Album Review – Once / After Earth (2018)

Inspired by neo-romantic soundtrack music, this talented German squad will take you to a world of fantasy, passion and mystery with their debut full-length album.

Heavily inspired by neo-romantic soundtrack music, and including typical elements of a classical Aristotelian drama combined with heavy guitars and drums in their music, German Symphonic Metal act Once has been embellishing the airwaves with their unique musicality since their inception in 2012 in North Rhine-Westphalia, culminating now in 2018 with the release of their debut full-length album, entitled After Earth. If you’re an admirer of the classy and enfolding Symphonic Metal crafted by iconic bands like Epica, Nightwish, Within Temptation and Beyond The Black, the creations by this German quartet comprised of Alina Lesnik on vocals, Marco Paulzen on the guitars, bass and harsh vocals, Frank Wypchol on keyboards, piano and orchestrations, and Alexander Hey on drums will certainly please your metallic soul.

Featuring a curious artwork by Tullius Heuer and orchestra and choir arrangements by Frank Wypchol, produced by Frank Wypchol and Marco Paulzen, recorded and engineered by Marco Paulzen in Münster, Germany, and having as a very special guest musician Shir-Ran Yinon (Krayenzeit, Haggard, Eluveitie and New Model Army) on violin, After Earth will take the listener to a world of fantasy, passion and mystery, which combined with the band’s imposing musicality and the album’s crisp and vibrant production will fully captivate your senses, making you eager for more of the music by this talented German squad. In other words, simply hit play, close your eyes, and let Once guide you through the exciting lands of After Earth.

Like the intro to an epic movie, Act 1 (Overture) invites us all to join Once in their musical journey starting with the imposing and symphonic Awake, a lesson in Symphonic Power Metal led by the classic keys and piano by Frank, with Alina living up to the legacy of stunning vocalists like Tarja Turunen and Floor Jansen. Then even more symphonic than its predecessor, My Masterpiece showcases another excellent performance by Frank with his keys while Marco brings passion to the music with his riffs and solos, as well as Alexander and his thunderous beats; followed by The Allure, presenting guest Shir-Ran Yinon and her whimsical violin in a beautiful feast of symphonic and melodic sounds and tones. Furthermore, Alina is magnificent on vocals, while Marco creates a very interesting paradox to the tenderness of the violin with his heavier-than-hell riffs.

Again featuring Shir-Ran Yinon, Distorted Smiles is a serene ballad where Alina smoothly declaims the song’s classy lyrics (“Winter’s fingers creeping chillingly / Across the rusty window bar / Through the stormy blizzard rings / A weary melody coming from afar”) before their crushing Symphonic Metal strikes again in The Hour of Eden’s Fall, presenting stylish words (“Images of a bursting sanity / Are turning into a lost reflection / Of the eternal bond of our affection / Painting the moment as a memory / Once my only world was your embrace / Now my heart is buried and erased”) and incendiary performances by Marco and Alexander, bringing rage and electricity to the music with their harsh growls, cutting riffs and nonstop beats. After such powerful display of symphonic music, a cinematic bridge titled Act II (Intermezzo) builds an imposing and adventurous atmosphere for the power ballad My Fairytale, with Alina stealing the spotlight with her fiery vocals while Frank and his keys and orchestrations add tons of electricity to the overall result, being perfect for fans of Epica and Nightwish.

Spiced up by a stunning work done on the piano by Frank we have Phenomena, a metallic symphony of sounds that feels like the soundtrack to a dangerous but thrilling adventure, with Marco carving the word “metal” onto the musicality with his Melodic Metal riffs and bass punches, connecting instantly with the Opera Metal-inspired tune The Sins of Saints, keeping the ambience vibrant and exciting with Frank and Marco being on absolute fire throughout the entire song, slashing our senses and dragging us to their fantastic world of heavy music. Then in Insane Schemes of Sanity an ethereal start morphs into a classy and gentle Symphonic Power Metal extravaganza, flirting with Folk Metal at times thanks to its pace and breaks, as well as Frank’s keys and Alina’s storytelling vocals, whereas in The Final Stage, where Shir-Ran Yinon embellishes the musicality once again with her magic violin, we’re treated to over 10 minutes of first-class Symphonic Metal led by Alina’s gorgeous vocal lines, all embraced by vibrant, stunning orchestrations and boosted by Marco’s deep roars, flowing flawlessly for our total delight until its grand finale, before Epilogue (A Memento of Our Hiraeth) concludes this album of symphony, melody and epicness in a beyond enfolding and theatrical way, mesmerizing our senses for over six minutes with its gentle piano notes and orchestral background elements.

