The Crest

Vain City Chronicles

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With so many bands suddenly exploiting the commercial possibilities of female lead vocals in heavy metal -- from Finland's theatrically symphonic Nightwish to America's nu-metal-leaning Evanescence, to Holland's dauntingly proggy After Forever -- it's nice to hear a band like Norway's the Crest, which is still willing to work within the gothic/darkwave templates that started it all. Born of the same mid-'90s generation as formidable genre powers the Gathering, Lacuna Coil, and Theatre of Tragedy, the Crest rode out the decade in relative obscurity, then emerged as solid contenders with their impressive 2002 debut, Letters From Fire. So much so that lead singer Nell Sigland was subsequently asked to join the aforementioned Theatre of Tragedy, casting considerable doubt upon the Crest's future, if not the actual contents of their already near-finished 2005 sophomore effort, Vain City Chronicles. Carrying on from their sturdy debut's confident, almost classicist take on the darkwave movement, opening salvo "Run Like Blazes" rushes out of the gate with the perfect dosage of power and frailty that qualifies the style, and paves the way for a pair of less urgent, but no less effective entries in "My War" (led by sweeping synths and heartbreaking guitar harmonies) and "Silent" (with its nod to techno-electronica). Next up, the driving flow of "Another Life" and the mournful weep of "Come on Down" provide further high-water marks, but then the band loses a little momentum with ensuing triplets "Flavour of the Day," "Reptile," and "New Profound Fear" -- all of which, although serviceable enough on the surface, prove surprisingly forgettable once concluded. Far better is the renewed burst of energy in "Imaginary Friend," which, although still far from smash hit material, greatly livens up the scene for the also strong "House of Mirrors" (a seductive, string-laden affair) and yet another wistful acoustic guitar ballad of mixed potential called "My War/Broken Glass." In the end and based on the above inconsistencies, it's impossible not to question the Crest's future prospects now that Sigland has commitments elsewhere, but Vain City Chronicles contains enough bright moments to dispel fans' worries for a little while longer, at least.

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