album review and artist reflections
Review, Interview and HTML © Russell W Elliot
all images used with permission
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Last updated: 28 May 2001
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Image © Syrens Call 2001
The debut album from French progressive metal band Syrens Call is entitled Fantasea (Booster Productions (France) 00, 2000). Comprised of 10 tracks, the album blends metal-edged guitar work with the stunning vocals of Valerie Paul. Four further artists comprise Syrens Call. They are Sébastien Paul (Drums), Thibaut Coisne (Lead Guitar), Stéphane Thuriot (Rhythm Guitar), Eric Serre (Bass Guitar). Keyboard arrangements are by Syrens Call and guest Florence Genser contributes Alto (vocals) and violin. We caught up with Seb and Val during the preparation of our review and interviewed them for this article.
Nine of Fantasea's ten tracks are Syrens Call originals. The tenth is a stunning Syrens Call arrangement the metal ballad "I Still Love You." While the instrumentals are quite dynamic, Valérie steals the song with her soaring—Lisa Bouchelle-style—vocals. Her vocals are mixed way up for this track, much higher than the other tracks of the album. Two versions of the band's "Far Away"—one recorded in their own Booster Productions studio and the other in LB Labs by S. Buriez and F Jamin—are included on the album to demonstrate the differences in recording between the two venues. Musical Discoveries editors preferred the LB Labs version because Valérie's vocals are more clearly evident in the final mix.
Fantasea Back and Front Cover Artwork (booklet open)
Image © Booster Productions 2000
Musical Discoveries: Please tell me a little bit about your backgrounds prior to SYRENS CALL and the time between your last projects and the latest album.
Seb: Stéphane (Rhythm Guitar) and I (Drums) actually played together for more than 10 years now. We met when I was still a student and set up our first band together in 1990. This band was called SYRENS--without the word CALL that came later--as a tribute to Savatage’s fantastic album. We did several gigs with that band but the line-up was not very united and the band split in 1992.
I then moved to Lille, a big town North of France and met there another singer-guitarist Greg. We founded SNAILBOOSTER. Stéphane joined us again a few weeks after to complete the line-up. With this band we released a four-track demo-tape and then a CD called "Why" in 1994. The music was pure 80s heavy metal and we had great time to play these simple tunes with catchy refrains. We were not so good but had a lot of fun! In 1996, Greg left the band and the north area for professional reasons and that meant that we had no more singer and no more lead guitarist. That’s when Valérie joined us.
Val: Since I was a child I wanted to express myself in a hard-rock band as a guitarist (I took some lessons when I was 11) and/or as a singer. Seb knew that I wanted to set up a group when his previous band Snailbooster looked for a new singer in the beginning of 1996, so he suggested that I try to improvise something with the band playing its last composition. This pleased everyone and we decided to go on and see. We recorded a demo tape called "Lethal Freedom" together and did a lot of gigs. Two years later we created Syrens Call with a new lead guitarist, Thibaut, and a new bass player, Eric.
Seb: We took one more year to run in the new line-up by playing live and then decided to record our first composition as SYRENS CALL. The title "Strange Reality" then appeared on several CD compilations and received a great success in the press. This decided us to record our first CD "Fantasea" that was composed between 98 and the end of 99 and was recorded between November 99 and April 2000. It was released on the French label Brennus Records the 15th of October 2000. Since then we played a lot of gigs in France to promote it.
Who are your favourite artists/bands ? Who else do you find yourself listening to all the time?
I appreciate a lot of artists in different styles but to summarise I would answer Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Annihilator, Savatage, Megadeth, Metallica, Devin Townsend, Steve Vai, Van Halen, Coroner, Saxon, Cradle of Filth, Pink Floyd, The Who, Loudblast, AC/DC, Satriani, Vangelis, King Diamond and many others for nearly all their creations. But there are also Sepultura, Death, Slayer, Santana, The Plasmatics, Manfred Mann, BJH, Aphrodite’s Child, Alice Cooper, Marillion, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Cheap Trick, The Rolling Stones, Kim Wilde, Billy Idol, Lana Lane, Aerosmith, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Helloween, Loudness, Malmsteen, Manowar--and that’s not all--for whom I also have a firm place in my record collection because I am very addicted to some of their albums or tracks.
