Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora's Piñata

Candlelight Records
Produced by Roberto Laghi

Diablo Swing Orchestra's status as an avant-garde metal band is something of a misconception. Avant-garde metal is often inaccessible, chaotic, messy and difficult to digest. Even some of the more 'popular' bands in that genre have a certain obtuseness that makes them difficult to the ear; not that this is necessarily a bad thing, and in part being difficult is part of the appeal. These are all things that do not apply to Diablo Swing Orchestra, though. DSO are many things – different, cross-genre, a band that is likely to try out new styles and new ideas, but their music isn't actually difficult. In fact, on the contrary, DSO's music is arguably more accessible than the majority of metal bands to an outside audience – their fusion of swing, classical, rock, and whatever they decide works at the time always results in music with a strong universal appeal. You can play plenty of DSO songs to your non-metal friends and relatives, and chances are they will get it.

Really it is the metal world that has the hardest time understanding Diablo Swing Orchestra, and really what that comes down to is that DSO simply play great music that doesn't accept traditional genre boundaries. This isn't out of trying to be avant-garde or progressive – the songs still often use the classic verse-chorus-verse structure. Instead they simply make music that sounds good, that is fun and energetic but also sincere, just how music should be.

Their last album was something of a European tour – a collection of songs that embodied the spirit of various European countries, if perhaps subtly. Pandora's Piñata could be regarded as a logical extension of this, with much more sounds brought in from beyond the continent. The band's third album also brings with it a permanent brass section that is very present across the album – thus if there was ever a 'base sound' for the band, then on Pandora's Piñata it is less similar to Balrog Boogie from their first album and more like A Tapdancer's Dilema from their second; an electric, fast paced swing metal sound.

In fact, the album's first song, Voodoo Mon Amour, might as well be A Tapdancer's Dilema, Part 2. The song keeps the infectious swinging groove quite well and is a delicious way to open the album. Later songs have more unusual flavours – Guerrilla Laments heads south and has a certain latin style thanks to the brass section, whilst Black Box Messiah invokes the spirit of Devo with a dash of Japanese mania spliced in (Not unlike Polysics, in fact). Elsewhere, Honeytrap Aftermath drops metal and swing in exchange for outright funk rock - Anders Johansson's bass-work in particular really shines, as does the charismatic Daniel Håkansson's soulful vocals. In the middle of all this, we are treated to a full-on classical piece in Aurora, letting Annlouice Loegdlund's utterly staggering vocal talents soar freely. If you ever feel the urge to have an argument about which female opera singer in metal is the best, that's the name you need to remember.

All this stylish chicanery wouldn't mean anything if the songs were bad, which is really what makes Diablo Swing Orchestra such a special band. None of this is delivered as if it were out of the ordinary – the music sounds epic thanks to the varied instrumentation and never feels dull because of the changing aesthetics, but still it is very apparent that at the end of the day the band are still out to write songs that you'll want to hum and sing along to. Certainly there are major influences from the classical world and more beyond that, and the song-writing can often be complex, involved and appeal to the more progressive mindset. But it is still music that can be easily grasped by a more casual listener, too.

In all regards, Pandora's Piñata is surprising in that it actually manages to surpass its predecessors. It feels more centred and more solidified in its delivery. It is imaginative, fun, creative and entertaining. It is performed by sensational musicians, produced precisely and written sincerely and well. Most importantly though it is music to be enjoyed, not simply crazy music, but music that doesn't care for barriers and makes something wild and exciting in the process. Bands like Diablo Swing Orchestra don't come along often; but they really, really should.

“ an electric, fast paced swing metal sound ”

Tracklist: Voodoo Mon Amour / Guerrilla Laments / Kevlar Sweethearts / How To Organize A Lynch Mob / Black Box Messiah / Exit Strategy of A Wrecking Ball / Aurora / Mass Rapture / Honey Trap Aftermath / Of Kali Ma Calibre / Justice For Saint Mary

Written by James Donovan
More: 2012, Albums, Avant-garde,

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