Seraphim 不死魂 / The Soul That Never Dies 2001 Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
The Taiwanese band Seraphim (or “六翼天使” in Mandarin Chinese) kicks off its career with a quite powerful record that can be described as female fronted power metal with progressive and especially symphonic elements. The band reminds me a little bit of the Finnish legends Nightwish in its symphonic approaches, and of the still heavily underrated Austrian Edenbridge in the more progressive moments of the talented song writing centered around mastermind and guitarist Hsu Kessier. He also performs a few harsh vocals that fit well with the concerned tracks, as they aren’t exaggerated or overused and add some atmosphere and tension to the development. These passages could also please to fans of Germans Atargatis or the Finnish Eternal Tears Of Sorrow for example, and give the album a slightly gothic inspired touch. A few warmer and melodic male vocals by bassist Yeh Jax add some more diversity in a few songs, and the band would craft even better tracks with these three quite different vocal approaches on their later records. Last but definitely not least, there are the angelic vocals by Lee Pay, who offers an operatic angle without sounding pretentious. I’m not able to listen to many female fronted metal bands because the vocals are sometimes too dramatic or even artificially flavored in my humble opinion, but Pay Lee is one of the best of her kind, and her vocals work so well because they are very emotional. She really seems to feel what she sings about and this authenticity is one of her strongest points.
Musically, Seraphim as a whole also stands apart from many other bands of their genre. Despite a limited budget, the production of the record is more than just acceptable. The keyboards don’t sound too artificial, and really add an impressive measure of atmosphere. The acoustic and electric guitar playing proves that Hsu Kessier and Chang Dan have a lot of potential as they add many melodic and vivid solos in the epic songs. The bass guitar and the drums are less outstanding, but grounded and solid, with a few shining moments on this release.
The problem with this record is that it probably kicks off with the two weakest songs, and makes you think its another power metal-inspired Nightwish clone. The first highlight comes along with “Immortal Silence”. It’s a speedy European flavored power metal anthem with vivid male death growls and heavenly female vocals. Pay Lee performs with conviction and spirit, and gives this song an almost religious touch. That’s how female angels must sing [Editor's note: Angels are technically sexless!]. She adds moments of calm and grace to an otherwise quite straightforward song that makes you want to bang your head!
From then on, the band proves all the talent that the different band members have. They offer epic tracks with almost cinematic atmospheres and complex song writing such as witnessed in the stunning title track “The Soul That Never Dies”. In some epics such as the closing “Majestic Farewell” or the diversified “Mind’s Sky”, the band even adds a progressive rock touch to its already quite diversified sound, and the calmer moments make me think of a band like Genesis, which is quite a leap in style. Seraphim manages to sound fresh, modern, and trendy, but they also add a nice retro touch with these progressive elements. However, they also know their metal roots and honor bands like Iron Maiden in the middle section of “Light Of The Setting Sun”, which is filled with almost perfectly executed melodic guitar solos that any metal music fan just has to adore.
Despite all this diversity, the band doesn’t forget to include a few straighter power metal tracks that freshen things up. “Samsara”, for example, boasts an unchained performance on the part of the drums. This kind of song is important to give the listeners a break between many very challenging and sophisticated long tracks. At the same time, they deliver a lot of energy and very catchy moments that qualify them for potential singles to attract a larger crowd.
In the end, this first release is already quite convincing. If the band hadn’t started the record with two lukewarm pieces, I would rate this even better, but a few tracks in the middle of the album also run on a bit. On the other hand, the band was already preparing a true masterpiece of symphonic power metal to be released one year later in form of the band’s magnum opus, “平等精靈 / The Equal Spirit”. This debut release is more than promising and worth your time and attention if you admire bands like Atargatis, Elis, Epica, Nightwish, and/or early Within Temptation. It announces greater things to come and can be seen as a first important step towards a brighter future.
Seraphim 平等精靈 / The Equal Spirit 2002 Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
One year after the very promising and energizing progressive/symphonic power metal debut 不死魂 / The Soul That Never Dies, the female fronted Taiwanese five piece comes around with a more than convincing successor. The new record, 平等精靈 / The Equal Spirit, was once again released in two versions, with Chinese or English lyrics, and clocks at over seventy-two minutes for twelve stunning tracks this time.
