EXIT EDEN – Femmes Fatales

In 2017, Phantom Elite’s Marina La Torraca, League of Distortion’s Anna Brunner, Trillium’s Amanda Somerville and Clémentine Delauney pooled their collective vocal talents to create Exit Eden, a symphonic metal supergroup which aimed to bring a very theatrical slant to several rock and pop classics. Their ‘Rhapsodies In Black’ album – released that same year – showed how brilliantly 80s tunes like Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’ and ‘Heaven’ by Bryan Adams would work when reworked in a Nightwish-esque mould. The project’s real magic came through, however, when the performers and their assembled session band put a heavier slant on (then) more contemporary pop material like Katy Perry’s brilliant ‘Firework’ and Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’.

Following Amanda Somerville’s departure, the rest of Exit Eden returned to the studio in 2023 to craft a follow up. Their second outing shakes things up a little more by presenting a half dozen well chosen covers from the world of pop and rock alongside a handful of newly written numbers, allowing the performers to stretch out a little more. At it’s best, ‘Femmes Fatales’ gives fans exactly what they want, and pretty much what they’re expecting.

By adding specially commissioned material, ‘Femmes Fatales’ is far more appealing for lovers of the symphonic metal style, but might be less appealing to those who’d previously gravitated to the band via a love of interesting re-imaginings. With so much symphonic stuff, it tends to feel like a case of style over content; everything sounds great, but scratch below the bombast and the songwriting can be forgettable, leading to an unrewarding, bland experience. Thankfully, the new material here is far better than that – largely thanks to a variety of very strong voices – but will likely still be for genre fans only. They, of course, will love it.

With regard to Exit Eden’s choice of cover tunes, they’re pretty much as inspired as before. Even when transposing the material to a heavier sound doesn’t quite work, it’s a pleasure to hear a few old favourites in a new way. This is especially the case with Marillion’s well worn power ballad ‘Kayleigh’ which is loaded with heavy guitar lines and a dense keyboard sound that makes it feel like a deep cut from the Lacuna Coil catalogue. Granted, it loses a little of its melodic charm, but hearing different voices trade off melodies on the verses gives this recording a pleasingly epic feel, and the classic sounding symphonic metal guitar work provides a very natural compliment throughout. With a brief twin lead guitar dropping in at the end, it also tips the hat to the 80s in a different way, and overall, although it will never surpass the original cut, there’s a lot here to love. The same goes for the version of Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’ and Heart’s ‘Alone’, neither of which, obviously, require as much of a drastic reworking to make them stand up to Exit Eden’s vocal talents. In the case of the former, it’s the power of a neo-operatic vocal that always draws the attention, but the presence of huge orchestration beneath the metallic chug also sells the Exit Eden sound with ease. As for ‘Alone’, long standing fans of the track aren’t likely to have their affections stolen from Ann and Nancy, but by reintroducing a similar dense keyboard sound to the ‘Kayleigh’ recording, and placing some rather subtle orchestration on the verse beneath a muted guitar, there’s plenty of musical interest here, even before the band hit the heavier moments. Those, as expected, ensure the harmonising voices rise and deliver even bigger sounds. The broader AOR melodies suggest this tune was unlikely to be messed up when left in such capable hands, but it sounds much better than you’d expect.

It’s hard to feel as enthused about their cover of Journey’s ‘Separate Ways’. Although Neal Schon’s original riff has heavy intents, it’s the blend of his darker tones and Steve Perry’s melodic optimism that makes the track work. The harmonies here are excellent – the blended voices sound huge – but beyond that, the metallic chug and bombastic orchestra simply recreates a symphonic metal sound by rote. Aside from the excellent source material, there’s little here to distinguish the track from a couple of hundred other tunes found on albums by Nightwish, Tristania and their never-ending clones. That never makes it bad – far from it – but it’s rather uninspired. The bright synth pop of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘It’s A Sin’ works much better; the strings bring out the best in a mournful intro; classic sounding twin lead guitars beef up the main pop riff, and by keeping a very mechanical feel to the arrangement, it remains very sympathetic to the Tennant/Lowe cold and aloof style. As this cover finds its feet at the end of the second verse, it slides a little more towards a predictable goth-tinged metal sound but, this too, sounds excellent. Also, with the moody middle eight allowing for an operatic vocal to take centre stage, it feels as if this recording shares many of Exit Eden’s stronger, more interesting traits.

