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Napalm (2012)
Rating: 6.5/10

Liv Kristine goes way back with many metal fans. In the 90s she ushered in the gothic rock movement, and later introduced electronic elements to the songs, while fronting Norway’s Theatre of Tragedy. In the new millennium she has continued to rule the goth rock and folk metal world markets as the frontwoman for her own band, Leaves’ Eyes.

Simultaneously however, she has explored her more pop-oriented side with solo albums under her own name. Libertine is her fourth solo album and another solid step towards the sound she’s going for.

Kristine’s last album, Skintight (2010), had some extremely wonderful moments, and Libertine further explores and exploits the best moments from it. The dark and driving ‘Solve Me’ as well as the duet ‘Vanilla Skin Delight’ are guitar based rockers that stop just short of being radio-friendly, but I’m not sure that’s an intentional move. The title track is a blend of bass-driven pop and the goth rock sound of Leaves’ Eyes, while the mellower ‘Meet Me In The Red Sky’ likely should have been left for the next Leaves’ Eyes album.

‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ is the lone surprise of the album. Covering a Kate Bush song is no easy task, but Kristine does it with an introspective, almost Elton John-like, persistence. While I’m not overtly familiar with Bush’s work (I was surprised to learn this was a cover), it’s not hard to hear Kristine’s unique stamp on it. While Kristine doesn’t necessarily sound like John, the combination of the lone piano and vocal and the way she phrases the lyrics reminds me a great deal of John’s deeper cuts from the 70s.

The poppy new wave bounce of ‘Paris Paris’ is the highlight here by far. It’s big and bright and sexy with just enough grit to remind you of bands like Stimulator, Blondie and The Cars. This is the only time on the album that the mixing is exactly right and when all the pieces meld into one like they do here; well you have some really excellent things on your hands.

Overall, Libertine is a solid album. It’s plagued by the same issues that her solo albums have always been plagued with; the production and mixing just isn’t right for the style. With the exception of ‘Paris Paris’, Kristine’s vocals completely dominate the music. In my opinion, this style needs to be driven by guitars (possibly keyboards) and the vocals have to blend with them or it loses all its power. On top of that, Kristine’s voice is beautiful, but thin, and she just can’t carry a pounding rhythm all on her own. Still though, this is her best batch of songs yet and that carries the album a long ways.

Mark Fisher

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