The Hourglass are a symphonic metal band from Romania, with influences from electronic music. Through Darkness and Light is their self released debut album, featuring eleven songs.
From the outset it’s clear who their influences are, the synths immediately bringing to mind Nightwish’s Angels Fall First, the sweeping keyboards creating that same vibrant, epic atmosphere, and the operatic vocals from Alma Vomastek definitely fall into the same style as their ex-vocalist Tarja Turunen. She has a brilliant voice though, hitting high notes with great energy and passion, her performance on opener Dying Star is very good. It might be a bit of a one-dimensional performance, but she does it well enough throughout the album with a rich tone to her voice.
Those vocals and synths might be where the similarity ends, and from there on out they have a lot more originality. With a chunky guitar tone, Vlad Negrea plays some good riffs, some progressive and rhythmic, others slow, dark and gloomy, and some are upbeat and rock out. The guitar performance is largely responsible for the different moods created throughout the album. Perhaps the most interesting element of the band’s sound is the incorporation of electronic elements through the keyboards from Ioana Dirva. When metal bands try and incorporate those sorts of simple electronic melodies into their music it’s often a spectacular failure. Here though it’s done as tastefully as I’ve ever heard, especially on Rise, my favourite track from the album, where those elements generate a great sweeping atmosphere, and the interchange between powerful electronic keys and sweeping synths works well, keeping it constantly interesting. They don’t let the keyboards smother the rest of the sound, rather its a tasteful addendum to the band’s sound, which is very balanced.The raw production on the bass guitar gives the music that much needed extra grit and edge that completes the band’s sound.
The great keyboard sound continues into Away where a simple piano melody gives way to more good electronic keyboards, and it’s a really upbeat song with a great chorus and another good vocal performance from Alma, and a slow, epic guitar solo. Dare is a nice ballad, but the guitar tone is very weak, meaning it’s a very vocal and keyboard centric track, a bit more heaviness wouldn’t have gone amiss.
What’s also good about the album is they don’t go in for the cheesy bombast that some bands go in for, rather they’ve written a good, simple symphonic metal album where everything is done tastefully, nothing is overwrought. The main complaints for the album are the drumming and the production. With the former, they simply follow the music, and rarely do anything interesting or noteworthy, in fact I’d say it’s one of the dullest performances I’ve heard. Some injections of power and pace could have given Through Darkness and Light a bit more grit and energy. With the production, maybe because it’s self released it’s just a little muddy. The vocals and keyboards are clear, but the guitar and bass are very muddy, and they could do with being much heavier at points, especially on Requiem which has some great dark riffs – a heavier guitar sound could turn a good track into a fantastic track, and the same can be said of The Fall, which has some of the best riffs on the album. Closer Way Home is another one of my favourites, with a great bouncy, catchy chorus as well as great atmospheric keyboards.
There’s a mix of moods here, from the upbeat nature of Dying Star and Magdalene, and Rise, the dark heaviness on Requiem and The Fall and a real gloomy atmosphere on the nearly 10 minute Abandoned, a great longer track, which shows how good their songwriting is.
Overall it’s a good debut album, with a very refreshing electronic influence combined with solid symphonic metal songwriting. They have a great vocalist in Alma, who gives a good performance throughout, and a simply excellent keyboard performance from Ioana Dirva, the band’s two ladies excel themselves. They’ve got some areas to improve upon, but fans of early Nightwish should find a lot to like about this album, and they have enough originality to stand out from the crowd. If they can clean up the production, and add more heaviness next time there’s no reason they can’t have a bright future.
The album can be streamed and downloaded for free at the band’s bandcamp page below