This album offers many trademarks established on the first record, and can be seen as logical step on the evolutionary ladder. The songwriting is similarly again diverse, and goes from beautiful ballads in the key of bands such as Xandria (as can be heard in “Vanishing Destruction”), to faster and modern stuff like “My Heart Is Dying” (which reminds me of a mixture of Edenbridge with Avenged Sevenfold – years before these bands even became known). The band convinces with a lot of progressive ideas and almost cinematic atmospheres. The musicianship shows an improvement from the already very well played debut album. The clean male vocals are sadly gone, but the mixture of more prominent harsh male vocals with the angelic performance of front woman Pay Lee sounds more balanced on this release than before. Tracks like “The Pride Of Twilight” and the outstanding “Last Memory” offer everything fans liked about the debut record: cinematic and epic atmospheres, fast riffs alternating with slower and darker heavy metal riffs, slightly progressive breaks, European power metal inspired guitar melodies, and last but not least, grounded and powerful female vocals that meet a few well employed male black metal vocals. Imagine the style of the debut record with an improvement in nearly all aspects.
There are also a few new elements as well. The sound and production have improved, and sound crystal clear. Many tracks sound more accessible and modern to me on the whole. The song structures are more coherent, and a few songs definitely focus solely on the powerful female vocals. Tracks like “Think This World” are not among my personal favorites, but their more commercialized approach, reminding me of Nightwish, should please a large crowd.
Ultimately, the band put some of the strongest songs of their entire career on this record that manage to stand out on a release that contains no filler material. The dramatic and highly diversified “Song Of Death” is such a track. Slight folk influences meet dry and sometimes almost groove metal-oriented riffs, while harmonious power metal guitar solos confront an overall rather dark atmosphere, and bleak male vocals contrast angelic female chants. The band unites all its strengths and mixes them more efficiently than ever before. Add to this a few surprises in the form of the intense final minute that dials back the speed and offers a slow and atmospheric instrumental closure where one can even hear a baby crying towards the end, and you have one impressive song. I think that this original conclusion adds an intriguingly emotional and human aspect to an otherwise quite pitiless track.
Another outstanding track on here works completely differently, and underlines the open minded diversity of this band. “Song Of Farewell” is enchanting, slow, and surprisingly soft tune that impresses with outstanding vocal performances, neoclassical guitar solos, chilling acoustic guitar parts, and a dominant keyboard that adds an epic touch to the song. Classic instruments in form of flute and string passages add a cinematic feeling as well, culminating in a truly sweet lullaby.
In the end, this record is, in my humble opinion, not only the best Seraphim record to date, but even one of the best female-fronted metal records of all time. This diversified, emotional, and technically outstanding release should definitely receive greater attention, and certainly has earned a place upon my list of personal favorites. If you want to get blown away by some honest, spiritual, and quality work, spread the name of this record and try it out without any hesitation.
Two years after the female fronted symphonic power metal milestone The Equal Spirit, Seraphim came around with another high class genre release that would mark singer Pay Lee’s swansong. The band kept the strong elements of the predecessor, such as epic symphonic elements, emotionally driven guitar, and the mixture of heavenly female vocals, dark growls, and a few clean male vocals. In addition to this, the band added a few clever instrumental tracks to lighten things up, as in “Gone“. Seraphim also finally honored its origins by including more Asian folk elements than before, as evidenced by the atmospheric and almost spiritual “Resurrect“.
Despite these positive elements, I give a slightly lower rating to this output than the previous. The reason is quite simple: because The Equal Spirit boasted an exclusive mixture of addicting and catchy tracks on one side, and intellectual epics on the other that directly touched my heart and soul. This third record still has four truly outstanding pieces that easily exceed the quality of many genre colleagues. The first highlight is without a doubt the aforementioned and quite original “Resurrect“. Then comes the epic, “Instantaneous“, with its diversified changes, sacral arrangements, great keyboard leads, technically impressive guitar solos, and the brilliantly grounded and powerful vocals by the now-deceased Pay Lee. Another positive is the great power metal anthem “Can’t Take”, with a sacral middle part that reminds me of the beautiful Pachelbel’s Canon (one of Baroque music’s very finest moments). Another track that caught me by surprise was the epic “My”, that stands out thanks to the best clean male vocal performance in the career of the band. The clean vocals perfectly harmonize with Peggy Lee and this dreamy power metal tune reminds me (in a very positive way) of Edenbridge. I would have liked to hear more tracks in this new vein. This song is probably my favorite track on the release.
