Album Reviews: Pandora’s Piñata by Diablo Swing Orchestra

When I think back to my earliest memories of music fandom, the most treasured and vivid ones linking back to before I even had the capability to record long-term memories were those of my time spent with my grandfather.  I can still remember it like yesterday as me and my mother would take our frequent visits to my grandparents house and my Granpa would be sitting in his recliner with the A.M. radio blasting the various big band, swing, and jazz artists that he loved so much (his hearing wasn’t that great, so 11 was the only acceptable point on the volume knob).  Glen Miller, Count Basie, Paul Whiteman, and the almighty Benny Goodman were some of his favorites that he used to like to talk at length about giving me synopsis on their music and little me would sit in that recliner next to him listening to music with him breaking to mimic the trumpet player from time to time.   So, yeah, when it comes down to it, I feel I have to credit my Granpa for being the ultimate catalyst to my current and lifelong obsession with all kinds of music.  He has returned to the Earth some years ago, but whenever I hear any of his favorite artists or their style it tends to reel those amazing memories back putting me on the verge of being misty eyed and landing an ear to ear smile on my face.

So, what does my beloved Granpa and his favorite music have anything to do with metal?  Well, Sweden’s Diablo Swing Orchestra have a new album out called Pandora’s Piñata and as I listen to their swing laden brand of metal I can’t hold back thoughts of Granpa and how I may have finally found a metal band that we could listen to together and then would nod his approval at (which he would then proceed to tell me that they’re too loud, or ‘too sweet’ as he put it, giving me a nice warm smile and a wink).

Getting right to the meat and potatoes of the record, DSO kick things off with the swing-tastic “Voodoo Mon Amour” as a huge sounding brass section carries driving electric guitars, energetic drumming, and some rolling stand-up bass work.  The vibe of this song has a nice New Orleans Cabaret feel to it and is accentuated by some wonderful vocal work by Annlouice Loegdlund who has this cool Billie Holiday mixed with an Italian grand opera singer thing going on.  As the song plays on and it’s ultra-sharp hooks get caught in you from every angle, you’ll be hard pressed not to jump up and start cutting some rug with your best gal.  To not fizzle out after such a strong opener elements of samba take the forefront on “Guerrilla Laments” and will make you feel like you’re trapped in of those black velvet paintings of a Spanish bullfight.  The real highlight of this tune is Petter Karlsson and his percussion section as they pound out infectious beats and rhythms that should come with an advisory pertaining to what their voodoo can do to ones hips.

Up at this point one may be thinking that DSO is all about high energy in their music with non-stop energy, but on “Kevlar Sweethearts” some real musical dynamic starts to show.  Starting off with pounding and aggressive drums and guitars backed by the brass section, the song quickly takes a turn for the haunting and mellow as Annlouice’s now ghostly vocals dance with a bout of acoustic guitars and violins.  It floats between heavy and somber eventually leading to bouts of neck pain inducing headbanging.  After a nice little violin interlude called “How To Organize A Lynch Mob” one of my favorite track off the record kicks in.  “Black Box Messiah” is chock full of classic big band horns backed by some stunning groove metal rhythms and kazoos (yes, kazoos on a metal record!).  While there are the Annlouice’s vocals on this tune the backing vocals here made this tune for me.  They sound like the voices of that ‘It’s a Small World’ ride in Disneyland possessed by an even darker lord than they already are.  Their happy and chipper chipmunk timbre has this menacing and mischievous sound to them that brings the song into a darker territory from a direction you would have never expected, but it’s impossible to not smile and giggle as they drive to eat your soul.  It’s so damn happy and upbeat it has to be possessed by Satan himself ;)

At this point, if you didn’t think the dynamics of DSO could get any crazier, think again.  “Exit Strategy Of A Wrecking Ball” features some of the hardest hits on the album so far and also some of the sweetest and beautiful melodies too.  Guitarist Daniel Håkansson takes a step from the backing vocal duties he’s been performing on the record so far and gets the spotlight put on him as he flows between some dreamlike clean and tenor vocals to fits of powerful and dirty screams really building an amazing dynamic in the song with smooth stitching to make sure the contrast are heard very well, but are not jarring.  Wonderful composition and songwriting on this one.

“Aurora” is the track that really lets Annlouice have some fun and show off her vocal techniques as this is a tune that is the furthest from both metal and swing on the album embracing opera music to the fullest.  The rising crescendos and delicate woodwind section build such a beautiful atmosphere that I kept thinking it was a shame that this tune was only five minutes long, it’s just so captivating to hear this band explore every inch of their talents.  But DSO are technically a metal band, so wallowing in non-metal territory isn’t going to be the focus of the record and on “Mass Rapture” it’s back to off-kilter business as usual.  This tune continues with that swing sound adding some nice Middle Eastern touches that brought the band Orphaned Land to mind.

Continuing with amazing song after amazing song the big band sound is really brought to the forefront again in a nice modern way on “Honey Trap Aftermath” with some great brass work and cool ‘wah wah’ and slap bass effects adding some heavy funk influences.  Daniel Håkansson is on vocal duties on this track again showing off his super groovy voice as Annlouice provides some great contrast in the background during the hooky choruses.  The heaviest track of the record “Of Kali Ma Calibre” kick off with a thundering marching-paced conglomeration of every section before the horn section comes in to beckon the start of the war along with some huge operatic vocals.  Not content to stick with one tempo or dynamic “Of Kali Ma Calibre” floats around a myriad of musical themes and styles much akin to some Opeth songs which they do again with the closer, “Justice For Saint Mary”, with a bit of a lighter edge than its former.  I’m really reminded of the album The Snow Goose by prog rock outfit Camel (hmm, more Opeth references snuck into this review ;) ) before it slips into madness with its crazy industrial metal closing movement.

At the end of the day, Pandora’s Piñata is a must buy record for lovers of bands that look to push the boundaries of what can be done in and with metal.  The songwriting is impeccable as each song is wholly unique and highly memorable, the execution and musicianship is top-tier with every member sounding like they’re at the apex of their craft.  And while not 100% swing and big band infused I’m sure my Granpa would have loved the opera sections too (he would listen to that from time to time too).  It’s great when music brings back wonderful memories, it’s even better when the music kicks ass too.  If your Granpa wasn’t a fan of swing and big band, I’m sure you will love this record anyway and have tons of fun listening if you open you musical mind to something unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.  A truly remarkable record, with or without the aid of sappy nostalgia.  Enjoy!!  Peace Love and Metal!!!

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About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on September 4, 2012, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Without even hearing a note of this bvand’s music I already feel that they’re playing the kind of stuff that’s gonna excite my earballs – Metal, Jazz and Opera all mashed up together under one groove? Sounds like my kinda shit!! I love how you made that connection with your granddad and your early listening experiences – that really brings your writing alive and sucks me right in; makes an album review a bit more of a personal experience. Love it.

    Off for a listen now…

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