In 2019, Ardours’ debut album ‘Last Place On Earth’ mixed heavy edges with darkwave synths to create a relatively contemporary sound. In taking the gothic and using that to underscore a modern take on melodic rock and applying a touch of electronica very naturally, the band’s sound was rather big and broad, but for lovers of classic Lacuna Coil – and, to a lesser degree, Evanescence and their ilk – the album certainly had…something. The heavier moments provided former Tristania vocalist Mariangela Durmatas a much denser canvas to work with than before, as evidenced during the title track, but she was more than up to the task in numbers like ‘Truths’ and ‘Last Moment’, the band showed an affinity for applying a classic sounding melodic hook to something a little more alternative – at least in a retro sense – and with ease. It’s fair to say the album didn’t suit everyone’s tastes – it certainly wasn’t aimed at those who felt that, as a label, Frontiers Records should only be releasing music that sounded like Survivor and Night Ranger throwbacks – but it showed a lot of promise.
In 2020, Ardours released a timely follow up with ‘Eu4ria’, a covers EP which focused on some of their more 80s influences. More melodic than their self-penned work, the short listen found them putting their own twist on works by Lisa Dalbello, Nik Kershaw and Ultravox. It had a greater potential to bring in new listeners due to its familiar source material, but – as with a lot of Frontiers’ product – didn’t really reach too far beyond the faithful, but was certainly fun.
If those releases suggested Ardours were capable of delivering something big, those feelings are certainly confirmed by the bulk of material on their second full length release, 2022’s ‘Anatomy of A Moment’. It’s a record that really builds upon the sounds of the debut. In a little over forty five minutes, Ardours shift between solidly melodic and wantonly grand depending on how big Mariangela’s vocals are required to be, but somewhere at its heart, the album often values tunes and hooks over unnecessary bloat and bombast. Yes, it’s all very European, and its still quite heavy in places – and, of course, none of it comes close to the retro AOR sound that some of the older supporters of Frontiers Records’ wares would want – but there’s definitely a bigger concession for melodies, and what it does, it mostly does very well.
An obvious highlight, the title track opens with a very busy 80s keyboard loop and mechanised beats, and as the melody branches out, it actually owes far more to New Order circa 1984 than any of Ardours’ usual touchstones. At somewhere around the middle of the second verse, with Mariangela opening her voice to a full cry whilst multi-instrumentalist Kris Laurent indulges in a blanket of sounds that fuse bits of a Vangelis score with traces of Army of None, it’s obvious this is pretty special. By waiting until later to bring in a wall of guitars, the arrangement really seems to understand the value in building tension, and when the climax finally hits with a mix of melodic rock, European pop and darkwave charm, it’s clear this is the best Ardours tune to date. It’s also one of their poppiest,and it’s definitely no coincidence that the lighter touch has gone a long way towards that appeal. Tapping even further into the electronic elements of their work, the duo go all out with dance loops and heavy beats during the intro of ‘Dead Weight’, but rather than just use those to grab attention, they actually provide the backdrop for an incredibly busy four minutes. The contrast between the club remix elements of the rhythms, cold piano lines and Cure-ish darkness is immediately impressive, but it’s the way a very human vocal is used to connect the mechanics that makes it truly work, and Durmatas soars as if she’s the modern day incarnation of Annie Haslam. When hitting what passes as a chorus, Ardours revert to type with a wall of gothic metal guitars, a Lacuna Coil-ish sense of bombast and a few crashy riffs, but in terms of updating their sound, it’s superb.