All the members of the band are die-hard fans of Heavy-Metal, Prog’, True Metal, name it as you want if it mixes power and great melodies. That’s our favourite recipe. Of course Savatage has a good place in our personal charts.
How did you develop your vocal style? Can you elaborate on your musical "training/education"?
Since the time I was able to, I have naturally spent a lot of hours singing nearly all I heard. But I have never "used" any singer as a model. I am not a fan of a person in particular but I like any music that offers me pleasure. It is difficult to know by who you are inspired when you follow your feeling to create your songs. My vocal style is the result of a big unconscious mix. In order to be able to convey the more accurately my feelings in the songs and keep cool in life I have been working my vocal technique with some teachers for a few years. We can always go further and higher as long as we live. I thank the four teachers I have had until now. I think these four experiences were very interesting and the fourth is not over. I would also like to take some guitar lessons again but I don't have the time. I learnt some basic musical theory and when we were children my brother and I played keyboards and some Indian and African instruments just for fun. My father plays music and my mother is always singing.
Syrens Call is actually very varied in their style of music. What artists to you feel have influenced the group's sound over time?
Except Thib (Lead Guitar) who is younger than the rest of the band, we have been influenced by the NWBHM scene of the 80s. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and all these bands are our spiritual guides. Nevertheless, we have not tried to copy them but more to play our own music using the basis the had set. We also mix these influences with much more modern ones like progressive and symphonic Metal. I remember a time when it was really not cool to use keyboards in a Metal band. That’s no more the case now and I think it’s great. I love them when they are well used and don’t cover the great guitar riffs!
Please explain the various sequences you go through when writing your music and tell me a bit about the studios that you usein different stages. Tell me a little bit about the folks that work with you in the recording process.
As far as our composition process is concerned we always start with some good guitar riffs in our rehearsal studio. We then add some ideas all together jamming on the basic ideas. When the structure of the song is done, we start working on the keyboard arrangements, the vocal lines and the lyrics. SYRENS CALL is a real band and all the compositions are issued from a team work. There are no personal compositions!
For the recording of our first song "Strange Reality" we went to the LB Lab studios which are own by Stéphane Buriez (ex-Loudblast, Clearcut). We there worked with Stéphane and François Jamin and it has been an incredible experiment for us. We learnt a lot there in a short time. The vocals and the final mix were done in Amadeus Studios with David Beckandt. Another good experiment in a total different style of sound engineering. For "Fantasea" we decided to record it at our place in our personal home-studio. So Thib and I did the production but a version of the title "Far Away" has been done in the LB Lab once again with S. Buriez and F. Jamin. This track has been recorded to show how SYRENS CALL could sound in a much more professional studio. We had in fact not the budget to record the whole CD in this studio at that moment.
Fantasea opens with the vocally-intensive track "Brave Hearts." Orchestral keyboard textures underscore the metal-edged sounds of rhythm and lead guitars. The guitar solos during the instrumental bridge clearly illustrates Thibaut and Stéphane's virtuosity. Valérie's vocal similarity to Lisa Bouchelle is immediately evident and absolutely gorgeous, but blended heavily with the instrumentals, the lyrics are often lost in the arrangements.
Mastering credits are omitted from the liner notes and as a self-produced album, might contribute to the general lack of individual instrument and vocal imaging. While we adore the music on the album, we found the production of the album to be a bit of a drawback and won't belabor our discussion with this any further.
"The Storm" begins gentler, with keyboard passages more evident within the mix. Soon the guitar-laden mix takes over and Valérie's vocal take hold. We especially enjoyed the soaring ballad-like vocal introduction to—and chorus within—"Secrets of the Seas" that contrasts the heavy guitar and percussion arrangements which overcome Valérie's vocal part during the verses. We enjoyed the band's studio recording of "Far Away," while different than the LB Labs mix, because it offers one of the better mixes of the album Valérie's powerful and soaring vocals recorded at a notably higher level. Dynamic guitar solos dominate the instrumental bridges.
