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In any genre of music -- whether rock, jazz, R&B, blues, gospel, reggae, new age, salsa, or hip-hop -- there are bound to be leaders (those who are innovative) and followers (those who aren't innovative). The contributions of the followers, who inevitably outnumber the leaders, shouldn't be dismissed or underappreciated; there is no law stating that derivative art cannot be good art or even great art. That said, it is always exciting to hear something really fresh-sounding, and the term fresh-sounding certainly describes what SpiRitual does on Pulse. SpiRitual is a side project for Stefan Hertrich, lead singer for the German goth metal band Darkseed -- and the vocalist has come up with an unlikely mixture of metal, world music, and ambient music. Of course, the term world music is very far-reaching; in SpiRitual's case, it generally means Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African elements. Hertrich takes those elements and successfully combines them with elements of gothic metal, death metal/black metal, and alternative metal. There are ethereal female vocals on Pulse (from Russian singer Yana Veva), and there are both extreme male vocals (usually, a black metal-style rasp) and clean male vocals. Forceful, downtuned metal guitars are part of Hertrich's game plan, but so are ethnic flutes and ethnic percussion. And much to his credit, Hertrich manages to pull all of these things together in a coherent, logical fashion. Hertrich is hardly the only person in metal who is going for that heaven/hell contrast; a long list of symphonic black metal and melodic death metal bands have been contrasting the melodic and the extreme. Nor is he the only headbanger who is interested in world music. But the way that he integrates the metal, world, and ambient elements on this album is definitely out of the ordinary. Pulse is among the most memorable and risk-taking metal releases of 2006.

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