal with In Flames' _Colony_ and Arch Enemy's _Burning Bridges_? Wrong! Out of nowhere (not really, but I've never heard or even seen their debut album) comes Gardenian with the excellent _Soulburner_. The surprising thing with this record is the range of styles and elements Gardenian have incorporated into their music while still remaining focused and consistent -- from faster death metal tracks in the _Death Metal_-era Dismember vein, to In Flames style mid tempo crunchers with bits of melodic female vocals, to the incorporation of a classic heavy metal voice. The latter vocals are provided by Eric Hawk, singer of the long disbanded Swedish power metal group Artch (if you're into power metal, check out their record _Another Return to Church Hill_), whose vocal range and phrasing is similar to Bruce Dickinson's. While one track is completely sung by Hawk, death metal grunts dominate this record and the other styles are mostly used for the choruses. Admittedly, neither clean nor female vocals in combination with death metal grunts are revolutionary and countless other bands have used these elements with varying success, but Gardenian manage to take the bits and pieces and combine them beyond the point of simply offering more variety, thanks to their songwriting skills and their ability to write catchy material. Death metal purists might shy away from the word "catchy" like the devil from the holy cross (attention, Marduk and Deicide fans: of course I'm aware that the devil can simply pulverize all christian symbols), but don't get me wrong: I'm talking about songs in the league of Paradise Lost's "As I Die", not Britney Spears material. The final strong point of _Soulburner_ is the phenomenal production done by In Flames producer Fredrik Nordstrom, who managed to combine the professionalism of his work on _Colony_ with a rawer and heavier guitar sound. In summary: this record does not innovate the genre but offers a surprisingly big chunk of great, heavy music.

(article published 12/10/1999)

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