The album's one instrumental-only number is "Aquatic Coma" while the "Fantasea" intro could also be classified the same. Thibaut's rapid-fire lead guitar drives the melody in the former typically heavy metal tune while Stéphane's rhythm guitar underscores its theme through the song's individual movements. Seb's crisply played percussion adds nicely to the texture achieved. The band's cover of Kiss' "I Still Love You" is tremendous.
"Fantasea" is actually an intro to a three-part epic with the other two parts being "Heresy (The Trial of Galleleo)" and "Shame (Words to Virginia)". We especially enjoyed the keyboard passage of "Fantasea." "Heresy" is typically heavy metal with guitars driving the arrangement. Although the track is laced Valérie's multi-tracked vocals, their mix could be improved to make the lyrics easier to comprehend. We also especially enjoyed the Valérie's extended vocalise passage as the track comes to a close. We found the addition of a lighter lead guitar part, further keyboard passages and soaring vocal excursions within "Shame" to blend progressive rock with heavy metal sounds.
The LB Studio mix of "Far Away" concludes the album. It not only illustrates Syrens Call's true instrumental virtuosity but the range, power and dramatic talent of their stunning lead vocalist Valérie Paul. We would certainly like to hear more of their music recorded this way but understand that, especially as a newly emerging band, budget limitations don't always make that possible.
Do you have a career or work outside music?
I am a European Products Safety Analyst in an American Company which produces resins and coatings for Automotive and other industries. I work in France but thanks to this job I can keep my English up. It also extends the scope of my prior activities, I was a Chemist, to the ones of Health and Safety of people and the Environment Preservation.
We all work outside music and playing in SYRENS CALL is therefore a part-time job! Thib and Stéphane work in accountancy, Eric (Bass) is in charge of formation in the French National Rail Company and I am lecturer in an engineer school at the University of Lille. It’s not always very easy to combine all our activities but we manage to do it for several years by now.
Please tell me what you think about your live performances and the audience’s reaction to your on stage personna.
The audience is wonderful. Every concert is a different experience, a new party. I sometimes meet some surprised eyes when they see a woman moving and singing as I do on some titles as "Heresy?" or other "rough" songs, specially when they are not metal fans. We enjoy knowing that our music can also touch them. We are proud to defend metal faith!!! Music really turns me on, that’s why I love the gigs. I love sharing my joy on stage. It is great when the audience and the band exchange their pleasure by smiles, shouts or clapping. There is no commercialised video at the moment but it is something we would like to do in the future.
How has the internet influenced your musical career and the promotion of your music. Do you think that your website will bring you many new fans?
It’s difficult to say. All I know is that many fans come to visit our site from all around the world and listen to the samples of "Fantasea" on www.syrenscall.fr.fm and I think it’s great because it’s the better way to discover our music if you cannot see us live.
I think the internet is a great media to do promotion and we use it very much but we have to be very careful because it’s also a very good way to get illegal copies of artists work. That’s the reason why we have only put one minute samples of our songs on our site. The connections are not so fast at the moment, that’s also why we reduce the files size. The internet is a great tool for promotion but also a dangerous one for the artists rights and royalties.
The debut album from Syrens Call should delight fans of Nightwish, After Forever and Persephone's dream. Individual tracks are distinctively different but, with the exception of the "I Still Love You" cover, do not vary far off the progressive metal sound. While her vocals are generally recorded too low in the mix to make out the lyrics, we quite enjoyed Valérie's singing style, range and power. Perhaps in a follow-up endeavour the band will place her vocals up higher in the mix and improve the individual instruments' imaging.
Soundbites and further information are available online at the Syrens Call website. Although further critical reviews and soundbites are not yet online at this writing, you can order the album from amazon.com here. The debut album Fantasea is certainly worth a journey. Our readers will find that it is a very nice listen!
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