The other songs simply don’t really discover new ground, and have lost some of their heavenly light atmosphere. A good example would be the track “Implementation”. It features growls and the soft female vocals, but these two elements harmonize less than usual, and add a rather confusing and hectic note to the song. This little imperfection isn’t anything that would bother your overall listening experience, but are an example of the kind of thing that was completely absent on the almost unbeatable predecessor. The same formula works marginally better in the haunting “Desperate”, but it’s still not on the same level as similar songs on the last release.
Nevertheless, these criticisms are still made at a very high level and under the big impression of the groundbreaking predecessor. What we have here is, in the end, a record that might still easily make it on my list of the ten best records of the year in 2004. Any symphonic power metal fan should know this high quality record, despite its obscurity.
Seraphim- Rising (2007) Reviewed by: Sebastian Kluth
Three years after Ai, Taiwanese symphonic power metal band Seraphim is back in strength with the well-titled Chinese language record Rising, which was also released with English lyrics to the international market one year later. A lot of things have changed between the third and the fourth (and up to now, last) records from the band. Guitarist Lucas Huang, drummer Simon Lin, bassist Jax Yeh and even singer Pay Lee left the band for numerous reasons. Band leader Kessier Hsu was responsible for guitar and bass duties on this release. The new singer Quinn Weng had joined the band back in 2004, and new drummer Van Shaw completed the trio in 2005. Bassist Mars Liu only joined the band shortly after the recordings in 2007, while second guitarist Thiago Trinsi from Brazil came to the band in 2010.
Despite all these changes, the fourth record is typically Seraphim, with all the trademarks that distinguished the first three records, and only a few minor differences. The clean male vocals and death growls are less present on this release, and the music focuses on the vocal duties of new singer Quinn Weng. She had quite a difficult task in replacing the unique and powerful voice of Pay Lee, but does a very solid job. Her vocals are very grounded, but nevertheless variable. They are less operatic and spiritual than those of her predecessor, but I think she appeals to a wider audience, as her vocals rock more and fit more neatly into the power metal genre. This being said, the new record has less symphonic elements and focuses on more power metal sounds. The songs have become faster and heavier than ever before, and the drumming in particular is a killer on this release. Just listen to an energizing song like “Spring Wind” and you will understand what I mean. The music makes me think of the Liechtenstein gothic metal outfit Elis or Germany’s Xandria at times.
The softer tracks are much less prominent on this album, but once they finally appear they are very strong. “No More” is a dreamy and transcending rock ballad with some commercial potential (and I mean this in the most positive way). The track has an amazing guitar solo, but it’s the calm parts that make me think of a symphonic new age epic. Let me add that Quinn Weng gives her best performance of the record on this track, truly equaling Peggy Lee. She sounds almost as heavenly as her predecessor did, but adds her very own touch upon this track that sends shivers down my spine. This song is definitely one of two highlights of this release, and also one of the strongest tracks in the band’s entire discography, as far as I’m concerned.
My personal highlight of the record is nevertheless an epic symphonic piece that goes back to the style of the previous records and takes it to a new level of greatness. The stunning title track “Rising” is easily among the best of Seraphim’s catalog. In almost ten minutes, the song never gets boring, and features very elaborate song writing with catchy parts and diversified changes, as well as folky passages and heavier instrumental parts with tight riffs. This track is a firework of diversity and an absolute must-hear anthem for fans of gothic, power, and symphonic metal alike.
In the end, this record is generally much heavier and obviously power metal-oriented than previous releases. Gone are most of the heavenly symphonic elements, but Rising is a lot faster and really rocks. Despite this new direction, old and new fans alike should be kept happy, and funnily enough, the two most outstanding songs are the ballad and the self-titled epic. The new line-up sounds fresh and promising, and I still hope for a new fifth release that might arrive in coming years. The band members are now living all round the world in Canada, Iceland, and Taiwan, but they are bound to meet again this year, and will hopefully work on new compositions. I will certainly keep in touch with Seraphim, and suggest that you do so as well, as well as (re)discover their back catalog while we wait for new things to come!