Released: 2003, Season of Mist
It’s not so often I get to hear a band from France, at least a really good one like Penumbra. Founded in 1996, Penumbra’s band name was wisely chosen since it refers to obscurity, uncertainty, partial shadow, etc. These all refer to what this band offers musically. You cannot sum up, in a simple sentence, what this band is about or what style they play.
One of the main points that distinguish Penumbra is the inclusion of three distinct vocalists – black metal male vocals, deep/rich clean male vocals, and clear/high female vocals. This is not for the close minded, not for fans of just female vocal bands like Lacuna Coil or the black metal styling of Dimmu Borgir. This band crosses boundaries, primarily with their three very strong vocalists with 3 unique styles. On their own, each of them are good, but combined they become something great. Fans of Amorphis, Nightwish, Dimmu Borgir, Lacuna Coil, Moonspell, etc...no one definable style, will find something interesting about this band. For me it was the blending of the styles and vocals that really showed the band's abilities to concoct something unique from mostly familiar elements.
Album opener "Tragical Memories" is representative of the band's best qualities with the excellent mixture of vocal styles of black metal, clear and deep male vocals, and clear and higher pitched female vocals. The tempo on this one is mid-paced with a slight progressive feel. The choir/group singing part near the end of the song adds a grandiose touch. "Cursed Destiny" begins more upbeat with faster double kick drumming and black metal vocals. The deeper male vocals (sounding a small bit like Moonspell or Type O Negative) are over the songs less intense moments. The middle of the song contains an interlude with some orchestration before the choirs come in with the rest of the band. The album’s title track, "Seclusion", has a different sound with the guitar being louder and raw with more mids in the tone. They are backed by what sounds like a bagpipe. After this the song goes into a sleepy section with keys and drums and lead female vocals before switching back to the ideas the song began with. The song basically follows this pattern throughout. “The Prophetess" prominently features the female vocals. A few parts break down with a mid-eastern feel on the melodies and female vocals. The choirs (similar to those on the glorious Thy Majesty album HASTINGS 1066) are also in this song. The black metal vocalist and the female vocalist trade off in a few places in the song creating a dialogue feel (very fitting since this is a concept album). I liked the outro the most with the crunching rhythms, choirs, and near death metal styled vocals over the top. "Hope" begins very mellow with clean guitar, keys, drums, and female vocals. A little over a minute in the black metal vocals burst in with the heavier guitars before doing a 360 once again driving home the musical roller coaster effect that they excel at. "Crimson Tail" deceptively begins with piano before the guitars/drums come in. This 6+ minute track has several heavy parts, atmospheric sections, etc. "Conception" is the longest track on the album at almost 7mins. For me this one tended to drag on due to the number of start/stop moments where the song gets very mellow with subtle backing music and female vocals then it returns to heavier sections. I'm sure it was required for the story/concept and it works well on that level, but didn't hold my attention as well as some of the other songs. The album is closed with the track "Enclosed" which again features some great trade off vocals and the choir.
There is not much negative to say about Penumbra. One sticking point for me is that the album lacks much in the way of guitar solos. Also, some of the songs near the end of the CD drag a bit, but they do add something different to the album. The band’s label calls them gothic metal, but until I read that on their site I would have never thought they fit that style. As mentioned at the beginning of the review, the band is quite diverse incorporating various metal styles with some classical elements (choirs, and other instrumentation). If you are looking for something a bit different from your daily dose of “meat and potatoes metal”, give Penumbra a try.