Another act from the conveyor belt of Frontiers’ manufactured talents, the thinking behind Venus 5 was to create a “credible metal version” of the ultimate girl group. Label boss Serafino Perugino had obviously thought about the sales potential of multi-voiced pop acts and figured that a huge harmonic potential could be transposed to something heavier and still work. In some ways, he isn’t wrong, since this debut album never sells the listener short on massive vocals. He isn’t necessarily right either, as there are times throughout its eleven tracks where being constantly confronted with all five voices most of the time can be a little wearing. It’s not that the girls can’t sing; each member has a very strong voice, but the opportunities to hear them performing apart aren’t always so forthcoming as they perhaps could have been.
With that small complaint out of the way, there are some decent songs here. They don’t all work, but when Venus 5 hit the mark, the material could stand alongside the works of Issa, Angelica and even bits of the excellent Big Deal debut. An instant standout, ‘Inside’ opens with a wash of keys and a mechanised beat – very much throwing a spotlight onto the band’s poppier core. It then takes a twist into some jagged metal, driven by brilliant guitar work and a pompy keyboard, taking Venus 5 towards a Within Temptation sound. The union of voices is strong without ever being jaw-dropping, and the way one of the huskier leads uses her voice as a bridge between a hard edged guitar and bass union sets up some great Euro hard rock worthy of Angelica and Chaos Magic at their most melodic. There’s a familiarity here, too, that goes a long way giving the track a solid appeal. Similarly, the more spacious ‘Save You’ works a meaty bass sound against a crisp piano, calling back to the later sounds of Lacuna Coil, whilst a husky voice and clean vocal harmonise. This suggests a strong track is about to unfold, but it doesn’t entirely prepare the listener for a massive hook where the choir of voices really sells a massive Euro rock hook. With each of the five featured vocalists getting a moment in the spotlight, and a massive old-school lead guitar break bringing up the rear, this definitely captures the Venus 5 project at its strongest.
‘Nothing But A Heartache’ supplies some massive, crashy rock that, at least musically, could be interchangeable with at least seven other Frontiers Records acts at the time of release. However, between a massively dirty guitar riff and an elephantine sized hook, it pushes all of the right buttons. It’s the kind of track that shows an immediate strength and appeal, but at around the halfway mark, the slab of melodic metal really starts to come into its own. This is due in part to the chorus having already made an impact, but also thanks to a couple of the lead vocals stretching out. One voice adopts a soulful croon giving the arrangement a slightly more sophisticated quality; the other indulges in a massive rock scream (mixed at the rear of a wall of sound). It’s one of the times when the variety of vocalists chosen for the project actually shines through and its all the better for it, but for the less discerning listener, the chorus and core melody will certainly be enough for this number to become a firm favourite.
‘We Are Dynamite’ kicks off with a busy keyboard riff akin to a 90s techno number before settling into a really crunchy metal workout, underscored by hard edged techy-noises. The guitar riff is king, attacking with an impressive crunch, and the contrast between the solid metal backdrop and clean harmonised vocal shows why Venus 5 can work. Factor in a couple of Lacuna Coil-esque flourishes, a whispered middle eight, a terrific lead guitar, and a few moments that sound like an unexpected (and unplanned) throwback to Powerman 5000’s ‘Anyone For Doomsday’, and you have a sure fire winner on your hands, as well as a tune that’s as crunchy as hell. In a slight change of mood, ‘Monster Under The Bed’ applies some of the same traits to a more jagged, almost sleazy verse and a chorus melody that sounds like an old ABBA tune redressed in massive boots. Initial listens show something with a great strength, and a couple of flashes of grungier guitar work ensures this track really stands out, but if you’ve not been won over so far, it still has the potential to feel a little too bombastic. For lovers of massive Euro metal, though, there’s definitely the heart of a number that’ll appeal.
There are other times when Venus 5’s pure bombast just proves too much. Such is the case with the opening number, ‘Lioness’, which attacks with an absolutely huge riff, far heavier than you’d expect from a melodic metal release, drawing closer influences from the Euro prog metal scene. The proggy aspects are further accentuated by a busy keyboard line that constantly bloops throughout, giving off techy vibes. That, naturally, means the vocalists are also approaching most of their performance at absolutely full pelt, and with the lions share dominated by all five at once whilst a wall of guitars challenges them for dominance, it soon becomes to blusterous by half. Those able to cock their ear inside the wall of noise might find a fleeting melody that hints at some of the greatness found elsewhere, but its safe to say this really isn’t the album’s best track.
‘Bride With Blackened Eyes’, meanwhile, attacks without any real subtlety when a muddy riff collides with pneumatic drums, creating a backdrop that sounds like a Nightwish tune played much more aggressively. Vocally, each of the women are more than up to the job, and when harmonising on the chorus, their sense of presence is massive. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to detract from the ugly prog metal aspects, a sampled operatic choir bringing some truly grating sounds to the fore, and the general feeling of constantly being pummelled by a collection of session musos who really don’t understand that less can often be more. This makes the combined efforts of Toby Hitchcock and Jim Peterik’s World’s Stage seem like the ultimate exercise in restraint. Also best avoided, ‘Because of You’ opens with a cheap sounding keyboard fanfare before descending into a bog standard European melodic metal clattering. There are moments when a great melody shines through courtesy of a sparse piano, but in the main, its general crashiness and heavy sound is such that the guitars and distorted bass sounds half drown out the voca. Since the vocals are supposedly this album’s big selling point, surely that’s a mistake? During the middle eight, especially, an unsure voice mumbles against an arrangement that sounds like something lifted from an old Ensight LP, and the pure bombast swamps everything to the point of rendering things unlistenable. By the time the arrangement reaches its lumbering coda and keyboard fanfares sound like a cross between detuned brass and deflating balloons, you might even find yourself wondering if a demo were used by mistake.
If you approach this with the expectancy of hearing a few great songs from a massively European melodic metal angle, chances are, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re hoping to experience some pop hooks bolstered by some great guitar work, on the other hand – sort of an AOR on steroids, and the kind of thing that Frontiers Records appears to have all but forgotten in 2022 – then, unfortunately, you could well find Venus 5’s approach doesn’t quite greet you in the way it should. Much like the Moonland album featuring Lenna Kuumaar from a few years ago, this album can be a stark reminder that not everything needs to be “heavied up”. Just as Kuumaar’s pop past with Vanilla Ninja was far stronger than the rock works foisted upon her for the Moonland debut, there’s a core of material here that might have worked better in a big and unashamed Europop format. That, of course, would’ve made it a very different animal. As it is, Venus 5 – both the act and the album – aren’t without charm, and sometimes they’re even great. About fifty percent of the time, though, the material suggests something great that’s a little lost in translation. Even for the most seasoned rock fan, it’s best to dive in with a relatively open ear and no big expectations; that way, you’ll almost certainly come away having had at least half an album’s worth of enjoyment.
Buy the album here: VENUS 5 – Venus 5