HEADLINES

Diablo Swing Orchestra – Pandora’s Piñata

Within the first minute of the opening track on Pandora’s Piñata, the latest effort by the Swedish ensemble Diablo Swing Orchestra, we learn what their sound is all about. There is no dramatic build up as one may expect with a symphonic metal group; rather, the sound jumps straight into the flurry of swinging cellos, trombones, trumpets, rolling drums and powerful vocals that have defined the band’s sound. The result dares you not to tap your foot before growling guitars kick in and invite full-on headbanging.

All sorts of words and obscurities have been thrown around in attempt to define the genre of this sound: progressive metal, avant-garde, symphonic and swing revival. I shall say only this – it sounds like the Devil is holding a jazz party in Hell, and I mean that in the best way possible.

The first few tracks are primarily symphonic, swing-based pieces, but where Pandora’s Piñata really shines is when it contrasts and combines this sound with elements of metal. The introduction of “Kevlar Sweethearts,” for example, features a brilliant call and response between staccato strings and drum-backed guitars. And the rhythm of “Mass Rapture” is kept by an unlikely combination of thrashy riffs, sitars and cellos.

Taking the musical contrast to the extreme, the majority of “Exit Strategy of a Wrecking Ball” is carried on a groovy metal riff and drumming pattern that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Megadeth album, only combined with a prog metal influence that rings true of some of Mastodon’s later efforts. Ultimately, we are reminded that neither the orchestral nor metal elements of Diablo Swing Orchestra’s sound are used in a simple, gimmicky sense; rather, the band are profoundly good at tackling both styles, and do so with a professionalism that avoids the overly dramatic, often cheesy connotations of a modern, symphonic-metal sound.

The most striking element of the band’s music is, as ever, Annlouice Loegdlund’s operatic voice and its unbelievable range, and she demonstrates more variation here than in the band’s previous releases. The vocals on “Kevlar Sweethearts” are a haunting, gothic nursery rhyme, whereas the chorus of “Guerilla Laments” follows a more reigned-in approach. The latter is perhaps the most radio-friendly song on the album, as a result. Likewise, “Black Box Messiah” drops the operatic vocals entirely in favour of a groovy, high-pitched jeer – a twisted version of the chanting children in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall: Part 2.”

Indeed, it seems that Diablo Swing Orchestra excel at any style they dare to undertake, and the results are so remarkable that you could almost label the talent on display unfair. Take the final track, “Justice For Saint Mary,” for example. It is primarily a delicate piece, driven by strings and brass, but the outro is a big middle finger to excepted musical boundaries, showcasing the band’s talent and style.

For the final three minutes, the cellos follow a seductive, atonal melody, answered by trumpets. But a hard rock drumbeat soon creeps in, followed by an equally sturdy guitar riff. Just as we are used to this progressive sound, everything becomes tinny and, out of the blue, we are given an electronic, breakbeat and – dare I say it – almost dubstep ending, lasting the final minute. At this point you realize that the band has effectively and effortlessly shifted the melody through three distinct, opposing genres of music, each one rivaling many of the modern artists that claim to specialize in them.

On the downside, these complex layers of sound and operatic vocals can sometimes prove overwhelming, causing the whole thing to seem, at times, more like a film soundtrack than a standalone album. But when compared to the group’s previous works, 2006’s The Butcher’s Ballroom and 2009’s Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious, the band is definitely proving evolution, emphasing the unique combinations and contrasts that the inclusion of both symphony and metal genres allow.

It’s not really casual listening and certainly not for the mainstream, but everyone should be able to appreciate the incredible craft and thought that has gone in to this music. With the ever-increasing prevalence of over-produced, artificial acts in modern times, it’s reassuring to know there are still artists out there willing to work with such a unique, fun and yet unashamedly challenging sound as this.

★★★★½ 

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About Josh Gripton

Josh is an English student currently studying English Literature with Creative Writing at University. When he's not wasting time on his Super Nintendo, you'll find him listening to classic rock and metal and reading graphic novels. He hopes his work at The Silver Tongue will help him get his writing out to the public and professional world.