It’s quite impossible to stand still or unemotional while listening to Once, especially if you’re a longtime fan of stylish, epic and heavy orchestral music, and in order to show your appreciation for such distinct band go check what they’re up to on Facebook, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and purchase your copy of After Earth, a gorgeous lecture in Symphonic Metal, from the Pride & Joy Music webstore, from MBM Music By Mail, from the NEH Records webstore, from iTunes, or from Amazon. Once will certainly take you on a fantastic musical journey with After Earth, showing you how relevant Symphonic Metal still is nowadays, and how inspiring it can be in your everyday life.

Best moments of the album: The Allure, The Hour of Eden’s Fall, Phenomena and The Final Stage.

Worst moments of the album: Insane Schemes of Sanity.

Released in 2018 Pride & Joy Music

Track listing
1. Act 1 (Overture) 2:04
2. Awake 4:19
3. My Masterpiece 3:40
4. The Allure (feat. Shir-Ran Yinon) 3:59
5. Distorted Smiles (feat. Shir-Ran Yinon) 3:52
6. The Hour of Eden’s Fall 4:45
7. Act II (Intermezzo) 2:12
8. My Fairytale 3:55
9. Phenomena 4:35
10. The Sins of Saints 3:57
11. Insane Schemes of Sanity 4:31
12. The Final Stage (feat. Shir-Ran Yinon) 10:18
13. Epilogue (A Memento of Our Hiraeth) 5:51

Band members
Alina Lesnik – vocals
Marco Paulzen – guitars, bass, harsh vocals
Frank Wypchol – keyboards, piano, orchestrations
Alexander Hey – drums

Guest musician
Shir-Ran Yinon – violin on “The Allure”, “Distorted Smiles” and “The Final Stage”

Metal Chick of the Month – Polina Psycheya

I’ll take you far away to another land…

Brothers and sisters of heavy music, let’s all travel this November to Chelyabinsk (or Челя́бинск in Russian), a city in west-central Russia located in the northeast of the oblast, around 210 kilometers south of Yekaterinburg, just to the east of the Ural Mountains on the border of Europe and Asia, to meet our stunning and unstoppable metal chick of the month. She considers herself a true Russian Viking, always ready for heading into the battlefield armed with her potent vocals and endless energy, and in case you haven’t heard of this amazing frontwoman yet, I bet you’re going to be surprised by how talented, hardworking and passionate about metal she is. I’m talking about Polina Psycheya, whose real name is Polina Sibrikova (or Полина Сибрикова), former lead singer for Russian Melodic Death Metal band All I Could Bleed and current main frontwoman for Portuguese Symphonic Progressive Metal band The Autist, an obstinate woman that takes no prisoners in her quest for heavy music.

Before starting her career as an Extreme Metal singer, Polina had what we can call a normal life in her hometown Chelyabinsk, graduating from МОУ СОШ № 41 (or “secondary school number 41 of Chelyabinsk”) in 2007, and advancing for a degree in Graphic Design from РБИУ (or RBIM – Russian-British Institute of Management) in 2010, a higher education international institute also located in Chelyabinsk. As a matter of fact, even after joining All I Could Bleed she kept working as an artist and clothing and apparel designer, as you can see on her official Facebook page titled “World of Polina Psycheya”, where she usually posts details about her works, tutorials and items for sale. However, it looks like heavy music is her true passion in life, with her skills as a designer becoming a complement to her role as a female growler. And if you think she took any special courses in singing, you’re absolutely wrong, as Polina simply learned how to scream and growl by herself, only training during the band’s rehearsals, always shaping up her own vocal style without copying anyone or anything from books.

