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Diablo Swing Orchestra - Pandora's Piņata CD (album) cover


Diablo Swing Orchestra


Progressive Metal

3.94 | 178 ratings

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5 stars [b]How To Organise A Musical Explosion[/b]

It took me a while to fully swallow [i]Pandora's Piņata[/i] as an album. I may have occasionally mentioned the epic endeavour that I undertook last year to compile my list of best albums, resulting in an inevitable overplaying of the same 30 or 40 records until my mind couldn't handle them anymore and I locked them in a special section of my library for never touching. Although it bred a great list, the strangest thing has happened since, involving the few albums that I excluded from that original set, to somehow discover my utter enjoyment for them. Pandora's Piņata had gained about 5 plays before I expelled it from the list, because I felt the novelty factor of SWINGMETALSWINGMETALSWINGMETAL had died off, and the music underneath really wasn't anything significant.

But like several other albums from what I now call one of the greatest years of music, [i]Pandora's Piņata[/i] came back to me in time, to my thorough enjoyment. Sure, the ridiculous elements of opera, swing, chamber and rock into some weird concoction may be the reason this album and band gets its fantastic reputation, but in fact there is an awful lot of well written music underneath the whole thing. I guess it's strange that I find the genre-defining opener "Voodoo Mon Amour" to be easily the weakest track on here, because it really is just swing metal with swing and metal and no real decent music underneath it. But every single other song, even 53 second interlude "How To Organise A Lynch Mob", bring something interesting to the table, both in forward-thinking structures and instruments, and the actually melodies and harmonies used underneath this.

I could pull every single song here apart and dissect the fantastic range of influences and sounds that Diablo Swing Orchestra utilise, but I really don't think that it's necessary. I'm really just going to talk about one thing here, one of the best things that has come from the realm of music in the last few years, at least in my ears; album closer "Justice For Saint Mary".

One of the things I notice about albums with "regular length songs" (whatever that means), is that very many of them feature an incredibly exquisite ending track in which the band decides for once to calm everything down and work on insane buildup, epic chorus and intense finish. And a significant number of these songs find themselves sitting on the highest heights of my best songs of all time lists. For some odd reason, when progressive bands do epic, 90% of the time it feels forced and useless, but when non-progressive bands do epic, it's explosive, it's insane, it's? epic. Taking a brief look at my lists, I'm reminded of the title track of Jimmy Eat World's [i]Invented[/i], "Say When" from [i]Fables From A Mayfly[/i] (Fair To Midland), even "Famous Last Words" from [i]The Black Parade[/i] (My Chemical Romance) and the incredible "But Home Is Nowhere" from [i]Sing The Sorrow[/i] (AFI, including its two hidden tracks of course). Hell, even "I Won't See You Tonight Part 1" from [i]Waking The Fallen[/i] (Avenged Sevenfold) is fantastic (although it's not a closing track). All of them settle into their little grooves and use development as key to epicness, without losing the structure that many prog bands lose in their longer tracks.

Although Diablo Swing Orchestra are most certainly a progressive band in the dictionary sense of the word, I don't really think the genre applies too well for them. The majority of [i]Pandora's Piņata[/i] is littered with fast, ridiculous and hilarious tracks with tubas and Japanese lyrics and opera singers, whereas "Justice For Saint Mary" slows everything right down. The other slower song on the record, "Exit Strategy of a Wrecking Ball", is my second favourite song here, but it lacks the intense buildup and release of the 8-minute explosion. The first few minutes bring forward a delicate beauty that was first introduced in "Exit Strategy", with solemn vocals and strings creating a more chamber influenced style than the bombastic swing violence that spreads throughout the earlier tracks. Although many (boring) people will claim that this song is generic and uninteresting at this point, I think it's absolutely stunning. The deep tuba underneath the strings keeps it up musically, and although the lyrics aren't top notch, you have to admit the vocal melody is pretty damn good.

I'll digress of the topic of this final song just for a moment while I talk about the "metal" on this record. To be honest, there isn't much. Diablo sure have a wide range of influences, but the only real metal part of this record is that insanely delicious guitar tone that comes in like a funky jazz beat in several songs. And damn, that tone is amazing. I mean, it's enough that DSO have all these influences and great songwriting, but great production too? The tone is fantastic, but don't ever think this is a metal album. But an expectation comes into "Justice For Saint Mary" near the end. The strings have built to a screeching crescendo. The epic line that they follow is chill-inducing, and yes, the moment when the guitar hits is phenomenal. Everything, the buildup of the track, the tuba, the strings, the guitar, the drums just comes together and for some odd reason it doesn't sound retarded. It sounds fantastic. And just when you think it couldn't get any better?