A little quieter at first, ‘Unannounced’ isn’t shy in advertising more of the band’s 80s influences when a groove-laden bass dances against cold synths that owe a massive debt to The Cure circa 1989, but it isn’t long before the Euro rock influences take hold. There’s still a huge concession to a gothic rock past thanks to the guitars providing dense musical links between the verses, but chorus wise, the band reach for a traditional melodic rock hook. This would certainly pander more towards the buyers of most of Frontiers’ wares with its hints of Angelica Rylin and The Murder of My Sweet, but it’s unlikely to have been designed that way; it’s simply that Mariangela recognises that, in this case, less is almost certainly more. By eventually taking the main melody and expanding upon it with a neo-operatic worldless harmony, it’s almost as if this number features all of Ardours’ styles in a four minute package, making it another standout track. Those looking for something even more synth oriented should check out ‘Cold Revenge’, an unexpected mix of Euro goth rock and early Nine Inch Nails, which uses retro keys used to create an obvious unease. While the music values mood over melody, Durmatas approaches the track as if crooning over a traditional piano ballad; her voice is soft and mournful at times, but reaches for an Amy Lee-esque cry at others; no matter what’s required, though, she’s always in complete control of the melody. The guitars are used a little more sparingly too, but there’s plenty in the way Laurent uses them as colourant and builds a wall of ringing noise that’s effective, despite being rather simple. A few plays is enough for this to stick; even though it doesn’t necessarily present itself as a classic, it definitely suggests more of a mature quality which Ardours could certainly expand upon without losing too much of their established heavy yet melodic sound.
The bulk of the rest of the album is much closer to the “traditional” Ardours sound, but isn’t any the worse for that. ‘Insomniac’ kicks off with a selection of chiming guitars underscored by a solid bass. This doesn’t give much away before a massive drum roll and raising of vocals suggests we’re headed for something grander, but strangely, at the point you’re expecting a massive chorus to explode into life, the music takes a swerve and Laurent unveils a keyboard line that sounds like a distant cousin to something from the Gary Numan catalogue, circa 1982. This is brilliant in its own way, and obviously suits Ardours and the old style coldness they love, but in terms of its placing within this arrangement, it’s most unexpected. What this does, of course, is create a darkwave blanket, over which Durmatas is able to spring into life. Her voice is pure; her sense of grandness, almost unshakable, and faced with lyrics about “facing the day” and “the speed of life”, she’s able to sell a confident and optimistic view with ease. Eventually, the musical elements further align, and the marriage of crashing drums, chiming guitars and a busy groove results in one of the band’s most accessible rockers.
The drum heavy ‘Given’ places a crying vocal above a busy groove setting up an immediate contrast, but as with most of the best Ardours tunes, the simplicity within the melodic hook soon shines through, with Mariangela performing as if its already an old standard, and ‘Chasing Whispers’ seamlessly blends Euro rock with a traditional melodic hook, very much bread and butter stuff for the vocalist. Laurent does his utmost to keep things interesting musically, though, by juxtaposing a hard drum on the verse with a soaring, almost grandiose melody on the chorus. In taking influence from a couple of old stadium rockers and twisting the AOR edge into something a little more contemporary, Ardours sound great, even before dropping in an old school lead guitar break for good measure, but compared to some of the other tunes, it feels a little ordinary. In many ways, ‘Epitaph For A Spark’, although similar in places, fares better due to a much more prominent synth/electronic heart, but even that settles into fairly standard Ardours fare after a while. There’s very little wrong with that, of course, but as tracks like ‘Cold Revenge’ and ‘Anatomy of A Moment’ show, the band are capable of far more interesting things. Even so, these are still recordings that extant fans of the band are likely to enjoy, and possibly in the long term.
Overall, this is a step up from the Ardours debut. The tunes are all solid, and there are some excellent riffs throughout, but it’s the former Tristania frontwoman who remains the true star. Her ability to sell a melody is without question, and definitely more so on this album, since she applies a great range and a more sympathetic touch to some of the softer moments. Naturally, if you’re not really into the big sound and the semi-gothic, you won’t really be sold on any of this anyway, but that would certainly be your loss. There are a couple of tracks where Ardours are in danger of “phoning it in”, but in the main, in terms of that “difficult second album”, the duo hit the ground running, and make the creation of epic sounding, semi-gothic rock seem like the easiest thing in the world. Recommended.
Buy the album here: ARDOURS – Anatomy of A Moment