Review: Joan Avant ‘Dies Irae’

Okay, let’s start with a pop quiz. Who reading this has any knowledge of what ‘Victorian Gothic Symphonic Rock’ is? Yep, me neither. Well, unless you do, this review is going to be somewhat of an eye-opener as today’s subject under review is the new album, Dies Irae, the follow-up to 2019s Drown Ophelia, by a truly unique artiste, the one and only Joan Avant.

Joan Avant ‘Dies Irae’

To the untrained ear, it would be easy to pass this off as some sort of niche concept album, but upon closer inspection, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, I assure you, you will be richly rewarded indeed.

Having grown up in a musical family, and having been in other bands previously, Joan Avant has ventured out on her own, taking full control of all of the artistic processes, to create a lavish album, filled with crazy concepts, and intricate nuances, befitting such a project.

To be clear, it took a few listens for the full majesty of the work to truly win me over. As a fan of some symphonic rock, it has to be specific bands, and more so, specific set pieces. Otherwise, it leaves me flat and falls firmly into the realms of tacky or ridiculously cheesy. On first run through, I was teetering, it was a fine line between terrific and terrible, but I think that was more a failing on my part, as I needed to give myself to the concept, and not be so structured in only what I wanted to hear.

There are points throughout the whole album, where the guitar part falls flat and doesn’t hit the realms of soaring like I wanted it to. But again, that was what I wanted, and not my appreciating that in the overall sonic experience, it makes much more sense. For me, it seemed that it was all about the vocal and the piano, with everything else falling into obscurity, except for when it was necessary to pull parts forward.

It wasn’t until I stepped away, and left the album playing, while washing up of all things, where it all fell into place, and boy, when it did, what a revelation it really was.

So, to put it into context, the nearest comparison I could make was The Dresden Dolls. With Amanda Palmer’s unique vocal tones, over a very eclectic monologue soundtrack, The Dresden Dolls created a whole experience which was uniquely them. Joan Avant falls snugly into that same realm. It’s hard to put a definitive pin in at comparisons though, and yes, while it does ring of Victorian musical ideas, it isn’t strictly Victorian. It’s safer, I think, to say it has an appeal, which is in line with the whole steampunk revolution. It does strike at gothic too, not goth, but gothic. It has that creepy nature to it but isn’t goth in the strictest nature.

if ‘Victorian dark rock’ sounds like a bit of you, and you have an awareness of The Dresden Dolls, then I’m positive this will be right up your boulevard…

While researching Avant, I did come across the concept of it being ‘Moulin Rouge’ meets the ‘nasty rock sounds of symphonic metal’. I wouldn’t say it’s that at all, and as much as it has a reminiscence of ‘Moulin Rouge’ in style, musically it’s nowhere near that comparison. That being said, if you were looking at a true comparison musically, to those ideals, again it would be The Dresden Dolls, more than anything ‘symphonic metal’. That being said, The Dresden Dolls are fantastical, so it’s all good.

Better Broken, track two, is the initial point of entry for me. I really liked the dynamic on it and based my wanting to review the album. It showcase’s Joan Avant’s unique vocal talent, coupled with a wondrous piano accompaniment. It starts in quite an unassuming way, but as it progresses it picks up in pace and becomes darker. When it’s heavier it’s really quite ferocious, but never strays into anything too heavy. At times the vocal does drift off into operatic territory, but the parallel is when it’s reigned back in, and a calmer passage assumes control.

I am quite taken with track four, Mr. Chandler, as it has a vibrancy and catchiness to it, which lives on well beyond its time of being played. I think if you needed a moment to impress on to an unsuspecting listener, then this would be the optimum moment to do so. This truly captures Avant at her most vibrant, and creative.

That being said, I also really enjoyed All The Voices, and Keys To The Castle. Both seem to really capture something interesting and unique, and it’s these moments which I’m drawn to specifically. Both are dark and somewhat macabre. If I’m honest, it’s a real mixed bag of great moments, and areas where for me, it falls a little flat. That being said, that’s because I wanted wailing guitars in the mix, and where it’s more subdued, on personal preference, I had expected it to take me down a different path to the one it was actually meandering down.

So, to summarise, if ‘Victorian dark rock’ sounds like a bit of you, and you have an awareness of The Dresden Dolls, then I’m positive this will be right up your boulevard, with its dark, quirky, sideshow awkwardness. If after all of this, you’re still unsure, then have a listen to Mr.Chandler, and go from there. You never know, you may well surprise yourself at how catchy it all really is.

Label: Red Masque Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Lee Beamish