It explodes.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the breakdown at the end of "Justice For Saint Mary" is the best piece of music made in 2012. Or at least, it's the best idea, and the best executed. Maybe other moments, like the chorus of "Last Goodbye" from [i]Nine[/i] (Circus Maximus) might win, but this is the most utterly mind-boggling. Who else. Who else would put a fucking dubstep breakdown at the end of an 8 minute chamber metal swing tuba rock song. But holy shit, it works. Man, every time this comes on I have a fucking eargasm. It's just so violent, so unexpected and so relentlessly attacking. A lot of metal bands try to do electronic, maybe putting some electronic drums in every now and then, but Diablo have gone full on here. This isn't just a breakdown, it's an incredibly well-produced piece of electronic cutting. This is Aphex Twin-level good. Man, the way the beat and the guitar are chopped and flung in all directions is insane. Diablo have clearly done their homework on this, because we all know how embarrassing it is when a rockband tries to incorporate electronic into their music and only proves how little they know about electronic music (COUGH MUSE COUGH), but DSO know exactly what they're doing here, and it is mind-blowingly, blood-pumpingly good. My pulse is rising just from writing about it.

But I do know that this explosion would not be as good without the immense buildup brought by the subtle beauty of the first half. On your first listen, it's unexpected, but on every other listen, it's the epic suspense that you know what's coming that makes it so good when it hits. It's why I get annoyed trying to show my friends this song, because they get bored after 3 minutes, and I don't just want to skip to the breakdown without the build up.

Man. What a song.

But anyway, although this review is already very long, I do feel I should comment a bit on the other 84% of this record for a brief moment. I have already mentioned my love for "Exit Strategy of Wrecking Ball", which may have you thinking that I simply love DSO when they're not being DSO. But no, this album is filled with some equally ridiculous moments that I adore, I just feel the slower parts were necessary to keep it coherent and fixed. The influences on [i]Pandora's Piņata[/i] are completely over-the-top, and somehow the album doesn't end up a complete mess. This is partially in part to the fact that Diablo clearly know what the fuck they're doing. It's clear from the end of "Justice For Saint Mary" that the band clearly knows their electronic music, particularly glitch and dubstep, but "Aurora" is a fully-fledged opera piece, "Black Box Messiah" comes straight from J-Pop and "Guerilla Laments" even has a gypsy vibe to it. But where Diablo nail it completely is in the pure execution of these influences. Any band can put an emphasis on an off-beat and claim reggae influence, but Diablo really know all of the genres they're dabbling in inside-out. They know how to make good swing and they know how to make good metal and good god they know how to arrange a string and brass section. I think it's miraculous how there is not a single moment on this record in which the 15 or so instrumentalists playing together sounds cluttered. The strings merge perfectly with the operatic vocals and the tuba merges fantastically with the bass and guitar. Actually, come to think of it, that guitar tone does actually sound a bit like a tuba.

And that's not just it; the choruses here really nail it, too. If there's one think I love the most in music, it's an avant-garde band that uses melody as well as weird influences. The only other band I've currently found that can do it this well is probably Dog Fashion Disco, but even that isn't as catchy as some of these ones. As ridiculous as it may sound, the Japanese verses from "Black Box Messiah" are fantastically fun, even if I have no clue what I'm singing. Tons of fun is an understatement to some of these songs. And it's not as if music snobs can't listen to them too, since they can just rave about the impeccable use of trumpet as opposed to the catchy chorus.

[i]Pandora's Piņata[/i] is a bit of a beast. It's a fun, relatively accessible album, unlike every single other avant-metal album, but it's obviously got that incredibly deep range of influence and detail that we love to hear in these genres. It might alienate you a bit, but it's most certainly worth a try. And although I have commented a lot on "Justice For Saint Mary", I don't recommend simply listening to that song, it's at least 37 times more epic when heard at the end of a masterpiece.



Gallifrey | 5/5 |


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