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First off, I have to comment that it's refreshing to receive a CD for review for a band fronted by a woman and it's not touted as "female fronted metal". The general metal press would have you believe that there exists a whole subgenre of "female fronted metal" where, in reality, there is no one style of metal that ties together every band that just so happens to have a female vocalist. It's almost as if some critics can't judge music free from the gender of those who've created it. French band Heonia simply describe their style as "Melodic Metal", or so a handwritten letter by frontwoman Marieke states, and while this is perhaps a fairly loose description, it's an apposite one as 'Winsome Scar', the band's debut full length release oozes aurally infectious melodies from start to finish...and much more. The first thing to strike me is the professionalism of the packaging for a self-released album - in a jewel case but with a wonderful cover image on a professionally printed booklet with a fantastic design throughout. However, it's only when I spin the disc for the first time that the real delights await. In no rush to hit you with a full on metal assault from the off, and eschewing a superfluous orchestral intro track that so many bands see fit to commence their albums, opening song 'The Chase' begins with effectively atmospheric synth sounds before bass and drums are introduced into the mix, and then vocals and guitars in a mid-tempo passage of music. This then switches to a more up-tempo section, albeit continuing with the same theme and melodies, before everything breaks for a killer guitar riff played in isolation and then they build up the heaviness of the instrumentation once again prior to diverging into a mellower passage and then hitting you with a final burst of heaviness for the last couple of minutes. You get the picture? We're talking a pretty diverse soundscape on each of the eleven tracks here which Heonia skilfully carve throughout the album's playing time from some adept performances on their instruments. I've probably made their approach sound rather progressive, which it is, but not in an overly technical, self-indulgent sense. Rather, the varying parts aren't in themselves progressive as such, but the unconventional structure of how they've been contraposed is. I think that's a great strength of Heonia in that they've managed to avoid a regular verse-bridge-chorus approach but still pertain to a structure that is as accessible as if they did succumb to a conventional pattern. Vocal-wise, Marieke has a wide range and immensely likeable voice, similar in style to Stream of Passion's Marcela Bovio although very occasionally verging ever so slightly off key at the higher end (I must emphasise ever so slightly though as only the keen-eared listener will most likely notice this). A few death grunts courtesy of keyboardist Damien also appear from time to time so Heonia aren't relying on a Theatre of Tragedy "beauty and the beast" approach to present their brand of melodic metal; rather the grunts are used sparingly and are effective in the context they appear. A very well produced effort, 'Winsome Scar' is also generally well mixed, although with the up tempo passages when there's more going on with the drums etc, the mix does occasionally make the music sound a little cluttered. That's a minor issue though as Heonia's debut offering remains an engaging aural experience from start to finish. I certainly recommend that you check out their music for yourself for a fine slab of contemporary melodic metal.
Review by Mark Holmes
1) The Chase
2) Requiem for the Night
3) Desire
4) Fears
5) A World is Collapsing
6) Broken Toys
7) The Awakening
8) Despair
9) Mirror of Life
10) To Die in Silence
11) Loneliness
"...a fine slab of contemporary melodic metal."