If you asked me who my favorite vocalist is, everyone who knows me would expect me to answer Tarja. The first time I heard her sing was magical. The passion and emotion in her voice is something special that not many people on this earth posses. I was not sure I would ever hear another singer that made me feel the way Tarja did. When that day finally came, it was Dianne Van Giersbergen that brought back that feeling. At the time she was the vocalist for Xandria. That band is in the past now and she is back full-time with her original band Ex Libris. They are more of a progressive metal band with some symphonic elements as well. They had recorded two albums, the last being “Medea” in 2011. Needless to say in seven-years there has been some line up changes, but I think it is fair to say that the maturity of Ex Libris really shines through in their new EP “Ann, Chapter 1: Anne Boleyn”.
Ex Libris has taken a different approach to releasing its third album. It will be released as three EP’s over the course of the next year or so. The first being, “Ann, Chapter 1: Anne Boleyn” which I will talk about today. The other two chapters will also feature famous Ann’s in history, but we have to wait to find out who they will be. The entire album was also crowd funded and was very successful, reaching 114% of its goal. This album is a bit of a history lesson on Anne Boleyn. Her courtship by a king, her miscarriages that could not provide the king a son who would be heir to the throne, and her beheading in the Tower of London on what most historians believe were false charges. I do not want to spend the whole review on a history lesson, but I recommend you look up the story on the internet. It is fascinating and true. It was a huge factor in The Church of England’s break from Rome and the start of the English Reformation, but let’s turn our focus to the album itself.
The EP starts with The Courtship. A very musical progressive metal opening kicks the album off. Once Dianne starts in with her vocals the magic begins. The first verse starts with her straight forward metal voice, high-pitched but with a lot of warmth. There are small nuances as she plays with the vocals a bit. In places she really let’s go though and really hits those high notes. The music is progressive metal and well done. The guitar and keyboard solo in the middle of the song is crazy good. Koen Stam on keyboards and an original member along with Bob Wijtsma on guitars really drives home that progressive sound. They make a great team and play very well off of each other during the solo. This first song is over six minutes and is quite a ride. When Dianne does voice overs on the album she does a tremendous job of emulating what the emotions of the situation would be. When she wants to sound intense or angry when singing or doing the voice over, her voice comes across perfectly. The emotion of her vocals draws you into the song and won’t let you go. There is a very soft part of the song near the end, that is so sweet and has a great feel to it. One song in and it just blows you away.
Moving on to song two we have The Miscarriage. As you can imagine, this is a terrible thing, and Anne Boleyn had three. You definitely notice the change in feeling of this song right away. The song has a slow opening that is eerie. Dianne’s vocals are a bit haunting and you can feel the pain in her voice like it is Anne Boleyn’s pain. The subtle music in the back ground in so perfectly done as are the vocals in the chorus. To keep with the feel of the song, the guitar solo feels disturbing, but fits perfectly with the atmosphere the song has created. As Dianne sings about Boleyn losing a son who would be an heir to the throne, her singing becomes downright angry. Two songs in and I am worn out by the pure emotion of this album. I am not sure I have ever listened to anything this intense in my life.
We move on to the final part of our story with The Beheading. The song starts with a Celtic acoustic guitar opening that makes you feel sad. Dianne opens with some more haunting vocals that also have a bit of that Celtic feel. The first couple minutes of this song made the hair on the back of neck stand up. It is so incredible how it sounds and feels. After the first couple of minutes the song explodes into a progressive metal song with some incredible guitar. It really shakes you from the emotional opening that has really been draining. During the chorus, Dianne is at her best with those hard-hitting metal vocals. Even though she has a higher pitched voice, it still fits the metal sound to perfection. There is another voice over section the is an emotional rollercoaster. It really feels like you are now at a very intense musical. There are guitar solos coming at you from everywhere, and they are all a treat to listen to. This song has it all and is an incredible way to finish the EP.
What is truly amazing about this EP, is that in three songs and almost 20 minutes of music, you feel like you have listened to an entire album. This is an album to be listened to and enjoyed. Sure you can throw it on when you are in the car, but to really appreciate the masterpiece this album is, you have to give it the attention it deserves. Turn down the lights, lay down and just let this album wash over you and feel its raw emotion. It is very rare an album can leave an impression on you like this one does. It will most definitely have a place in my best albums of the year.
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