'Chaos Magic' was the eponymously titled debut album of a new project that emerged in 2015, featuring the super talented Chilean vocalist Caterina Nix and the ever-reliable, ex-Stratovarius guitarist, Timo Tolkki. He wrote and recorded the music - guitars, bass, keys - with Jami Huovinen providing drums, and Nix sung. It worked a treat. Now, with album number two, Tolkki is gone, Nix remains, a new band has been formed, guests have been brought on board, and we have a different beast altogether. A better beast? In some ways, yes; in others, no.
Primarily, Chaos Magic is now a collaboration between Nix and fellow countryman Nasson, who, aside from producing, has brought his multi-instrumental talents into the project - guitars, piano, programming, additional bass, and some vocals. Carlos Hernandez is now the drummer, and Hermaunt Folatre the bassist, with Franco Lama credited with programming.
Vocally, itís all first-class stuff once again. However, one of Nix's characteristic vocal quirks - the inflections in her voice (almost a Dolores O'Riordan yelpy yodel at the end of lines) - is now largely absent, aside from a few moments. I adored this quality of her voice, yet she seems to have exercised a degree of restraint in its use. Reassuringly, though, the passion in her voice that was rampant on the debut is still present, and listening to her voice still strikes me as a woman singing her heart out. Itís this level of emotion that makes it easy to connect with this sophomore platter of songsÖ even if the instrumentations are not all top notch. Nothing bad, I hasten to add; rather, genericism rears its head during a few of the tracks.
Gone are Tolkki's symphonically adorned rock/metal arrangements (albeit certain tracks are biased more towards the symphonic), in favour of, on the whole, groove-heavy instrumentations. In fact, it all gets a bit Lacuna Coil, at times. Mid-era Coil to be precise. 'FuryBorn', for example, is Lacuna Coil through and through, a comparison that's hammered home by the presence of male vocals on this one, too (courtesy of Evergrey's Tom Englund). Not a criticism, I hasten to add; rather, indicative that the songs here are more derivative of established genre idioms, rather than seeking to establish an overall identity for Chaos Magic that is uniquely their own.
The album's a much heavier outing than its predecessor, for sure, and certainly more guitar-oriented for large parts. And that's part of the problem in terms of this album faltering where the first one didn't - much of the guitar work is rather generic, so songs have an instant generic centricity due to the guitar bias. The productionís great, and the mix, by the super talented Jacob Hansen, is good, but with the guitars cranked up a little too much, at timesÖ so, itís evident that this was always intended to be a more hard-hitting outing than its predecessor. Keys are there to be heard in the heavier tracks, but it's invariably guitar at the forefront. At times, the guitar work seems to be a little overzealous - for example, Nasson seems to like pinch harmonics in his playing, as 'Throw Me to the Wolves' is overloaded with the things... annoyingly so, it must be said. Donít get me wrong, I love the sound of a pinch harmonic, and theyíre satisfying to play - I used to colour my own fretboard work with them. But, they lose their potency through overuse.
Tracks that aren't so biased towards guitars in the mix are where the album shines at its very brightest. 'I'd Give It All' is utterly sublime, and it's the track on the album, entirely de-heavied, where Nix is given a ton of breathing space to truly showcase what she's capable of vocally. This one song is utterly beautiful and so affectively sublime, through composition, its minimalism and emotionally profound singing. Her vocal performance is fantastic throughout, but this one definitely stands out. So much so, Iíd love to see Nix release an album of stripped-down compositions at some point, where the songwriting dominates, rather than genre.
Interestingly, the genericism of the first two thirds of the album gives way to a strong quartet of tracks to climax with. The aforementioned ĎIíd Give It Allí is heartfelt beauty personified through music. 'Path of the Brave', featuring Ronnie Romero from the current incarnation of Rainbow, is probably the best duet on the album. Nix's and Romero's voices work incredibly well together. 'My Affliction's is a bit of a different track to anything else thatís preceded it, with its oppressively dark intrusions that cut through more euphonic passages, some beautiful vocals, and spoken-word parts. And a low (uncredited) male voice that adds to the affective drone. Totally love this one. And, despite its title, and theme centred around an abusive relationship, the closing number, 'I'm Your Cancer', is actually one of the more uplifting songs on the album, and a great way to end. And itís perhaps the single track on the album thatís most related to Tolkkiís compositional M.O.
Overall, this is another great album from a very different Chaos Magic. My advice? Certainly donít go into this one expecting more of the same, and stick with the genericism, as the album gets better and better. And even the generic numbers are growers and become more and more addictive with each new listen. Letís hope itís not another four years before we have more Chaos Magic.
Review by Mark Holmes
14th June 2019
1) You Will Breathe Again
3) Like Never Before
4) Beware of Silent Waters
5) Falling Again
6) Bravely Beautiful
7) Throw Me to the Wolves
8) I'd Give It All
9) Path of the Brave
10) My Affliction
11) I'm Your Cancer
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...another great album from a very different Chaos Magic."