ANGELWINGS – PRIMORDIUM
Label: Pride & Joy Music
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
03. Nature’s Lullaby
04. Fallen Angel Song
05. Sail Away
10. Lies & Secrets
Davinia ‘Divi’ Cano – Vocals
Carlos Alvarez-Nava Gonzalez – Guitar
David Durán Ramírez – Guitar
Dani Durán Ramírez – Bass
Glenn Cano – Keyboards/Orchestrations
Tackling big ideas is a hallmark of symphonic metal. It doesn’t get much bigger than the biblical (at least in a loose sense), but ANGELWINGS shows no fear in bringing depth and nuance to a controversial figure in their latest, “Primordium”.
Singer Davinia Cano, guitarists Carlos Alvarez-Nava Gonzalez and David Durán Ramirez, keyboardist Glenn Cano, bassist Dani Durán Ramirez and drummer Ismail Viera Giraldo hail from Gibraltar, that tiny British territory on the southern coast of Spain.
They started as a Nightwish cover band, and indeed they favor similar high-minded concepts — here, they “tell us of a lost soul, one of divine blood, who fights for freedom with the help of the gods themselves” (more on that later). But they are far more straightforward and far less esoteric than the recent incarnation of the Finnish band — and therefore, far more accessible.
And yes, they do put the rock in Gibraltar with this solid, well-crafted sophomore effort. “Genesis” (which also features singer Carlos Alvarez, guitarist of Power Theory and Shadowdance) is a mix of a male narrator and Davinia’s airy but relatable soprano (she adds no excess affectation or flourishes to her own mellow rounded tone). He acts as the god, the omniscient omnipotent creator ; she as the observer of the process of creation and deliverer of praise (“His virtue / Love, faith, honour, purity / Let us praise his name!”). Davinia has said she is portraying the character of Lilith here, described as actually the first woman and wife to Adam before Eve. Dutch wind instrumentalist Jeroen Goosens is insanely gifted on everything he plays on this track, especially flute ; Glenn is a wonderfully sensitive pianist, keeping his passages as commentary, linking the segments of the action. This is a well-balanced blend of the heavy instruments (the guitarists’ reliance on the wah effect here is oddly perfect, giving it soul, grounding it) and orchestration. So it’s pretty self explanatory, this long track (it needs to be, all things considered ; it has a lot of ground to cover) — it’s compelling, with lots of great rhythmic switchups and is admittedly biblical in its references but not overly so. The narrator makes an interesting (and foreshadowing) point before the final hosanna, if you will, when he says “The birds and the bees, the apple in the tree, the decision to be free, to choose right from wrong, to live and breathe as well as to die” — the idea of free will and that death is a part of life.
The title track starts with a lovely 6/8 meander with guitar, keyboards and light tripping drumming ; Davinia could be a touch louder in the verses because when it gets intense, she gets a bit drowned out. Here as throughout, the instrumentation suits the action extremely well — we skip the orchestration in favor of full-bore metal power. Lilith, our “lost soul”, is at a point of making some sort of decision. The male narrator calls himself Janus, “guardian of the heavenly gates” and she calls him “Primordial / A gateway god” — Janus was the Roman god of doorways, passages, transitions (a ha) and time (among other things). The maddened chorus has Davinia almost tormented by the passage of time (“Time stops, tick tock, take off” and “Time, space / Tick tock / It bends / Tick tock / The clocks / They stop for him!”) and her very effective sing-song, vaguely unhinged vocal echoes the madness, as does the crazed, sinister guitar and lashings of blast beats in the final section.
The title “Nature’s Lullaby” is deceiving because we certainly don’t get a bucolic scene here. Instead, this is environmental devastation, destroying what the god created in the first song. It also makes reference in a way to the idea of free will and choices (“Gift from the Gods to heal / Survive, the fire / We also harm / And so, it’s free to conquer”), as if to say we choose to do wrong as well as right, to destroy as well as to build. The chorus is addictive in its rolling rhythm and repeated lyric and rhyme pattern. The solo before the second chorus builds suspense, the slightly different key adding to that uneasy feel; another solo is heavier on keyboards and creates even more tension, the judicious use of blast beats underscoring that perfectly. This is the first of several times where a harsh male vocal juxtaposes with Davinia (you could see him almost serving as the devil, maybe) — while she mourns this destruction, he mocks her sentiment, reveling in the chaos and the devastation (“There’s a fire in our midst / The skies are drowned in black smoke / Oh sorrow no beauty green” and “We’re disappearing into blackness”).
I admittedly have an issue with a song that has the word “song” in its title, but despite that, “Fallen Angel Song” is powerful. The band does love their syncopation and 6/8 tempos and that’s fine — so do I. This could be about Lilith herself and how she was misperceived and misunderstood, and Davinia is superb here in conveying the emotion with subtlety and shading. In the first verses, she relates what has happened to her: “She was cast out / Denied / There was a ray of light / She had to run and hide”, that is, cast out of Eden ; she accepts her responsibility when she admits, “Gates closed now… I lost paradise”. She calls the story “a warning, a reckoning,” and makes the very astute observation that “To survive time / Or die / New life begins when you… learn to sacrifice”. The chorus is a dreamy call to arms, if there is such a thing, a cry for acceptance (“This is how we’ll all belong”), but the bridge is barren and bereft. Set to military-feeling snare drumming, Lilith says, “Heaven broke my heart / Mere mortals they tore it apart” (that is, no one accepted her). Her final verse is super effective — “I am still here… I am alive” — and her final quiet affirmation, “I survived”, is gorgeous and moving.
