It’s good to see that metal is finally moving away from what has become a bit of a well-worn cliché, the female operatic singer. Not that I’m not partial to the odd bit of Floor, Tarja or Liv, but come on, these bands have dominated the scene for female vocalists for a long time and there’s more to women’s vocals than that or even the sheer exhilarating contrast of watching THAT voice tearing out of Alissa White-Gluz. This is a time for women of substance if bands like this and Oceans of Slumber are anything to go by. Or at least new and interesting layers of substance. Not that Universe217 is entirely new but if Change is any measure then they’re certainly becoming more metal.
Previous albums veered from ambient, to shoegaze and flirted with that heavier, experimental doom rock sound but this time round the weight of the guitars is much much heavier and ever-present. The result is that Tanya Leontiou appears to be flexing her lungs even more than usual. Fighting at times to rise about those leaden-heavy riffs – and still comfortably winning even though this time they’ve turned up the heat. It brings a deeply soulful edge to the jazzy, progressive doom of Change. Not that the other members are merely occupying supporting roles. Take the track Rest Here – a tormented lullaby that begins like a thundering, percussive hammer before breaking down into a creeping warning and finally a climactic finish as the doom and shoegaze elements of the band rise up into an impressive crescendo in unison with Leontiou’s voice.
And if the chilled-out, drifting arrival of Burn doesn’t move you then the second part of the track probably will – one way or another. Between the rockin’ doom of Nick, Manos and Manos (on bass, drums and guitars) and the unearthly screech that Leontiou manages to produce, the balance of the band shifts again, as it does many times over. The interplay between the various sections changing shape in a way that confirms the band’s experimental nature and that this album owes as much to art rock as it does doom metal.
The final track Change is pure brooding, psychedelic tension as the band plunders its sound to its fullest – drifting and plunging through 12 minutes of edgy suspense. The final release never quite comes as the track meanders out in the lingering melancholy. But, at least in my case, the immediate reaction is to return to the beginning to experience the highs and lows once more and to work out just how they managed to maintain that stalled climax for so long in that final track.
This is clever, well-constructed music which is begging to be heard over and over again. The band is clearly organised around Leontiou’s abilities and her voice is a wonder to behold. But you’re left with the inescapable realisation that neither band nor the woman herself would work as well as they do without the other. A great match and music which is not always easy to listen to or to tune into (if, like me, you’ve spent the previous week listening to black metal, for example). Bands like Universe217 make you realise the possibilities when talent and creativity combine in one glorious construct. Change is emotionally charged and fascinating to hear.
(8.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)