Friday, April 5, 2013

Aina - Days of Rising Doom (2003)

The early part of this century introduced a new trend in music - the Metal Opera. Avantasia were one of the first, but Aina came hot on their heels. Aina is the brainchild of Sascha Paeth, a German producer who produces such bands as Kamelot, Rhapsody and Epica, whilst also performing in Heaven's Gate. He called in some of his band mates and friends - Miro (keyboards/arrangements), Robrt Hunecke-Rizzo (drums, guitars, arrangements) and then contacted vocal coach and amazing voice, Amanda Somerville, to come up with a plot, lyrics and along the way she also invented her own language. Somerville is an American, but the "love of her life" is German, so she divides her time between both countries and coaches non-English vocalists. Teaching a new language phonetically to her choir was all in a days work for her, really. Not an epic undertaking, no, not at all. Not only did she come up with the plot, create the world, invent a language but also write a story in songs. What a woman!

Various guests were called in to play the various roles - including Michael Kiske and Tobias Sammet in the roles of Narrators (although they do sing, not talk). There's some good names in here - Simone Simons, Andre Matos, Glen Hughes and a goodly handful of ones I haven't heard of previously and also guest musicians - to play keyboards, guitars, bass or organ on particular tracks.  This undertaking took a mere 18 months of production and is a metal masterpiece.

The packaging is splendid. I have the limited edition version, which is a lovely hard back book the size and shape of a CD, with full colour illustrations, an outline of the world and introduction to the plot, the lyrics, photos of all the participants and the story of how it all came together. There are three card slots for the three cds, which does make extraction of them a little difficult, unfortunately. Still, as far as design goes, it's glorious.

"Aina Overture" is a stirring piece of classical inspiration, rising in power and force and taking on the distinctive "aina" rhythms before surging into the roar of guitars and other, more typical, metal instruments. Many of the rhythms here are repeated in later songs, making it tie together as a coherant whole.

"Revelations" is a slower song with choral accompaniment. It begins with light strumming and the Narrator, Michael Kiske, adds his lower and huskier voice to the mix. He should sing like this more often - it's rather sexy. The choir sing in the Ainian tongue. Then the prophets come swooping in, all drama and cautions:
"The Holy Voice calls down its warning, Don't turn your back on what he's warning!"
Alas, King Taetus (Damian Wilson) refuses to heed their words, and denies that the peaceful land of Aina is fated to change. He has a very fine, deep voice, well suited to his kingly role.

Now we are introduced to the beautiful Oria, in "Silver Maiden". The Storyteller bespokes her beauty and loveliness, waxing lyrical about her innocence whilst accompanied by flute and other classical arrangements, along with the Angelic Choir. Then the Narrator adds his own opinions in his sweet and longing voice. There is no question about it, she is perfection above all and everyone loves her.

Okay, so the plot is a bit cheesy. But it's an album, not a novel.

Now we rage into "Flight of Torek", a rabid contrast to the soothing, slow piece of its predecessing track. Pure power metal, rampaging drums, a hint of keyboards and Tobias Sammet's somewhat aggressive edged screaming. Two brothers, Torek (Thomas Rettke) and Talon (Glenn Hughes), both are in love with Oria (but who isn't, she's perfection, clearly) and when Talon announces his betrothal to her, Torek flies into a violent rage and storms off, putting himself into exile and plotting the destruction of Aina.

Heavy tribal beats, laden with menace usher us into "Naschtok is Born". Torek finds himself a barren wasteland and a vicious people (called Krakhon) that he can take control of and twist to his savage desires for vegencence, creating the kingdom of Naschtok. And all over one woman whose voice we haven't even heard yet. Aggressive and pounding, filled with rage and anger.

Seriously, I think I've heard this story before.

Finally, evil consumes Torek and he releases "The Beast Within" becoming Sorvahr. Given the references to "the night" and the illustration, some sort of beserker werewolf. Pounding rhythms again, powerful vocals - low (but not sexy-low) rising into shrill anger. Some pretty nice vocal changes between Torek and Sorvahr (both voiced by Rettke)

Now "The Siege of Aina" begins with slow and steady guitars and a touch of keyboards. The Krakhen army meets with the chants of the Angelic Aina Choir - the guttural grunts overwhelmed by the sweet, and innocent angelic voices. Baktuk (Olaf Hayer) has a surprisingly melodic voice for the character I take to be the leader of the Krakhen. Together he and Sorvahr plot their destruction of Aina, then take on the city.
"Your doom is nigh though you see it not. Our voices ride and your hopes will rot."
 He's a nasty, gloating bastard, don't you think? And all this because his brother stole the girl he fancied!
The keyboards and guitars duel. Talon surrenders almost immediately. What a wuss. Even Sorvhar is unimpressed.
Of course, there's only one thing that Sorvhar really wants...
And Oria (Candice Night) pretty much throws herself at him to save her beloved Talon.

