SEVEN SPIRES – GODS OF DEBAUCHERY
Label: Frontiers Music srl
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
01. Wanderer’s Prayer
02. Gods Of Debauchery
03. The Cursed Muse
04. Ghost Of Yesterday
06. Echoes Of Eternity
07. Shadow On An Endless Sea
08. Dare To Live
09. In Sickness, In Health
10. This God Is Dead
11. Oceans Of Time
12. The Unforgotten Name
13. Gods Amongst Men
15. Through Lifetimes
16. Fall With Me
Adrienne Cowan – Vocals/Orchestration
Jack Kosto – Guitar
Peter de Reyna – Bass
Chris Dovas – Drums
To do one album in these crazy times — and not get to tour behind it — is one thing. To do another — even vaster, even more ambitious in scope — and still maybe not get to tour behind it for the foreseeable future — is either making good use of a lot of extra time or perhaps a fruitless exercise.
But the muse rides Boston symphonic metal band SEVEN SPIRES hard, and resistance to it is futile for the restless, intensely creative overachievers that are singer Adrienne Cowan, guitarist Jack Kosto, bassist Peter de Reyna, and drummer Chris Dovas.So they heeded her call regardless and released their second album in two years, the massively epic “Gods Of Debauchery”. And if 2020’s “Emerald Seas” was the prequel to 2017’s “Solveig”, “Gods Of Debauchery”, by rights or inference, is the sequel — to which one, it’s not completely clear (watch for my upcoming interview with Adrienne for perhaps some clarity on that).
It begins with the acoustic invocation “Wanderer’s Prayer”, gentle and light but with a ponderous sweep. Adrienne chants it in a monotonic drone, this play on the four elements (“Earth, give me strength”, that is, rootedness, solidity, permanence ; “Skies, lend your range”, that is, possibility, endlessness, flexibility). It’s repeated again in the title track (and later on) for various reasons and to various ends — stay tuned.
A choir chants “Ash to ash, dust to dust / End at last, time is done” with metronomic precision in the title track, as if to remind that our anti-hero died in the previous album. Chris’ drums underscore that feel with equally metronomic precision before Jack bursts into a glorious melody, the blast beats light and lilting. Adrienne alternates between two distinct harsh vocal styles here and throughout — a chesty death growl and a squeezed-out black metal shriek (both done with precise diction and phrasing) — as our hero remembers their sordid past (“We were here, destroying, creating / Taking what was and wasn’t ours as we pleased” and that we were “Invincible, immortal, immoral”, a lovely play on words). The chorus again alternates those two styles line by line (the accompanying music as soaring as the vocal and sentiment is brutal) as our hero knows it will never be like that again (“The way is shut, the path is lost, the bond is rust” because “My time is done”). An undermixed spoken segue seems like a dispassionate observer watching our hero from afar, asking, “How does it feel to have all you wanted?” (that is, immortality, which our hero achieved in “Emerald Seas”). Later, after a reprise of “Wanderer’s Prayer”, our hero answers defiantly “I will never go home / I burned that bridge long ago”.
As always with SEVEN SPIRES, the arrangements are extraordinary, the orchestration situated perfectly to allow the virtuosity of Jack, Chris and Peter to take precedence, giving texture and depth to the whole. The sheer density and musicality of the arrangements doesn’t strip them of soul because the main melodies are so strong and memorable and singable.
“The Cursed Muse” is a hair-raising melody of string-heavy orchestration slashing across and being slashed across by Chris’ blasting double-kick counter-rhythm (their technique for writing absolutely chilling, high-drama music is unparalleled) and it returns to this before the second verse and to close as well. But in the prechorus, there’s a lengthened almost-pause between its two lines that allows it to swing effortlessly into the aching chorus. Our hero is again looking back in the first verse, “weary” and “weak”, this time remembering the past love (“But given the choice, for the song in your voice / In a heartbeat I’d give it all again”) self-flagellating all the while (“Marvel how fear will always precede regret / When either choice will end in bitterness”). The chorus seems like that observer again, asking our hero “What would you do to find rest?” and calling out for someone to “Save the soul of my cursed muse”. Our hero insists they’ve changed — “I reformed, reborn, from the dark I was torn / I left the demon in the sand” — and asks “Will I ever find peace again?”, but knows “There’s no escaping or breaking fate’s rules”.
