Another hard-driving, bombastic effort from TRAIL OF TEARS, "Bloodstained Endurance" features the return of soprano vocalist Cathrine Paulsen whose sonorous voice lifts those beautiful melodies to the heavens and provides a perfect contrast to the melo-death muscle and Ronny Thorsen's growls. The release of 2007's superb "Existentia" demonstrated the band's place as one of Napalm's shining stars and its follow-up does the same. It is another excellent disc from a band that has always been about quality and consistency."Gothic metal" has been the catch-all descriptor for the Norwegian act, but is somewhat misleading in that it does not fully capture that broader appeal of an album like "Bloodstained Endurance". Generally dark, yet not morose, the symphonic shades and effervescent melodies blend seamlessly with the predominantly propulsive, riff-heavy aggressiveness. In other words, those not necessarily enamored with the symphonic/gothic metal of a typical Napalm release — the roster's expansion into more diverse styles notwithstanding — may be swayed with the TRAIL OF TEARS' musical package. More than anything else, the central structures come with a big 'ole set of balls, not altogether unlike what a band like DARK TRANQUILLITY brings to the table. With the exception of ballad "A Storm at Will" (itself one of the album's best songs with an addictive melody and Paulsen's moving spotlight performance), the album is filled with tunes that move with groove and weight. By itself though that aspect of the songwriting is not what makes "Bloodstained Endurance" a keeper. It is the marrying of those bright, shining melodies — led by Paulsen's golden pipes and the incorporation of symphonic, sometimes operatic, elements — to the sheer heaviness of the delivery. Nowhere is that as evident as on "The Feverish Alliance", a song that boasts the album's biggest hook and a slightly exotic edge to the main riff. The title track is similarly effective, this time with Thorsen carrying the very intense chorus. If you're looking for a riff that defines toughness, then check out "In the Valley of Ashes". "Take Aim, Reclaim, Prevail" is notable for its lush, symphonic choral effects on the chorus, while "Faith Comes Knocking" is the disc's darkest track and is every bit as aggressive as the rest; Paulsen' bout of maniacal laughter at one point and her song-ending question is downright spooky. The album has an abundance of those moments that make you go "wow, that's cool." On balance, "Existentia" might get the nod because of a marginally more catchy collection of songs, but it is very, very close. Both are outstanding efforts; no two ways about it. Those seeking to broaden their traditionally death metal oriented tastes with an album that features actual singing and home-run melodies without actually leaving the aggression behind may be pleasantly surprised by "Bloodstained Endurance". Besides, TRAIL OF TEARS deserves the attention.
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