Label: Noble Demon
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
Sometimes an album title is more than just a throwaway word or phrase — it’s sometimes fraught with multiple meanings. ‘Realign‘, the title of JADED STAR‘s latest, is just that.
The album follows the Athens, Greece-based band’s 2015 debut, ‘Memories From The Future‘, after a pretty extensive lineup change that included the departure of co-founder Raphael Saini. But singer and co-founder Maxi Nil (ex-Visions Of Atlantis), guitarist Dane Constantine, bassist John Dres, keyboardist Angelo Vafiadis and drummer Jim Rouvell have coalesced — or realigned — into a pretty potent unit.
We start with the most appropriate sing-along burner, ‘Female Fronted‘ (thanks for the props, guys — we may have found our website theme song!). It starts with some military-esque drumming that goes into a crisp, bright, heavy crunch with a bit of techno flair. Maxi’s voice is gritty, but with a fullness and roundness that counteracts the rasp. There are hints of Amaranthe in the keyboard touches, the lyrical rhythms, the sexy bass solo that leads into undermixed guitar.
It just might be about time someone came out and said something like this and quit avoiding the issue, and indeed Maxi flat-out declares: “I’ve got a message to send / I can no longer pretend / That I don’t give a damn” and adds in the dreamy prechorus “Since when music cares / Who’s behind the stand / A woman or a man.” The chorus urges: “Let’s put an end to this new trend / Another female fronted metal band” and she also vows “Don’t wanna bend / Don’t wanna blend”. The last verse where she says women put it out there as hard as anyone (“My body shakes, aches, breaks”) and says they can do it all, “Dream, sing, scream, or … an opera supreme” is everything we’ve known all along — but for someone to actually say it is fairly unprecedented.
‘Breathing Fire‘ definitely has that Amaranthe techno dance-type feel but less of it — in fact, the booming, bouncing riffing of the verses has the melodic heaviness of something like Lacuna Coil. The whole album, actually, is that blend, between Angelo’s programming and Dane’s guitar muscle. Maxi’s voice here is all soul, no delicacy, all bottom-end and powerful. The end repeats the first line stripped down to just her, a brief moment that leaves a lingering resonance. This is just a message of defiance and lyrically they play with the hip hop-style rhyming a la you-know-who (“Paralyzed, analyzed, fully synchronized / To applaud the fraud / You anticipate it”).
At this point in the album, things get more internal, more personal — it realigns, if you will. It’s not jarring, but it’s an interesting transition.
That starts with ‘A Pain All Mine‘, which maintains a cool, hushed dynamic throughout, from quietly intense to the low-key admission of the chorus (“I’ve got a pain all mine /And nobody knows it”). The heavier part is gently pummeling, it doesn’t go over the top, it’s intense and personal musically — and in an interesting way, it kind of echoes the story. This isn’t raw, fresh anger, it’s not even anger anymore, really — it’s just observations that still elicit strong feelings. It’s not histrionic; it’s more resigned and matter-of-fact.
This is obviously about Maxi’s (or someone’s, if it’s observational) estranged father, who it appears by the lyrics left early in her life (“The day you laid your eyes on me on my mother’s breast / You’ve built a wall through which I can’t see”) and she says, “I guess then I would find my way without you”. One line in particular hits hard: ”But I was never a part of you / Guess I was too late”, but again, it’s not over delivered or too much. And in the end, she ultimately realizes the futility of trying to develop a relationship (“Yet I’m still reaching my hand / To understand a broken man / Instead of trying to find my way without you”).
‘Maybe‘ is a bit of a ballad, moody and dark and introspective. The quiet parts have a lot of drama — they might sound light but there’s tension seething beneath them, especially in the second verse. This is a rather fascinating little bit of musing, being torn between ‘the light and my darkest powers‘ and realizing “It doesn’t matter / What side I choose / Sometimes I win / But then I lose”. There’s a lot of soul-searching in the raw chorus, set to big power chords, when she admits, “Maybe I’m just dreaming of a lie… Maybe I’m just trying to stay alive… Maybe I’m a sinner on the line, once rejected”. The variety in her voice here matches the range of emotions with which she’s grappling.
