This work of dark symphonic metal is Italian band Asphodelia’s first full album release. This surprised me as I heard the opening title track. Confident and powerful to the core, the build up is both symphonic and epic. There’s a power metal reverb, and a striking female voice, which has the double bonus of being strong and angelic. Add to all this echoing sound effects. I sat up and took notice.

A lot goes into these songs. They can be complex and they’re certainly heavy, but the end result is a constant dynamic force. A compelling rhythm runs through “Alive”, supporting the sheer energy of the progressive-power orientated guitar work and the unwavering mystery and authority of the vocalist. “Blackout” also features a variety of elements, which blend into a powerfully constructed song. There’s no pretence about this music. It’s big and ballsy, and even with all the plethora of choirs, symphonic sounds, electronic sections, heavy guitars and soaring vocals, it’s just one epic song after another. I flagged up “Heroes” as a hit single but there are so many candidates on this album, including the title track. Asphodelia manage to fuse elements and achieve songs, which are rich and catchy. Oh, and dark too. “Secret War” is deliciously intense. Darkly spoken words stand behind the sharp and heavy instrumental attack. The lady’s impeccable voice is smooth as silk, and enhances the majesty. Dark symphonic sounds enter the scene, before we rise again with the epic and moving chorus. The wondrous, mystical sounds of “Behind a Smile” have the aspect of a dramatic film score. This album is just stunning in its richness and emotion. Behind each song is dark power, which unifies the musical and lyrical tales. Growls are added to “Dust” but I shouldn’t have been surprised as in these songs there are so many twists and turns, which all add to the magic. I detected that the album becomes darker as it progressed, but moodiness is an integral part of this musical feast, so there’s no violent shift. Instead the songs cast dark shadows. After the echoing and thoughtful “Like Water”, the pace picks up with “The Show”, a catchy gothic rock n roll number. “Flowers of Evil” takes us back to symphonic metal, but in a form where reflection matches metal power. The build up is once again epic thanks to the combination of the guitar power and the soaring vocals, but the sound effects department is well at work too, thus creating a kind of gothic progressive monster. After all this, a cover of U2’s “With or Without You” was unnecessary and in any case lacked the colour of the previous twelve songs. So let’s forget about that one. “Welcome Apocalypse” cannot be summarised as an album of moody soundcapes, epic moments or catchy songs. It is all of them.

Tristania apart, I’ve never had a particular affinity to bands using female vocalists. On the strength of “Welcome Apocalypse” I am adding Asphodelia to the list. It’s important to avoid the term female-fronted. The vocals are just one massive part of a hugely impressive soundscape. Dark, fresh and atmospheric, the structures of the songs on this album are awe-inspiring and pull together the band’s creativity and big ideas. This band deserves to be heard. “Welcome Apocalypse” is enjoyable and magnificent in every way.

(9/10 Andrew Doherty)