A striking orchestral main melody is center stage in “Ghost Of Yesterday” and Adrienne sings predominantly throughout, sprightly and almost blithe in the verses as our hero again recounts his current lot in eternal life (“But I must play the role for which I’m chosen / Facing judgment for all that I have made” in the first ; “Every day it seems I’m chasing my redemption / For a life I threw away / And had I known, I wouldn’t waste a second / But this is now, and now is far too late” in the second). The chorus explodes with the bliss of remembering the idyllic past, the insistent patter of Chris’ drums juxtaposing with the more legato lyric vocal there. The harsh vocal of the bridge, on the other hand, is our hero’s cold harsh reality (“Day bleeds into night bleeds into day / This body aches… This is who we are, there’s no escape”).
“Lightbringer” is the absolute catchiest song they’ve written to date, an earworm of insidious, wonderful magnitude due to its two-word chorus that spirals and modulates up and down as seductively as its subject matter. This is our hero getting rather down and dirty, and Adrienne plays along in the seductive verses laden with wickedly clever innuendo that hints at everything from erotic asphyxiation and bondage (“Don’t hold your breath, his hands are tied” and “Love the taste of suffering / You take my breath away”) to a sexual play off an idea from the first album (“Show me what you want and I’ll meet you / On the Great Divide”) to a bit of necrophilia (”She begs for death a second time / Six feet under these covers like / Three-part polyphonic lovers”, which is really genius). In the final run through the chorus, though, note the harsh vocal that lurks — there’s rot under all this fun.
Adrienne’s eerie keyboard melody takes the melodic lead in “Echoes Of Eternity” atop Jack’s bedrock riff and Chris’ deadly precision. The verse then slows and takes on a lush Eastern feel for a few lines before it intensifies. The harsh vocal lurks underneath again as the lyrics shift in tone from tempting to sinister, a really appropriate touch. And again in the chorus, you get the lyric flow of her voice paired with the sharp propulsion of the drumming. This is temptation, of course, our hero being lured by something that will “satisfy the deep, dark craving” that will allow you to “scream only silenced screams” and “purge your little fears and all your shame”. But these ‘fixes’ are only temporary, the root cause of the pain being only muted. The beautifully overdubbed layered chorus is rhetorical questions from this tempter (“Would you dance with me when daylight’s fading?”) undercut by subtle threats (“To the end of time, I’ll make you mine”) and the bridge hints that tempter and tempted are in this together (“…free us both from sin / In the darkness we have found our way”).
“Shadow On An Endless Sea” begins dreamily with Adrienne’s wordless croon, then it gets frantic and desperate, Chris’ double kick faster than humanly possible (the bridge is especially astonishing in this regard). Jack’s solo on the main chorus melody, with added flourishes, is so satisfying — this is another trademark of theirs and it lends such continuity, each time serving as a touchstone or point of reference to drive that melody home. It seems as though our hero has given in (“Lost in a haze again”), or it could be withdrawal (“Is this what it’s like to heal? / Locked in my head / Nothing to feel / Blacked out, dying for sleep”, like if this is healing, it sucks). The harsh vocal is both witness to and voice of their self-hatred, especially in the bridge, where our hero rages “I chose my fate, I’m to blame / Unworthy, ungrateful / I’m dirty, regretful / Unfit for that which I built”). The chorus, though, is sung, a cry to the heavens in frustration, the 6/8 rhythm more pronounced as our hero is broken (“Why? Was this meant to be? / Am I staring fate in the face?… When did passion die? And leave me with words / I’ve already sung”, a wonderful turn of phrase).
Jack’s initial melody is a foreshadowing of the chorus of “Dare To Live”. Adrienne’s harsh vocal is our hero indulging in self-criticism in the verses (“I designed my own fall” in the first, and in the second “Regrets… that wake me up in sweat”), the mix emptying out a little to allow her and Chris a sort of call-and-response time (which happens again in the final lines). The sung chorus is maybe again the observer asking the tough questions: “Will you take the chance? Will you risk it all? Leave behind your defenses and break down your walls? Dare to live again?”. Our hero has a moment of enlightenment in the bridge, asking “Will I ever be free of my demons? Is the key to accept them?”, but winding up going back to old thought processes (after a solo and another chorus), lamenting “If only I could be free of my demons”.
