With almost 40 million combined YouTube views of the singles released from 2017’s debut album ‘Rhapsodies in Black’, the female vocal-led symphonic metal collaborative project known as Exit Eden was always going to record a follow-up. With numbers like 40,000,000 and the subsequent universal acclaim that each view brought, it was a no-brainer that Napalm Records would get the performers back together again. Six-plus years is a longer wait than most would have expected but factor in the schedules of each of the individual vocalists – as well as that pesky worldwide lockdown – and the wait is understandable. And with the quality found amongst the 12-track sophomore effort ‘Femmes Fatales’, the wait has been worth it.
October 2023 saw a completely unexpected announcement on social media (the first official post in 16 months) that Exit Eden would be returning. Sadly the post was a good-news-bad-news affair. The good news was that Exit Eden was back, the bad news was that Amanda Somerville would be stepping down from Exit Eden duties to spend more time with her twins. The remaining vocalists; Clémentine Delauney (Visions of Atlantis), Anna Brunner (League of Distortion), and Marina La Torraca (Phantom Elite) were quick to point out that they had zero intention of filling Amanda’s position and would continue as a trio. New year, new line-up, new beginnings, same breathtaking results.
‘Rhapsodies in Black’ was solely made up of cover versions (including a spellbinding version of the Jim Steinman/Bonnie Tyler classic ‘Total Eclipse of The Heart’ that sits at 12 million YT views and counting) which along with the number of official videos/singles released meant that it had an air of a singles collection about it. It’s an incredibly strong singles collection though. With ‘Femmes Fatales’ Exit Eden mixes it up by cutting down on the number of covers and also by throwing six originals into the mix, and in doing so, the result is more like an “album” in the traditional sense and one that flows.
The quality of the original material is strong and forms the backbone of the album, with album opener ‘Femme Fatale’, ‘Dying in my Dreams’ (which acts as the mid-album anchor), and closing track ‘Elysium’ all being crucial to the all-important pacing of the album. The bombastic, orchestral nature of the genre is front and centre on another original of some standing: ‘Buried in the Past’, which comes with a galloping pace that thrills with each twist and turn, and the false-ending around the four-minute mark is perfection. The arrival of much-missed ex-Nightwish legend (an often overused word, but in this case, apt) Marko Hietala on ‘Run!’ is a masterstroke, and the folk-tinged arrangements work wonders with all four voices combining to great effect, especially on the chorus which sees Marko exclaiming “RUN!” while the three Fatales work their magic around him.
Google “Femme Fatale” and it spits out: “The term originates from the French phrase femme fatale, which means ‘deadly woman’ or ‘lethal woman’. A femme fatale tries to achieve her hidden purpose by using feminine wiles such as beauty, charm, or sexual allure.” So with that in mind, a cover of Alice Cooper’s mega-hit ‘Poison’ and the lyrics “I wanna love you but I better not touch…” makes perfect sense. Given the concept behind the album, it is the perfect song for Exit Eden to tackle as the protagonist in the song is 100% a femme fatale and the result is a version that strips away the late-80s Desmond Child-sheen that split the Cooper-faithful over the ‘Trash’ album and replaces it with a bit of snarling bite courtesy of Anna Brunner. The format of each vocalist taking a verse gives this classic a fresh touch.
Heart’s ‘Alone’ is a tough one to tackle. But Exit Eden must have known that they knocked it out of the park because it quickly follows on from ‘Poison’ and is the only time that two covers appear next to each other on the running order. The combination of three differing vocal styles adds layers to the original and makes it rather special indeed. THAT note is delivered by Anna Brunner and your goosebumps will get goosebumps. Job. Done. It also is on the stunning cover of the Journey monster-hit ‘Separate Ways’ that begins with one of those trademark slow-burning Marina La Torraca vocal performances that should have you turning the volume control skyward to appreciate every little nuance and then have you smashing your face off the wall because you were daft enough to miss Phantom Elite when they made a pit-stop in the UK late last year. The pick of the bunch cover-wise, however, is Mylène Farmer’s ‘Desanchantée’ which Clémentine Delauney tackles in her native French, and even though you might not understand French, it is hard to resist the melodies and massive vocal hooks that will have you seeking out the original. Top marks on the atmospheric layered choral vocals that bring a hint of ‘Carmina Burana O Fortuna’ to the party.
Difficult second album? Pah, Exit Eden blasts that notion out of the water and in doing so have created an album that will still be spinning on most decks come the end of the year. Maybe not leave it so long until album number three, please?
Available January 12th via Napalm Records
Review – Dave
Photo credits – Stephan Heilemann