‘Adrian‘ is loaded with musical variations on themes. The second verse gets almost bluesy before a re-paced and changed-up prechorus. The way the melody is constructed in the chorus is really effective — it’s unexpected, thanks to Maxi’s terrific descanting vocals. Each time, she plays with it and it’s never the same. The super punchy modulation in the last chorus really kicks it off and a final run-through, with yet another take on the melody, strips it way down to focus on the essence of the words.
While the specific title person is never mentioned, it’s more a general observation of “A whole damn generation / In simulation / Life without stimulation”. The chorus could refer to nature or finding meaning within (“If you cry to the moon and the stars / Maybe then you will feel it”). There is hope, though, when it asserts: “We’re a generation / Not a simulation / With actual destination / Just think about it / And allow it”. And the bridge says that when it gets really dire (“When our days all seem to darken”), that’s when we’ll realize that “We’re side by side, not apart” and to be open-minded and let that happen.
The title of ‘Children Of Chaos‘ is definitely a sign of the times. While the line “Under the layers we try to find / A way to come in peace with our mind” is said a little awkwardly, it’s saying we’re trying to find resolution amid all the chaos and crises of confidence (“Feeling like gods / Against all odds / Standing like kings of the clods” — we think we are more than we really are) and trying to find meaning (“It’s always a feeling / Always a willing / We are all running away / Always the longing / To break through the surface”). It ends with a nice bit of ambiguity when she simply says “I wonder”. Set to a syncopated, beefy groove, there are plays on tempo in the second verse, a bridge with lots of Dane’s low-end riffing and an eerie minor-key solo on top and a clever counter rhythm in the last chorus.
‘Rise Up‘ again plays with musical effect, going back and forth with Maxi’s undermixed vocal to emphasize hopelessness alternating with optimism. The chorus so depicts the uneven process of achieving change, the progression and regression — “Rise up, fall apart / All the way from the start / Throw yourself in deeper waters” — as does the second verse: “I’d never thought this day / Might ever come / Where I get all my answers / Walking hand in hand with the wrongs that I’ve done / Embracing my disasters” (and that’s a nice turn of phrase). While the track might be rooted in piano and have the feel of a ballad — and while Maxi’s voice is tender, reflective, and entreating — it’s not the standard ballad subject matter. It has plenty of emotional weight, especially in the hymn-like last line, repeated like a mantra: “Don’t back down, we gotta go up”, where the music swells and Maxi pushes home the final chorus with heavier syncopation and more grit.
‘We’re The Heroes (A Song For Us)‘ definitely has a dancier beginning, but the crunch kicks in almost right away and intensifies the groove. The verses are punchy, the prechorus lengthens and is soaring and optimistic before dissolving into the lilt of the chorus. Maxi again plays with the chorus the last time through, taking it up an octave, messing with the tempo and melody. This one too is about finding change within ourselves, especially in these difficult times (“Never like before / We need to change our state of mind / And make a difference” and “Letting go is not an option / We’re the resistance”) and relying on ourselves rather than something external (“Enough with the stories / Of finding a savior / Let’s make a brand new start / Let’s all sing a song for us / We’re the heroes / We rise with a broken heart”).
‘Vertigo‘ has a delicate and light first verse, Maxi’s echoing vocal of the sentiments driving them home; the second verse is more layered and fleshed out. The pause before the first chorus, that little moment of tension, is like an inheld breath. After a slower solo section, it powers back up to a slightly reimagined and deconstructed chorus, then goes back to the original idea. It’s those variations that make each song more intricate than they might seem at first blush. This is an encouragement to act (“You need to rise and tell your own story out loud”), even if it feels uncomfortable or unsettling. The whole metaphor of “vertigo” hints at that idea, that the discomfort “will show you what you were made for” and that it’s necessary.
The thoughtful closer, ‘Higher Than Love‘, with its memorable chorus, is yet again that searching for something more (“The place I’m craving for / Is higher than love”) even in the face of temptation (“A thousand thrills / Fight against my will”) and that truth is always “Higher than love”, but it’s not always easy, hence the line “My inner war.” Again, Maxi’s descants in her higher register never show off, but merely add texture and depth.
This is an eminently listenable, enjoyable, surprising little album. I found myself listening to most tracks twice because they warranted it — they make a big statement, musically and lyrically, in an admirably short amount of time. Nothing is overdone; the restraint is apparent in these well-drawn, carefully crafted, internal little pieces.