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Celestial Ruin – Pandora
Written by Allyson Kenning   
Sunday, 05 June 2016

Celestial Ruin – CD Review
Pandora

Celestial Ruin – Pandora 

 

CD Info
2016
Self Released
5 tracks
English lyrics
9.5/10


When I moved to the Vancouver, Canada, area in 2012, I really wanted to be able to get out and see live metal as much as possible – it was one of the draws to the locale, in fact. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of bands play, both big names in the European metal scene, and some smaller names you’d never recognize but with a lot of talent that gave them the potential for some bigger recognition by fans and labels alike. One of these smaller bands was a fivesome known as Celestial Ruin, whom I might not have found if their drummer, Adam Todd, had not randomly sent me a friend request on Facebook soon after my move to Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver. Seeing that he had a band that fell into the category of music I like best – female fronted metal with a symphonic bent – I started to check them and their music out, and liked what I heard. Little did I know that this band, currently a foursome, would become a very important force in my life down at the west coast, providing me not only with countless opportunities to see fantastic live music, but also developing a group of very good friends both in the band and in their local fandom. Celestial Ruin have become a pillar of my social life and have given me a lot in terms of personal, solid friendships, support in times of need, and a tribe of like-minded people whose company I sincerely love and look forward to.

So, just as a bit of a caveat here, because this band holds a such a special place in my heart, this is going to be one of the most biased reviews I have ever written for Sonic Cathedral – if not the most biased. But it is also coming from a place of genuine love for a group of people who have given me so much, and a place of intense sincerity of feeling for the effort, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, that I know from witnessing their journey has gone into the making of their latest release, Pandora.

I could do the typical schtick and compare Celestial Ruin to the usual big names in the genre (do I really need to mention them?) but I am going to refrain from that particular tactic because although those comparisons can be made, I really want people who read this review to take away from it is that this is a band with enough talent, uniqueness, and drive to be a stand-out in this genre without those comparisons. And I believe that Pandora is their vehicle towards that kind of recognition.

When listening to the five-track EP, you will hear right away the influences of European metal – no doubt about it. But, as the band says in its various promotional material, they try to give their music a distinct North American flare. They accomplished this on their debut album, The Awakening, by using different instruments like the French horn and trumpet, to augment their sound, and by keeping choirs deeply toned and lower in the mix. They also opted for a different vocal approach with singer Larissa Dawn, who has the necessary power but also a unique tonality that lies outside the typical operatic sopranos we are used to hearing in this genre.

With Pandora, however, Celestial Ruin has upped it’s game more than a few notches to say the least. Listening to it for the first time, I was so blown away I hardly believed this was the same band I’d grown so fond of listening to The Awakening and hearing its tracks live. And I don’t say this because they are friends of mine; I say this because it’s the bald truth.

Recorded in Vancouver early in 2015, this EP has the magical touch of a very well-known producer, and that is Joost van den Broek, who in case you didn’t know, produces such bands as Xandria, Epica, ReVamp, and also performed as keyboardist in After Forever, and more recently in The Gentle Storm. He came at a steep price, but he was worth every penny because he was able to squeeze out of these musicians outstanding, meticulous, and tight performances. Also of note, since the band split with their keyboardist last year, they needed someone on board to do the keys and orchestrations, and as Joost was busy with The Gentle Storm, he was able to bring on board his colleague Ruben Wijga, who, if you are not familiar with that name, was the keyboardist for ReVamp and also is involved with The Theatre Equation, along with Joost as well.

Pandora’s songs have a definite power metal vibe to them; they are fast – faster than anything on The Awakening, and they are far more complex in terms of compositions, which shows a marked improvement in the songwriting capabilities of the band. With a collaborative writing process, all the instruments are very present in their sound, which is something I really like to hear because often parts like the bass and drums go unnoticed to many listeners, including me.

Lyrically, this album also shows off the strength of the band’s resident wordsmith, vocalist Larissa Dawn. Keeping the themes dark, she has upped her writing game considerably with more nuanced lyrics that involve a lot of imagery. I love imagery in song lyrics, and I love it when they are done particularly well, because providing a listener with images to accompany the sound creates a very rich listening experience. There are some profound moments in Pandora, when Larissa Dawn asks the deep, soul-searching questions, as in “Nevermore”, probably my favourite track: “What happened to this girl I knew?/Worn to the bone because of you/Selfless eyes can be so blind/Nevermore I’m left behind.” Her choruses in all the songs on the EP are very well-done and catchy. In “Sense of Exile”, the first single, she asks, “Can you fill me with your eyes?/Sense the space that lies beneath/Have I always been this broken?/Can you take what’s left of me?” I really identified with the questioning nature of the lyrics and found them quite powerful.

Speaking of Larissa, her vocal prowess is one of the many highlights of the release. I know how much work she has put into her voice since The Awakening, and all her hard work paid off because she sounds incredible. Her range has improved, she learned how to scream (as she does in “Nevermore”), and she seems to be able to handle the faster pace of the songs with a lot of vocal agility.

My favourite songs on an album where there really are no weak or filler songs, are the aforementioned “Nevermore” and “Sense of Exile”, and the wrap-up song of the CD, “Firestorm”, but I want to mention “No Quarter” as well, because it’s a more complexly composed song that shows that the band can write and perform technically difficult pieces with lots of tempo changes and distinct sections. “Murder of Crows” is also a great song, and it’s the opener. As you know from reading my reviews, the opener is, in my view, one of the most important songs on the album because it sets the tone and expectation for the listener. My only nitpicky feedback about Pandora would be the choice of this song as the opener; while it’s strong, I don’t think it showcases or introduces the band in the best possible way; I think “Sense of Exile” would have been a better introductory track. But really, it’s such a small criticism! Most people don’t give a rat’s tukus about song order! I only mention it because it’s something I always look for.

With outstanding performances by all four musicians, solid writing, and first class production, Celestial Ruin have truly created something special on not only the Vancouver music scene, but the female fronted scene in general. Like I previously said, Pandora could be this band’s vehicle to great successes not only locally, but nationally and internationally as well. Pandora will be released on May 22 at a special gig at one of Vancouver’s traditional metal venues, and the album is currently available for pre-order. I know the band is incredibly proud of it, and they should be. This is a really special EP that I hope everyone who reads this review will listen to and give a fair chance. It will leave you wanting more, just like I am.

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