As for the album’s newly written material, there’s enough here to entertain. The brilliant ‘Run!’ mixes symphonic metal tropes with a folk metal melody, which leads to a very buoyant arrangement where soaring lead guitars dance cheekily with melodies that sound as if they should be flute driven. Occasional acoustic moments also lighten the mood, but even the heavier moments have enough flair to make the track flow effortlessly. Across a jig-like tune, a choir of voices – dominated by an operatic presence – work effortlessly together, and a guest vocal from ex-Nightwish/Tarot Man Marko Hietala adds a dash of imposing darkness. Everything combined, this ends up sounding not unlike something Finland would enter into the Eurovision Song Contest at the time of release, and it certainly gives this long player a little more character. ‘Dying In My Dreams’ marries a huge symphonic chug with a fine AOR melody to create a huge intro, before descending into light industrial/goth pop sounds that accentuate a more interesting melodic edge. Easing into the chorus, the vocalists rely on a tried and tested style. Latching onto a Nightwish friendly melody and always clinging onto a three part harmony, there’s a great sound, and at this point there seems little point in changing a formula that works so well. Even with a few more abrasive moments to balance out the predictable bombast and the inclusion of a brief light theatrical interlude, it has just enough variety not to feel phoned in. Despite the trio of vocalists being the big draw, the guitar work here is actually more impressive. This track is home to some fine soloing, with sweeping moments that are on a par with some of the best Euro melodic rock at the time of release.

Bookending the album are two of the stronger original cuts. The title track thunders from the speakers with a genuine immediacy when a chugging metallic guitar powers a riff against some very aggressive orchestration. Building to a huge chorus, rumbling rhythms underscore a moody vocal, and the explosion of the big chorus provides one of this album’s most exciting moments. With brief operatic notes piercing through some massive sounding symphonic metal, it makes Exit Eden sound like Visions of Atlantis, albeit amped up considerably. More importantly, that chorus isn’t just about bombast; unusually for the genre, it has the kind of melody you’ll remember long after the disc stops spinning, and a hook that’ll pull you in for repeated listens. ‘Elysium’, by contrast, shares the band’s more reflective side, with smooth pop-ish vocals lain across semi-acoustic sounds on a lovely opening verse. The lighter touch displayed here is a little uncharacteristic, but works well. Even when an electric backdrop is added for the second verse and beyond, the subtler textures of the vocal hold firm. For those who’d prefer Exit Eden to stick to something more familiar, the chorus is happy to oblige, when a much bigger voice is joined by a melodic metal chug. With another melodic rock inspired lead guitar break to top things off, it certainly doesn’t sell symphonic metal fans short. In fact, ignoring the fact that Exit Eden’s career sprang from cover tunes, this track showcases most of of their best traits in a near-perfect five minutes.

Overall, The mix of covers and original material gives ‘Femmes Fatales’ a much less coherent feel compared to the debut. However, it’s still very enjoyable, and it makes for a pleasing addition to the supergroup’s catalogue. In terms of symphonic metal, it’s so much better than most of the stuff that seems to get churned out from a never-ending source. The three vocalists turn in near impeccable performances throughout, and musically, the stand out tracks (‘It’s A Sin’, ‘Alone’, ‘Run!’ and the title cut) are very strong. Measured against ‘Rhapsodies In Black’, it might take a little more work to appreciate, but for lovers of the symphonic style, this will certainly have been worth the seven year wait.

January 2024