The first thing I thought when Swan Christy's Julian began to play over my sound system was 'Now, this isn't metal at all'. The second thing, and, in fact, the third... and probably all the way up to the hundredth or so things I thought were alternately 'what the hell?' and 'wow'. If, based on the band's prior output, you were expecting metal of any sort at all: don't get your hopes up. If you expected brilliant music from several non-metal genres intertwined into one cohesive yet diverse whole, then hope all you like! Your wish is about to come true.
Every now and then, a band will sort of freak out and totally switch genres in one decisive stroke, thoroughly abandoning their old sound for something completely different. That's what happened here, near as I can tell. Mild mannered, Clark Kent-like metal band Swan Christy stepped into the phone booth and out came SuperChristy, or Swanman, or someone else entirely. Actually, I'll tell you who came out: Grulver. Grulver? Am I on crack? No! Swan Christy, like Norway's Ulver, has abandoned metal and arrived at a sound combining emotional clean singing, ambient electronica, and other elements (though Ulver had a few other stops along the way). Since Swan Christy is the Greek Ulver, by royal decree I henceforth dub them Grulver. Amazingly, Swan Christy is really exceptionally good at crafting the kind of music found on Julian (pronounced in the song lyrics confusingly like the feminine Julie-ann, and not the male name Julian).
What kind of music is this, then? Well, there's a lounge song (complete with restaurant chatter); several dark electronica numbers; a weird theatrical sort of track that feels vaguely like something Trans-Siberian Orchestra might write; a sad piano based ballad out of the Savatage playbook, but minus the rock elements. There are, in fact, no heavy guitars at all on 'Julian'. The aforementioned electronics are trippy, propulsive, lively, and full of character. They never become so ambient that they lose direction, nor do they overwhelm the other elements at play in each song. Frequent piano parts invest considerable emotional depth into the music, especially when combined with Kostas Makris's exceptional vocals, which brim over with pathos and soul. He even sounds a little like Ulver's Garm, posessing a mid-range, smooth as silk delivery that will gently coax you into the strange world Swan Christy inhabits and trap you there once you've been hopelessly ensnared.
Strange is the operative word when discussing Julian. This is an album that can be pegged down into no specific genre, defying broad categorization. It has dark moments, light moments, and moments where you will wonder what exactly is happening... but despite the album's perplexing nature it remains a very engaging listen that is beautifully recorded and movingly performed. I will go out on a limb and say that fans of Ulver, The Gathering (especially their most recent output), and maybe even the Cure should seek this oddity out and explore its murky depths. Swan Christy is no fish-out-of-water when it comes to exploring uncharted realms of electronica-laced experimental music, though be forewarned: listening to Julian may make your head swim.
Swan Christy is:
The End Records (US):