Symphonic metal is more popular than ever right now, which should mean that bands as consistent and distinctive as SIRENIA finally get the recognition they deserve. The Norwegians have arguably suffered a little for being so good at what they do, which is a fervently traditional take on the genre, but one infused with plenty of character and atmosphere. While other bands have veered off towards either pop or prog territory, SIRENIA have largely stuck to their guns, albeit with enough subtle evolution to keep the faithful hooked. Consequently, "Riddles, Ruins & Revelations" is a surprise. Not a huge, shit-your-pants-and-scream surprise, but a small and oddly satisfying surprise, like discovering some cash in a discarded sock.
In capable hands, tiny changes can make a huge difference. SIRENIA have embraced a noticeably more modern sound here, with the frequent presence of skittering, sequenced electronics one of the more dramatic developments. Opener "Addiction No. 1" and the surging, melancholy "Downwards Spiral" even suggest that the band have embraced the pop aesthetic that has served the likes of BEYOND THE BLACK so well. But while it's a snappy and memorable four-minute song, the heaviness and trippy, gothic atmospheres that made earlier albums like 2009's "The 13th Floor" so rewarding are still here too. "Into Infinity" repeats the trick, with riffs that are demonstrably fresh off the metal press, a restless electro-pulse and enough symphonic bluster to flip a pyramid. On one level there is nothing here that will send metal fans howling into the night, but SIRENIA have done more than just embellish their sound with a few new tricks. The strongest songs here — like the deathly, driving "We Come To Ruins" and the lush and brooding "December Snow" — are full of controlled collisions between old and new, with powerhouse operatic vocalist Emmanuelle Zoldan providing the human glue that holds founder, guitarist and creative mastermind Morten Veland's daunting, grandiose arrangements together.
At its best, "Ruins, Riddles & Revelations" crackles with the same haughty sense of superiority that underpins everything that genre leaders like EPICA and NIGHTWISH do. "Beneath The Midnight Sun" is a glorious peak of songcraft and musicianly muscle, Veland's growls powering the verses, before the arrival of a wickedly tweaked-out rave-metal chorus, a brief burst of otherworldly choral fervor and a sugary, machine-gun climax. If the Norwegians' sense of adventure continues to flourish, their next move could be genuinely insane. Either way, SIRENIA's tenth album is their most defiantly individual and musically addictive yet.