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Sanctorium - The Depths Inside

Sanctorium - CD Review
The Depths Inside



CD Info
Gravitator Records
11 tracks, English lyrics


Daria Zhukova is a hard working lady. She’s the lead vocalist on this outstanding release, and she wants people to know about it. I think every writer at Sonic Cathedral got a copy and enough listened to it to be more than a little interested. But, I tend to get the Russians, most of them anyway, so I was able to pull rank and land this review. And I spent a lot of time talking to Daria through messaging communications so I got to learn a little about her and the release in general. But, with this one, there’s two primary topics of interest. First is the music, which is about as solid a Symphonic Gothic as you can get, the Russians are beginning to get this stuff down pretty well. The second is the lyrics. You don’t always expect solid lyrical work from the Russians, not that they’re bad, just sometimes not up to the standards of the Dutch, the Spanish or others from Western Europe. But, with this one, they’re damn sure closing the gap. Now, to be sure, there’s a lot of folks involved in this production, it’s like the massed infantry assaults from the Russians in WWII. They used people directly involved in the band and brought in Special Forces to augment that initial strike force. And the results are another indication that Russian Femme Metal takes a back seat to no one. If you value Symphonic Metal with a killer operatic vocal and all the requisite corollary parts that make it interesting, this one will truly satisfy.

So, where to begin. We want to focus on the music, and the lyrics but you need to understand a little about the release to see beyond those components. First some background information. As I mentioned, there are a lot of folks involved in the project. The bio lists 7 full time musicians including multiple vocals, guitars, keys and drums. Beyond that, we include a heavily utilized violin, choral elements and additional featured vocals. You can appreciate that this can all lead to a release that is substantially larger and more complex than what we customarily hear. And this can present strengths and challenges, depending on your personal preferences. I don’t see it as a problem, as far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier. Others might be concerned that, with a voice like Daria’s, diluting that component can be viewed as a negative. I can appreciate that perspective as well.

Now a little about the themes upon which this release is based. The overall title can be a little esoteric, I couldn’t figure it out at first so I asked Daria. Her response: “The Depths Inside - it's something comprehensive, thoughtful and mysterious, like our lyrics. When i thought about title (yes, it's my variant), first of all I thought about our lyrics.” Consequently, you have to look carefully at those lyrics to understand. But those are more than a little esoteric too, again, I was in the dark concerning what was going on. Back to Daria, “Weeeell, our songs Dragonqueen, Rub al'Khali and Initiation devoted to Lovecraft's stories, it's his myphology about Ktulhu. We had also a song ‘Exorcizm’ also about it, but this song is not included in this release. About Al'Hazred you can read here. I would characterize it like ‘mystical texts-paintings, painted in deep colors’ “. Now I know not everyone’s conversant with Lovecraft but that’s what a lot of this is about, not all of it, but certainly a significant amount. And, it makes for some interesting themes.

One final topic before I go to the music. Although there are a lot of people singing on this release, a lot of them, as I mentioned, are doing featured vocals. However, there is some fine choral work. Again, I asked Daria about it, she explained, “We added it for more epic sound. I have to write some more texts for it, like in Maid of Lakes. The main difficulty was to write the choir parties so that they do not interfere with the existing arrangement. We have a lot of instruments on album, and also there was a violin.” There damn sure is a violin, and we’ll talk more about that shortly, it’s a solid part of the release. And that Maid of Lakes includes another female vox, Anastasia Simanskaya.

The Depths Inside begins with a short classical introduction, then slashes into the 7 minute 1000 Years. This one provides a pretty good idea where we’re going with this release. You get the full arsenal. It begins with a haunting femme vox over a subdued symphonic background. Keys blend in to take us to a darker place. And then, it’s Full Metal Jacket time, crushing guitars, pounding drums and a full screaming symphonic take us to the vocals, both operatic female and solid male death vocals. This trade off continues as the track crushes onward. And lyrically, the tone of the message is equally Gothic metal:

1. Nightshade covers the dust of the stars /
The light from the Moon - my silver bridge
What lies beyond the celestial skies?
Shall I be able to reach?

In the flood of silver moonlight
In the wheel of zodiac
Wanderer walks alone
For thousand years.

You get that choral work, you get the violin, you get vocals, both male and female, that remind you why you listen to this kind of music.

The second track, Dragonqueen moves in some different directions. We begin with Daria doing a spoken voice. It yields to a clean vocal, Max Morton, but then combines the two in a glorious duet. Again, the symphonic tends to drive the action and does it well. Daria’s spoken word returns and it’s damn near as seductive as her song.

Viva Tiamat! - Ummu Habur
Ancient Dragonqueen - El Asa El Var
Mother of the gods and all the world

For those who crave the heavier side of symphonic metal, the band can handle that requirement as well. Alive kicks out the jams, there’s more guitar and a harder edge to the vocals. I should reinforce here that, although Daria’s vocals are the stars of this recording, the male death metal vocals are equally strong, IMO. The guy can bring on the death metal.

There’s another side to Santorium. It’s called the soft and beautiful side. Silent Cry is called the “Ballade”. And it’s a lovely presentation. This one is pretty much limited to the female vocal, not as operatic as some, but sure using that violin to achieve a sound hard to describe. The track sneaks in a couple bridges with a screaming guitar, just to remind you where they live, but, for the most part, this is a softer, violin based track.

That violin shows a different side in the final track Prayer. And trust me, this prayer is one you don’t hear in any church of my association. The violin sounds like the one in Blackthorn, and it leads to music nearly as dark and pounding. No witches though. It does however provide the feel of battle, again done with killer vocals from both male and female vocalists. Lyrically we hear:

For the days that we had lived in peace
I pray my God
Protect my man from chilling touch of death
For the sky and never-ending light
I beg you my God
Please let us meet in our future days.

I have never imagined that cold death
Can so quickly restore flame of faith

Well, hard to sum this one up. Just too many strengths, to much solid material. It can get a little confusing if you’re trying to read the players without a scorecard but that should be the least of our problems, eh? Not sure about distribution, but I know I’d like to have this one in our store. Daria says their label is putting it in stores, but I’m not sure where. I’m working on it though.