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Album Review: The Dark Element – The Dark Element

Seeing how The Dark Element is a collaboration between Cain’s Offering guitarist Jani Liimatainen and former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon, it would be easy to assume that their debut album is merely a composite of those bands. The singles sure didn’t discourage this notion as “My Sweet Mystery” plays like a less passive aggressive “Bye, Bye Beautiful” while “Dead to Me” seems to invite scandal with its title and a riff that I swear was lifted straight out of “Shudder Before the Beautiful.” Fortunately the rest of the album is content to avoid such comparisons to Finland’s best known symphonic metal export.

In fact, I wouldn’t consider this to be a metal album at all. The crunchy guitar tone and symphonic flourishes of Cain’s Offering are prominent, but the bright tone, electronica elements, and earworm-centric songwriting suggest an almost pop rock approach. The results are rather uncanny for us grumpy metal types, especially on the more electronic tracks, but the move certainly makes sense for the musicians involved. After all, Cain’s Offering is basically pop in power metal clothing and Olzon was an AOR singer that accidentally got her big break with a heavy metal band.

It also helps that Liimatainen is an absolute professional in terms of both songwriting and musicianship. Despite a formulaic emphasis on hooks, the songs aren’t as shallow as the format would suggest and there is a variety of styles on display. One can pick out a steady amount of upbeat rockers, heavier explorations, and occasional lapses into Sonata Arctica-style balladry. The vocals are also consistently pleasant and the guitar even gets some lead spots to shine, even if things tend to sound digitized for my taste.

While The Dark Element’s saccharine style and squeaky clean presentation put it straight into “not for me” territory, I must admit that this debut album is well made. The group clearly knows what it is doing and while it can feel like it was executed with almost mechanical precision, it never feels dumbed down. I wouldn’t recommend this if you were into Cain’s Offering more for its power metal elements, but if you like a little extra sugar in your corn flakes, this may be up your alley.

Highlights:
“The Dark Element”
“My Sweet Mystery”
“Dead to Me”

The Dark Element is now available from Frontiers Music.

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