As already mentioned, Polina was the frontwoman for Russian act All I Could Bleed starting 2009, but the band started a few years before that, more precisely in 2004 when two old friends, guitarists Alex Sibrikov and Max Melnikov, decided to form a Death Metal band together as an outlet of their aggression. When they released their first single Follow Me, in 2009, Polina was not yet part of the band, with Alex taking care of the vocal duties. However, after Polina joined All I Could Bleed, the band reached its desired shape and form and was ready to take the world of heavy music by storm, with the release of their 2011 debut full-length album Burying the Past (available for a full listen on YouTube) being the culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication of all band members to their music. As a matter of fact, Polina not only growled and screamed like a beast in the album, but she was also responsible for the lyrics, cover art and design, proving that although she might not be a founding member of All I Could Bleed, she had definitely become the band’s heart and soul during her time with them.

After the release of Burying the Past, Polina and her bandmates got back in action in 2014 when they released a single titled Debris of Earth, a lot more melodic, more experimental and groovier than all songs form their debut installment. Furthermore, if there’s one thing Polina loves from the bottom of her heart is playing live, and she certainly translates that passion into sheer energy during the band’s live performances. When asked about the idea for their onstage outfits, she said she took the inspiration from dark, ancient and powerful warriors like the Riders of the Apocalypse, designing all the clothing herself, and when she was asked about her first ever concert as the frontwoman of All I Could Bleed, she mentioned it was indeed an unforgettable night for her in her hometown Chelyabinsk, in 2009. Due to the fact she wasn’t writing the lyrics for their songs at that time, her bandmates gave her the task of learning the classic Enemy Within, originally recorded by Arch Enemy, and singing it as part of their setlist. Well, Polina didn’t disappoint at all; quite the contrary, the reception of the crowd at the venue was amazing, inspiring her to keep growling in the name of metal. You won’t be able to find that concert online, but there’s no need for panicking, as you can at least enjoy All I Could Bleed’s full (and absolutely awesome) performance at the Tele-Club in Yekaterinburg, Russia on April 24, 2014, where Polina simply kicked some serious fuckin’ ass on stage.

Apart form her career with All I Could Bleed, Polina has also been involved since 2017 with Portuguese Symphonic Progressive Metal band The Autist, a female-fronted metal project with progressive and symphonic elements highly recommended for fans of truly melancholic, tragic and conceptual music that was inspired by deep emotions we all go through in our lives. The origin of the project dates back to 2014 and is the mind reflection of guitarist and composer Pedro Remiz, who decided to recreate his own musical world after the end of Darkside of Innocence. Also featuring Alina Lesnik (from German Symphonic metal band Once), Chiara Tricarico (from bands like RavenWord and Sound Storm) and several other guest musicians, besides of course Polina as the band’s main vocalist, The Autist have already released two EP’s and one full-length album so far, with Polina lending her slashing roars to the songs The Sanctuary, Ethereal and Pandora’s Curse, from their 2017 album The Coldest Sun, and to the songs The Idol, Anima and Bloodlust, from their 2018 EP Anima.

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Regarding Polina’s biggest idols and influences in heavy music, her list is beyond fantastic, including bands (and obviously their respective vocalists) such as Rammstein, Metallica, Death, Pantera, Children Of Bodom, Arkona, Kreator, Destruction and Motörhead, all of which she would love to play alongside at Wacken Open Air by the way, with Rammstein and Children Of Bodom being considered by Polina herself the two bands with the highest impact on her vocal style and musical direction. In addition, during one of her interviews she was also asked to list the top 5 albums anyone should have in their collection, and once again her choices didn’t disappoint, including Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Death’s Symbolic, Dimmu Borgir’s Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, and Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power. Hence, you can enjoy Polina paying a tribute to several of her idols on her official YouTube channel, recording her own versions to classics like Dimmu Borgir’s Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse (together with German multi-insturmentalist André “Agordas” Groschopp); Arch Enemy’s Nemesis; Pantera’s all-time hit Walk  (recorded with All I Could Bleed during one of their rehearsal sessions); and Death’s Symbolic (recorded during one of All I Could Bleed’s live performances). Furthermore, you can also enjoy other exclusive videos on her YouTube channel, such as Progressive/Melodic Power Metal masters Kamelot featuring not only Polina but also the amazing Kobra Paige live in Moscow in 2017; and Polina herself talking a little about her style, about Death Metal and about Arch Enemy,  and the reason for that is because in the past let’s say Polina wasn’t very happy when compared to Arch Enemy’s former vocalist Angela Gossow. She said in one of her interviews that she didn’t like the comparison because it was only based on sex, not on their vocal styles, as she believes her vocals are a lot closer to Death’s  iconic Chuck Schuldiner’s than to Angela’s. Now Polina is a fan of Arch Enemy, but again, if you meet her don’t waste her time asking about Angela Gossow, right?

