Despite the fact most of these symphonic pop-metal bands struggle to get traction outside of their own very isolated spheres, it’s still easy to get burned out on them. The main cause of that is how so few of them seem to give distinction or innovation a thought, and what transpires is a tonne of different bands vying for the same sliver of a spotlight that all sound roughly the same. For as cheesy as Amaranthe can be, they’re at least striving to take their version of the sound in a different direction in their thunderous Europop worship; with most of the others, you’d be lucky if you can pick up on a single distinction between any of the clearly talented but ultimately homogenous female vocalists. There’s at least an entertainment factor that’s packaged in with it all though, and that’s the one buoying thought that comes with Beyond The Black. That particular combination of band name, album title and artwork makes the hopes of any sort of originality not even worth humouring, but being at least fun to listen to in the ways that these overblown, deliriously self-indulgent albums often are yields the potential of some worth, no matter how fleeting or superficial it might be.
Unfortunately though, Beyond The Black don’t even have the good graces to achieve that, and Hørizøns as a result winds up as one of the more boxed-in symphonic metal albums to be released in a while, operating on the same basis of super-polished, accessible hard rock and power-metal that’s subsequently sapped most of the flavour from Within Temptation’s latest offerings. And just like it has with that band, it’s a formula that’s proven chronically forgettable for Beyond The Black, particularly when they don’t do anything to deviate or seek to inject even a bit more flare than the absolute minimum. It’s as close to an empty genre template as symphonic metal gets, and in a genre where even the finished article can struggle to get past that initial hurdle, having attention drawn to that is a crippling blow for Beyond The Black right out of the gate.
It’s not even like that’s the result of laziness either; there’s full conviction here in what Beyond The Black are doing. That’s perhaps Hørizøns’ most consolatory offering, in that the band are at least willing to sound bombastic and play to the scale that chrome-plated modern metal like this should be aiming for. As always, it’s Jennifer Haben’s massive vocal power that’s their trump card, missing the operatic flourishes of Floor Jansen or Sharon den Adel, but having the same sweeping emotive range that, as far as towering slices of self-indulgence go, make Misery and Wounded Healer pretty good. But that’s also accompanied by the rather sizable caveat that that’s when it’s viewed entirely in a vacuum, and removing it from that setting makes this all sound a lot less impressive. And yes, that’s a point that can be applied to Hørizøns almost wholesale, but it’s necessary to bring it up when it feels like all they have to offer is slobberknocker choruses whose power dissipates without much substance to hold them up. If nothing else, the upped tempo on Misery and Paralyzed gives them more of a mightier charge, but they still aren’t that far removed from the likes of Golden Pariahs or Out Of The Ashes, songs that could originally be perceived as highlights but have little to offer to make them stick as such.
And thus, it serves of an easy representation for how adhering so closely to a comfort zone isn’t a benefit for Beyond The Black. This isn’t a very daring album despite how huge it wants to sound, and because of that, it’s easy to see where those weaknesses are most deeply ingrained, especially compared to others in their field. There’s not much of substance offered in the writing beyond assorted vagueries about rising up and sounding triumphant (along with titles like You’re Not Alone and I Won’t Surrender that don’t even pretend to be anything more), and with the clinical production that’s too dour to sound all that roiling and rarely flashy or over-the-top enough to launch fully into gung-ho power-metal eccentricity, the whole thing ends up sounding immensely nonplussed and unbothered about how wild it has every concession to go. And for an hour that’s just a shade off an hour long without a lot of sonic diversity or colour, it can make for a tedious listen, especially for anyone who’s more well-versed in how big and bold symphonic metal can go.
In fact, Hørizøns is a textbook example of just what this genre should avoid doing, lest it actually sink into the quagmire of mundanity and mediocrity that can be sometimes unfairly attributed to it. Beyond The Black have every right to do more than this, and playing it safe with this sort of dreary, ‘cinematic’ fare feels like a band scuppering themselves unnecessarily. It certainly makes them seem less exciting by a considerable degree, and that’s automatically off-putting, especially in metal like this. At the end of the day though, it’s not like Beyond The Black will hit heights greater than a usual underwhelming clone within this scene does; they’ve pretty much ensured that’s going to be the case here.
For fans of: Within Temptation, Delain, Amaranthe
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Hørizøns’ by Beyond The Black is released on 19th June on Napalm Records.