“In Sickness, In Health”, a midtempo ballad, has a dreamy, drifting start until Chris’ drums flourish, solidifying it — you just shake your head at what he does on this album, time after time. As Adrienne has said, the main piece of the album, the next track, features former Kamelot and current Conception singer Roy Khan as the ghost of our hero’s father, so perhaps this song is addressing him (“Another empty rhyme / Another try to capture your soul”, like these are feeble attempts to describe him with words), wanting his guidance and regretting that perhaps our hero didn’t tell him how he felt (“No words will ever be enough” is the main sentiment of the wrenching, emotional chorus). The song ends on that, Adrienne’s voice catching in anguish at the futility of that hope. The harsh vocals in the bridge show our hero’s despair, pleading “Can you hear me now?”, but in this case clean singing drifts beneath as if to lend optimism.
“This God is Dead”, the hugely theatrical and cinematic five-part crux of the story, begins with “Smoke & Mirrors” directed, as we gather, toward our hero’s father. The first verse wonders aloud if our hero’s parents knew of the struggle and the front they put on, hence the title “Did you love my smoke and mirrors?” — that is, the illusion I showed you, or did you see through them and love the real me? In the second, we hear Khan for the first time speaking reassuringly “I know you found it, that dream you chased / Don’t ever think that what you love is a mistake”, that “everything will be alright” and that “we are proud of you”. But when the two sing together, we see this works both ways as they speak to each other, that they were both filled with doubt (“Sweet angel, I wish I had been enough for you”) and they both confess “All I am is smoke and mirrors”, wondering “Would you love me if you knew?”.
In “Mania And Nothing” the tenderness is gone and replaced with madness — our hero at once vague and detached (“What happened to me?” and “Who am I? / Everything I’ve been feels like it’s a lie”) and slavering and raging, chaotic and nightmarish (“Back and forth / Mania and nothing”), Adrienne see-sawing between the black and death styles again.
The spoken Part 3, “The Majesty”, introduces “This loathsome demon reborn” — perhaps our hero has indeed found “Life with new purpose”, perhaps at last gaining perspective on immortality… or have they?
“Beneath The Morning Star”, all in harsh vocals spat out like self-loathing machine gun fire, is our hero finally giving up in a final convulsion of despising (“Torturing my psyche, there was no escaping myself / My failures, my hatred, my losses, my loathing”) and in the final insane crazed descent (Chris’ drumming is positively inhuman here) vowing “This has been my final death/ Finally accept /All that I am, and all that I’m meant to be”.A more intense reprise of “Smoke & Mirrors” (in which Khan as the father reminds “I will be your light”) follows, with our hero joining in — is there redemption at last? The finale of the title, “This God Is Dead”, which Adrienne speaks wearily and defeatedly, though, is murky — who is our hero speaking to, this “Guide of the lost / Guardian of the broken”? An important realization is made, though — “Happiness is a choice / And purpose, a charted course” (we choose to be happy or not, we plan our purpose in order to achieve it). But the last two lines have several interpretations: “I am but a soul-keeper / And this god is dead”. Has our hero really gained humility, lost self-centeredness?
“Oceans Of Time” goes from pummel, with the orchestra and Jack’s main melody and the drumming, to a lilting swing in the verses. There are delicious, fleeting moments of Peter’s bass here and in the segue after the first chorus (a la “Succumb”). This may be our hero looking back at the past love from “Emerald Seas” and describing how they messed up in giving in to the self-doubt (“There’s a shadow and it’s whispering lies / You don’t deserve this, my dear”, like you, our hero, don’t deserve to be happy — and that “All these things set you far apart from me”, as did “Fear And Shame” and “Pointless ventures beyond the vast and blue”). Our hero has changed — “Hear the cry of the penitent beast / Listen now and believe” — and the super-fast, brilliant, ringing chorus is filled with hope. The wanderlust is gone (“No more sweet dreams await in the dark / Only demons and dreary seas”), so is the sweet talk and empty promises (“No sweet whispered nothings in the dark / You don’t deserve that, my dear”), because “My soul only sings for you”, they insist.