When questioned about the current state of heavy music and the metal scene in her homeland, especially the Death Metal scene, our Russian warrior said that despite the huge amount of talented and hardworking bands found in the underground Russian scene, Heavy Metal is not respected and it’s extremely hard to make a living out of it, resulting in several musicians leaving their bands and entire bands calling it quits. In her opinion, the only Russian band that has truly conquered success in Russia and outside of the country is Pagan/Folk Metal institution Arkona, always keeping in mind they were one of the pioneers of the genre and started their career over 15 years ago. On the other hand, she doesn’t think that metal becoming mainstream would be the solution for that because albeit mainstream bands can make a considerable amount of money to support their careers, not to mention touring and recording videos become a lot easier, she believes you can lose or give up your honesty if you’re not underground anymore. In other words, she thinks somewhere in between mainstream and underground would be ideal, and seeing successful but still loyal-to-their-roots bands like Trivium, Primal Fear and the aforementioned Arkona only corroborates with her opinion. In addition, Polina actually thinks metal isn’t thriving anywhere in the world except for South America, and that she sometimes wishes she was reborn in the 70’s or 80’s as those where the decades when metal was the big thing. She also said she doesn’t really care about all metal classifications and labels, as long as it’s metal and an honest way to express yourself, complementing by saying that despite the heaviness and aggressiveness of the lyrics, metal is a lot more honest and inspiring than other styles like pop and rap, where musicians only promote negative things like debauchery, drugs, dullness and false moral values. As Polina herself said, it’s hard to make a living out of metal music in Russia, and that’s why she keeps working as a designer while her former bandmates from All I Could Bleed also have regular day-to-day jobs like working at a music school or on railroad construction, as well as playing in bars and pubs with other projects and cover bands. Not only that, but just like any other regular person she also has her hobbies, all related to her passion for music, for costume designing and for outdoor sports such as hiking and bike riding. Who knows, maybe one day if you’re just walking around Chelyabinsk you might be surprised by our Russian Viking staying healthy and in shape on her bike.

As expected, Polina was also asked to give her opinion on how she sees the increasing importance and participation of women in heavy music, especially regarding the growing number of female singers in extreme music bands, and her answer to that was quite curious. Our gorgeous growler said she has never actually felt like an “outsider” in a male-dominated world, saying she doesn’t “feel” like a woman but just like a Death Metal musician. Moreover, when asked if she’s ever had any issues with fans, Polina said that despite her stunning beauty, her fans have always been very respectful with her, understanding she has always worked hard, always true to the foundations of Death Metal and never backing down, getting full support from all of her followers. And last but not least, still regarding the support received from fans from all parts of the world, when questioned about illegal downloads and all types of websites posting her material without her official consent, she mentioned that in the end that’s not as bad as it looks, saying that exposure in the internet is actually a good thing for unknown underground bands because they end up receiving free PR, and several people who get in contact with the band through an illegal download will buy the album or any other type of official merch, and attend the band’s concert if possible, meaning more money than expected will go to the band’s pockets. Having said that, although Polina herself is not against illegal downloads, I’m pretty sure our metal diva would simply love if you purchased Burying the Past from the Darknagar Records’ BandCamp page or from Discogs, or any of the releases from The Autist from their BandCamp page, showing your true support and appreciation for these two extremely talented bands and their Viking frontwoman.

Polina Psycheya’s Official Facebook page
Polina Psycheya’s Official Instagram
Polina Psycheya’s Official Twitter
Polina Psycheya’s Official YouTube channel