Lust Stained Despair

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Whatever his ambitions for it at the time, few listeners viewed Poisonblack's 2003 debut, Escapexstacy, as anything more than a casual, vanity project where Sentenced singer Ville Laihila could show off his guitar playing skills. But, with that storied Finnish metal group's supposedly terminal demise in 2005, the project's' graduation to full-fledged "band" status automatically imparted an entirely heavier load of expectations upon the following year's sophomore effort, Lust Stained Despair. Wisely, Laihila surrounded himself with an entirely new cast of musicians to help face this challenge, but there's only so much focus they can take off his shoulders while he remains Poisonblack's singer, lead guitarist, main songwriter, and only marquee name -- unless one considers keyboardist Marco Sneck's involvement with Kalmah to count for something. Actually, perhaps one should, as Sneck's always timely yet never overwhelming keyboard parts often make the difference here, lending just the right tone of gothic melancholy to album standouts like "Hollow Be My Name," "The Darkest Lie" and "Nail " -- a quality which remaining, predominantly mid-paced and personality-free rockers like "Nothing Else Remains" and "Raivotar" sorely lack. As for Laihila, the fact that, technically speaking, he was never that great a singer to begin with (hear his dodgy pitch on the lower registers of "Love Controlled Despair" and limited deadpan emoting neither the lust nor despair advertised) is made all the more evident by his obvious concentration on playing lead guitar here (note his rapid-fire solos in "Soul in Flames" and "Never Enough," among other tracks). And, in the end, Poisonblack's bigger challenge relates to their overall sonic similarity to where Sentenced broke off the previous year (see "The Darkest Lie" -- a veritable Sentenced leftover, thanks to its melodic intro), inevitably diminishing the quality of their achievements just enough for the cynics who would tag them a poor man's replacement. It's frankly too early to do that just yet, but Poisonblack clearly have their work cut out for them, where it comes to establishing their own identity.

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