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Review: Gardenian - Soulburner

Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Year released: 1999
Duration: 47:25
Tracks: 11
Genre: Melodic Death Metal

Rating: 3.75/5

Review online: April 8, 2003
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Readers Rating

Rated 4/5 (80%) (4 Votes)

This is the second release from In Flames stepchild Gardenian, and it’s a more original record than In Flames have ever produced, and at the same time more frustrating, because good as it is, it should be better.

Gardenian play a pummeling style of very Gothenburg death metal, highly reminiscent of "Whoracle" era In Flames. All in all, their basic death tracks like "As A True King" are enjoyable and energetic, but not terribly exciting. The sound is too derivative to really grab you. But on some other tracks Gardenian experiment, and produce some highly interesting stuff. "Powertool" is one of the best songs here, adding a little female backing vocal to the chorus, and it really perks things up, making the song really catchy. But on other songs (most notably the near-ballad "If Tomorrow’s Gone") Artch singer John Hawk was recruited to add his melodic stylings, and it’s really pretty arresting. Nowadays lots of death bands are fooling around with clean vocals, but back in ‘99 it was pretty revolutionary, and Hawk is a hell of a better singer than most deathgrunters who try to sing clean. The results are uneven, but fascinating. "If Tomorrow’s Gone" is simply a great song, by any measure. But the similar "Small Electric Space" goes on too long and is far too hard-rock sounding to go with the rest of the CD.

The CD looks very nice, even if there is something early 90’s about the look of the art design. The lyrics are included, and are mostly very depressing and reality-based, which I’ll admit I loathe. I much prefer the worst fantasy lyrics to this kind of bleak stuff and the tone really brings the album down a notch for me. That’s just my preference though.

This album reminds me of old Sanctuary CDs in that it has tremendous potential, strives valiantly to be great – and almost succeeds. "Soulburner" has some great moments, and is very well-executed. But the songwriting is hit-or-miss and the schizoid nature of the material really distracts. In the end the CD spirals down into noodling filler for the last two songs. Gardenian were on to something here, they just didn’t take it far enough.

Standouts: Powertool, If Tomorrow’s Gone, Chaos in Flesh.

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