Okay, that's a bit nauseating... Still, completely understandable.

Now we go into "Talon's Last Hope", all proggy and keyboardy. Now, we learn that in the interim, Talon and Oria had a daughter - Oriana. Whilst Talon mourns his lost love and curses himself for giving in so easily (duh), his head of the guard/chief advisor/whatever, Tyran (Andre Matos, our sweet Avantasian elf), reassures him that all is not lost. Talon declares that Oriana must be taken somewhere safe to grow and learn for the day when she is old enough to return and fight by her father's side.

Starting with horrible noises, screams and  keyboard, the "Rape of Oria" leads into a surprisingly soft and haunting piece, where Oria sings reassurance to distract herself from the torment she must be facing.

From this vicious act comes Syrius, the "Son of Sorvahr". Sorvahr sings forth his triumph at fathering a child and his army of vicious brutal monsters add their shouted. The illustrations here are really neat, showing these evil horn-helmeted creatures holding up this tiny wrapped bundle. Whilst induitably heavy and these being the bad guys, the spirited, celebratory nature of the music cannot help you feel some pride for the new father. Even if he raped his brother's wife to beget the child...
 "All beheld, my masterpiece shines!"

For a time, things seem pretty peaceful. Sorvahr's got what he wants. "Serendipity" brings back our beloved Narrator, Kiske. The lyrics are beautifully poetic and somewhat vague:
"Then the Son came to the one who'd made it come all but undone..."

"Lolae Amer" is a largely instrumental and choral piece. Beautiful, haunting. Inspires imagery of a peaceful forest glade and a pond. Where two young lovers come together. It is sweet and romantic, but there is a darker edge to it. Oriana, in her peaceful exile, has found love:
"Perfect, yet so completely strange at the same time. I've never met you, the name Syrius says nothing to me..."
Yes, that's right - Oriana and Syrius fall in love.
Now, not only are the half siblings, but their fathers were brothers, so they're about as close to full siblings as you can get without actually being born to the exact same parents.
Little bit of ick here?

In "Rebellion", Talon resolves to take back Aina and gathers together his army, calling his daughter to his side, unaware that her loyalties are now somewhat twisted and divided... As befits a call to war, this is a raging, pounding song filled with inspirational guitar rifts and keyboards.

So, the battle begins and it is time to face "Oriana's Wrath". Her warriors ride to meet Syrius's, neither realising that they actually know each other. As soon as they recognise each other, they draw to a halt. Needless to say, Sorvahr is not too happy of his son's betrayal. Pretty nifty keyboard solo, and lots of aggressive, pounding guitar. Oriana is voiced by Sass Jordan, whose voice may be strong but is not particularly feminine. She's a true blooded warrior woman even if she is also known to bed strangers in the woods. Given the sorrowful ending of this song, I'm going to hazard a guess that Sorvahr killed his own son after casting him down and renouncing his name, and then in retalliation, Oriana killed Sorvahr, before rushing to cradle the head of her beloved more-than-half brother.

The war is over, but there are many dead and Oriana must have a very muddled heart. Things are at peace again, but it is time for rebuilding, repairing, patching the wounds. Here Kiske and Simone Simmons duet together, their glorious voices weaving a spell of "Restoration".

For those who have found the plot somewhat confusing, the second cd is "The Story of Aina". Largely instrumentals and re-recordings of the songs on the album, it ends with a 15 minute telling of the entire storyline, with musical accompaniment,as told by our Storyteller, Sebastian Thomson. He has a fine story telling voice, not too heavily accented but enough for my aural pleasure.
I love this line:
"There had only been an echo of a rumour of a legend..."
The story is richer in detail than the lyrics indicated and casts Sorvahr as a monstrous god-like being who reaches down and crushes the life from his son when he is betrayed.
The rest of this CD is much like what we've already heard, with single and alternate versions of selected songs, including "Rape of Oria" in Ainian (I'm guessing) and "Silver Maiden" with Amanda Somerville singing instead of Kiske.

There is also a DVD, containing a documentary on the making of Aina, which is interesting, but mostly in German with subtitles.

Overall, Aina: "Days of Rising Doom" is quite an achievement. It switches from neo-classical to power metal, to folk and the music is richly composed to heighten the experience. The cast of vocalists is impressive. Beautifully realised and very nicely done, a superb metal opera (even if the plot is cheesy).


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