“The Unforgotten Name” (with Jon Pynes reprising his role as the Lost Soul character from “Solveig”) has the lightest lilt that becomes bigger and more pronounced as the song grows and swells. This midtempo ballad begins with the chorus, a looking back at “a time when all hope was lost” and the beautiful imagery of the line, “The carcass of dreams lay at our feet”, when our hero had achieved everything. When Jon joins in later, the melody changes slightly but noticeably (these are such treats, these little musical shifts that keep things interesting). This is our hero singing to this lost soul (“The cherished flame that you began”, Jon sings), who brought optimism and hope in the past (“I swear to vanquish darkness in your name / I swear your light will permeate my being”), the one who has “raised me from the dead”.
The next two tracks can be taken together, as a transition, like something new is happening in the plot. “Gods Amongst Men”, rooted in a truly creepy orchestral score (that rises to piercing crescendos in the chorus) and horror-movie bursts of organ from Adrienne, feels like a luring to our hero, from the point of view of that observer who “heard the voice and the hopeless years you suffered without sight”, who demands “Insequere me” (follow me), who tempts “Submit your form to me… All restraints are gone / Your soul’s forever free” and who promises that they will be “Ruling earth as equals / Bound together / We shall reign”.
And the majestic, ferocious irresistible trod of “Dreamchaser” (very much in the mold of Dimmu Borgir or Fleshgod), is so fitting to the action of our hero facing that temptation and trying really hard to resist it (the Latin in the undermixed harsh section at the start has our hero insisting in part “I have no master, I choose my fate”). We see the tempter’s true objective here: as much as he says “Hear OUR name” and “Fear OUR name”, what he really wants is “Know MY name”, to be in charge completely and this sharing of power thing is just a means to an end. The prechoruses are our hero resisting (“I won’t accept this quiet death”) and the tempter sardonically responding “Dreamchaser, heartbreaker, stargazer, I will take what’s mine”. Another quick reprise of the “Wanderer’s Prayer” calls on nature for help, but that’s cut short by the tempter again, insisting “They will know our name / You will know my name”, like nope, I’m having my way here.
“Through Lifetimes” is an orchestral interlude filled with musical themes from throughout the album, similar to what the band did on “Emerald Seas” — with a bit of the “Gods Amongst Men” chorus, bits of “Bury You” and “Succumb” too if you listen closely. It’s to build suspense as we head to the final track, like what happened? Did the tempter win?
We flow effortlessly into the closer “Fall With Me” and we get our answer. Tender piano caresses in this plea from our hero to his long ago love to give them one last chance. Adrienne’s voice goes through all the nuances — she’s humble and self-effacing (when she sings the line “And laugh ‘cause we thought we were old for our age” she gives a little chuckle on the word “laugh”). She gets soulful when she reminisces (“I was difficult, wild, but you always sided with me”), tying the verse into the chorus effortlessly with the rhythm and the rhyme of the words. The second verse builds a bit with more fond remembering, and when she catalogues our hero’s flaws (“I was blind, I was reckless / My biggest regret is how long it took me to see”), she soars into an impassioned scream that’s all those emotions, the desperation, the hope that the love will forgive, please forgive. The next chorus and bridge is full-throated Broadway, torchy and gritty and spectacular as the music sweeps along in her wake — by the final chorus, with that damn counter-drumming pulsating under it, if you’re like me, you’ll be saying “Get it, girl!” It’s a stunner — she’s never really sung like this before and she gives you every single one of the feels.
“Gods Of Debauchery” is long. It’s a big commitment of time (70-plus minutes, although the individual songs, while dense and pithy, are concise at about 4 or so minutes each) and of thought. It’s intense and it never lets up. It’s also a masterpiece that will make them immense stars, on a par with Nightwish — it’s that good. It’s also much less arcane, much less esoteric and much more relatable, much more accessible. If you’ve dealt much more with self-hatred and self-doubt than you have with the meaning of life and human nature — and who hasn’t? — this will speak volumes to your soul.
Photo credits: Jim Wilkinson, Chris Dovas, Doga Somer/EmVision Productions & Black Ray Photography