CORONATUS — Terra Incognita (review)

CORONATUS — Terra Incognita album cover Album · 2011 · Gothic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
German gothic metal act Coronatus hasn’t exactly had a stable line-up during their career. With every album release from the band there has been a line-up change. 2011’s Terra Incognita, which is the fourth album from the band, is no exception to this and is actually the most radical line-up change between albums yet, with only drummer Mats Kurth (also the only original member left) and guitarist Aria Keramati Noori remaining from the line-up that recorded the group’s previous studio album, 2009’s Fabula Magna, although it does also see the return of former member Ada Flechtner, who sang on their second album, Porta Obscura from 2008.

Traditionally Coronatus is fronted by two female singers, one representing a classical voice and the other a rock voice. Singer Carmen R. Lorch (formerly Schäfer) had been the long running classical singer with the band but she left after Fabula Magna, as did the current rock vocalist Lisa Lasch. Initially Terra Incognita was to usher in a completely new vocal duo, with Arcane Grail’s Natalia Kempin replacing Lorch, and Mareike Makosch replacing Lasch. Kempin left the band before the album could be recorded however, which opened the way for Flechtner’s return. Flechtner was representative of the rock voice when she sang alongside Lorch on Porta Obscura but now takes over as the band’s classical voice. Her development as a vocalist since Porta Obscura is pretty stunning actually, her classical vocals aren’t as powerful as what Carmen was capable of, but when in combination with Mareike’s vocals we’re treated to a stellar vocal delivery. This is the best vocal duo the band has had since their debut album Lux Noctis. If there was a problem with the last couple of albums, it’s that Carmen typical outshone the rock singer, not so much on Porta Obscura but very noticeably so on Fabula Magna, and this is the first time since the debut where the two lead voices have really complemented each other in every possible way. I’m hoping that the line-up stabilises now, because if Terra Incognita is anything to go by, Coronatus is onto a winner.

Coronatus is best described as a gothic metal band, but this doesn’t describe their sound on Terra Incognita with complete accuracy. Specifically the band also incorporates symphonic metal into their sound, although they’re more firmly on the gothic side of the often blurry symphonic/gothic barrier when you take their albums as a whole. Additionally folk sounds creep into their music, and have been increasingly so with every release they put out, so Terra Incognita sees them bringing in even more folk sounds than ever before, though not to the point that folk metal becomes the band’s dominant sound. The folk does crop up enough for me to consider the album more than merely folk influenced as with the last couple of albums however, with it being heard either as little flourishes such as in Fernes Land or as more full out folk metal tracks like Traumzeit. Terra Incognita sounds like more evolved Coronatus because of this. Drawing on the three styles gives their tracks plenty of variety, as does their tendency to switch between German, English and Latin lyrics, although this time not so much the latter.

One thing I question during the album is the use of some faint almost growling vocals as backing in Fernes Lands when it’s the most commercially inclined track that Terra Incognita has to offer the listener, since they add nothing to the track whatsoever. I am personally of the opinion that the ‘metal + commercial = bad’ equation isn’t true, so long as it is done right, and I can’t shake the feeling that the growls (I wouldn’t really call them that, but for want of a better word) are only there to try to take a bit of the track’s commercial nature away, since this is the only time they are used in the album, which for female fronted gothic metal (and also symphonic metal), is nowhere near as commercial as some of the bigger acts in the game such as Sirenia, Lacuna Coil, or Within Temptation, and also generally heavier, although Terra Incognita doesn’t feel as intense in the guitars department as Porta Obscura and Fabula Magna were.

On this note I do kind of feel the need to stress that since Fernes Land is the track which got a music video made for it, and was the track released to promote the album before its release, hearing this track first isn’t getting a very accurate representation of what Terra Incognita is all about. In fact the track is actually mostly written for the band by session musician Simon Hassemer, which may go some way to explain this. Fernes Land is still a good track, taken best with the release as a whole, but the real gems here are tracks such as the somewhat eerie opener Saint Slayer, or really addictive stuff like Hateful Affection and Sie stehen am Weg, not to mention the In Signo Crucis Trilogy that makes up tracks 7 – 9.

The gothic atmospheres are spot on, especially when there’s some piano involved. The folk contrasts with this with some typically happier sounding melodies. Terra Incognita may take a few listens to get into for the existing fan, mainly because despite the excellent vocal team that Ada and Mareike make, Carmen’s absence is most definitely felt here, as there’s no track that really packs the sort of operatic metal punch that past gems like Exitus did. The end result is however quite the addictive listen, and the album was, for me, quickly put into heavy rotation. I do miss Carmen, but overall Terra Incognita stands out in the crowd of female fronted gothic metal albums for me, and is most certainly a return to form for Coronatus after the slightly disappointing Fabula Magna. I’d say that in context of their whole discography so far, Terra Incognita is their second best release, especially on the compositional front.

(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scored at 9.3/10)
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