Sirenia came into existence following Morten Veland's departure from Tristania. Much like that group early on, this new creation had a very dark start to it's initial gothic metal soaked material. 2002 saw their debut album At Sixes and Sevens drop, garnering plenty of praise from fans and critics alike, as did their 2004 follow-up An Elixer for Existence. As time went on, the band focused more on their Symphonic aspect, and not so much it's darker presence. Four more full-lengths later, all met with mixed reception, and we've now come to the band's aptly titled seventh studio album, The Seventh Life Path, as well as a return to Napalm Records, the label that handled their first two efforts. But have they also returned to their musical roots, or is this yet another release destined to be hit or miss among their fans?

Well, The Seventh Life Path does stick to what the group has been up to lately as far as their performances are concerned, wrapping themselves up with beautiful performances based largely around romance, loss, even mental breakdowns, the latter of which is nicely portrayed in the powerful music video for "Once My Light". Thankfully, considering the aggression found on later tracks, this one still retains a bit of roughness to the overall output, keeping itself from becoming yet another sleek sounding gothic metal band to get lost in the crowd of similar faces. The guitars have a decent bite thanks to the dirtier sounding distortion, not to mention superb echo on the cleaner chords, and the bass is present well enough with a deep tuning that is worth paying attention to when allowed a moment to shine through. Sadly, the drums sound a bit compressed and tinny at times, which doesn't work as nicely as it does for the rest of the instruments. Even Ailyn's vocals seem weaker at times, as if a there's something heavy presenting an obstacle from the full projection being captured.

While the album easily could have been mastered better, a lot of the aforementioned elements, positive or negatively described, actually makes The Seventh Life Path sound genuine by accentuating the themes of each song within the lyrics and music. "Serpent" has some fairly crushing grooves in some of the bridges, as well as the infectious chorus with a background operatic choir, but the main verse really brings Ailyn's singing up a little louder with some additional echo, complimenting the slight burdening sensation that feels as monolithic as the interpretation of said serpent within the song. Morten's raspy vocals add to the lizard-like quality nicely by sticking to a fairly linear pitch one might expect a creature like this to have in reality.

But some of the most impressive material of The Seventh Life Path lies in the more aggressive compositions about half way through. "Sons of the North" introduces this, and it's an interesting mixture of Norwegian black metal influences intertwined with traditional gothic metal. While the latter is kept mostly to the chorus, the main verses capture the first of those two in a fairly blunt, spirit crushing manner that the harshened vocals compliment well, not to mention some of the nightmarish keyboard and symphonic pieces that appear about five minutes in that trudge along in a momentary doom metal trance. That blackened touch is carried into "Earendal" perfectly, though the structuring is about the same other than a momentary progressive metal bass line approaching two-and-a-half minutes in, as well as a Folk angle seemingly influenced by the lore and heritage of the band's home country through wooden landscapes and gypsy/carnival themes, complimenting the sensation of exploration and wonder this segment, the guitar solo, and chorus easily create.

"The Silver Eye", however, is easily one of the most impressive tracks The Seventh Life Path has to offer. The glorious melodies that erupt early on are reminiscent of Amon Amarth for a short time, eventually weaving together Pagan black metal laced with traces of keyboard-driven Helloween influenced power metal. It's an invigorating, albeit shortlived mixture, that gives way to channelling some briefly eccentric tones, usually following the heavily Viking-fuelled chorus that only helps to amplify the already over-the-top piece. But then there's "Elixer", which is basically the polar opposite. It comes across a combination of traditional Goth/Darkwave laced with explosive Moonspell-grade performances and a well executed Neoclassical guitar solo thrown in for good measure. While not the only time it happens, this one shows Morten taking over vocal duties for most of the track, capturing that B-Horror graveyard style atmosphere quite well, even when belting out a mixture of rasps and gutturals in the chorus. By the time Ailyn briefly chimes in, it all feels like some kind of gothic duet influenced by the musical The Phantom of the Opera.

There's so much going on within the confines of The Seventh Life Path that it's almost impossible to compress one's thoughts or opinions into a single review without analysing pretty much every single track on the recording. Sirenia seem to be far more open and creative being signed with Napalm Records, as if Morten and Ailyn were finally able to realize their dream that had been stuck in neutral during their time with Nuclear Blast Records. This album also appears to have been recorded by the band as a whole (according to various articles on-line), and not like the prior three albums that list the recording members as a duo of the two just mentioned by name. Whatever the case may be, this new full-length is a powerful return to the group's roots, combined with the path they've forged for themselves up to this point, a sound that those going in expecting a light-hearted romantic romp on par with the single and music video behind "Once My Light" will be surprised at what they find, either for the better or the worst. At just under seventy minutes of beautiful, crushing music, Sirenia stand their strongest thanks to The Seventh Life Path, which is easily not only one of the most important albums of their career, but also one of the most impressive albums 2015 has to offer.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.