“Sail Away” starts on acoustic. Quiet, atmospheric, tender, and hopeful, this is Lilith searching for acceptance (“I’ll sail away / To a land where I can find my place / Where they will smile at me with warm embrace”) and Davinia’s voice is lovely, full of longing. When the heaviness picks up and destroys the contemplative mood, it works beautifully because it conveys that burgeoning sense of hope ; her high notes in this section are piercing and crystalline as she rejoices, even as “Shipwreck / High price / For a dream / Sail on the unknown is a thrill”, because “A new day has risen… I will live to fight again”). The ensuing solo guitar section virtually explodes in a release of elation and optimism. The chorus that ends the song is a mantra she repeats several times — “Strong storms may pass here / But I will go on until the end of time” — with the barest but most satisfying growl of defiance in her voice as the blast beats drive it home (like dammit, I’m sticking around). That feeling remains and rings in your heart even as it quiets again to end.
Acoustic guitar and a slightly similar melody continues the mood of the previous track in the instrumental “Dehumanised”. Contemplative acoustic also starts “Trapped” before it intensifies ; the push and pull of Davinia’s voice here again conveys the character’s conflicted feelings so well. Whether Lilith has been “trapped” literally or figuratively isn’t clear, but her response to it is — should she “try and fight it”, should her “bleeding heart be still” or should she give in to the chorus “A powerful rage… a storm I will face”? Davinia’s voice gives perfect ve
nt to that rage without being strident. After the storm of the chorus, she picks up her train of thought and stops to ponder, condemning God quite damningly: “But he won’t hold me / When I sleep at night / He never really loved me / It was all a lie” and “God he gave me life / This life tore me to pieces” and asks the existential question “Is there Paradise / For those who will seek it”? She acknowledges that “He’s the reason I was made”, but also realizes that she can’t be “trapped inside this cage” either (gratitude only goes so far and part of his gift is choice and free will, after all). She realizes she is “worthy of so much more” and vows “He’ll no longer win / He’s the reason for this / Hate he has made… He’s the reason that I break.” All the while throughout the action, the music reflects it accordingly, allowing the character the psychological room, then as she grows in strength and determination, it does, too.
“Changes” has several distinct musical movements — changes, if you will — that are definitely dictated by the action and show the band’s mastery of dynamics. No acoustic start here, it instead blasts out of the gate with Davinia/Lilith rather pondering her situation: “Ain’t it funny how it all comes tumbling down… When you’re falling deep into your own abyss / Where misery’s your bliss” but “your soul demands faith” and later coming to a resolution (“And ain’t it funny how it all turns right way round / When your heart speaks loud / When you can sense your fate / And you welcome it”). The section in between these features the interspersed harsh male vocal again, but it’s again mixed a bit too loud and buries her. A second section lifts into a swing slashed by spits of guitar and Dani’s undercuts of bass, and this is where Lilith is again besieged by doubt, like should she just stop fighting and succumb to the temptation of just letting it happen (“Don’t wanna fall in / But you hear those voices are calling / Ghosts of memories past”). The third section, though, builds as she realizes the fight must continue (“Wait another night / Wait another day / What about today?… Survival is the game, and now you’ve been handed a grenade”). The end is a bit cliched (“…It’s all worth living if you just change your mind / And feel you can fly / It changes your life / We just need to feel alive”), but you get the idea that it’s better to act than to sit idly by.
“Prayer” goes back to a more orchestrated blend, with strings and terrific keyboard (including an organ part that has a decidedly horror movie feel to it). This may be a bit of snide commentary on prayer or the presence of a higher power, maybe (“Your tears, your fears / They are prohibited / In the dark it is there… there’s a presence / Something rather cryptic” and later “In search of all the answers / You fall, you crawl / An endless reckoning… Oh you’re blind, can’t see it / But there’s a presence / No one can escape it”). Those almost sarcastic repetitions of “close your eyes and pray” seem to wonder what’s that going to solve because “We’ll never ever know what lies beyond the grave”. Lilith also points out her own experiences of being punished for her doubts (“Pray for salvation… or pay the consequences / My lord, our god, Almighty sees it all” and “Faith is healing / But I was exiled / Listen to my warning”). The alternating between the harsh vocal and Davinia on the line, “Angel of God pray for me”, has her treating it as a plea and him again mocking. And the spoken/sung ending sounds like, indeed, a prayer (“Angel of God, my guardian dear… Ever this day be at my side / To rule and guide”) with a bit of desperation folded in (“Don’t let my sins catch up on me”).
The lilt of the chorus of the closer “Lies & Secrets” is terrific, whether it’s done quietly and with vulnerability the first time through (as it starts the song), or more aggressively — and sarcastically — in subsequent takes. It effortlessly allows the meaty base chug to have even more potency because of that contrast. Its sing-song taunt talks about maintaining that facade (“Feed it, keep it, lies and secrets / Put on a smile, don’t you dare show them weakness”) and how hard it is to do that (“All this pain that I feel / I try to push it all away / Smile that fades / It’s breaking me” — nice parallelism with the imagery there). This is a non-ending ending that resolves nothing but poses the question constantly placed on the character of Lilith for centuries — “an angel … a demon” (and the harsh and clean vocal juxtaposition is really well done on this).
So which is she? “Primordium” and ANGELWINGS themselves, show her as vulnerable but strong, defiant but doubtful, unsure of both her place in the world and her innate faith — anything but the rampant hypersexed monster of Judeo-Christian lore. Perhaps that is her real inherent “evil” — that she dares to constantly question and test the higher power. Her character has been forced to shoulder both the weight of humanity’s doubt and its fear of women’s sexuality since the dawning of patriarchal religion, but in the band’s hands, she is redeemed.