Diablo Swing Orchestra came to my attention back in 2006 with their debut release The Butcher’s Ballroom. My wife discovered them online somewhere and insisted we order the CD despite my reservations. It didn’t take long for me to become a fan, though. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are an avant-garde group, classified by band leader Daniel Håkansson as “riot opera”, a fitting term in my opinion. The Butcher’s Ballroom captured my interest with such standout songs as Balrog Boogie and my DSO all-time favorite Infralove. The album was fresh, different, challenging and unique. In 2008 I was fortunate enough to catch them live in Germany and they impressed even more. With 2009’s Sing-Along Songs for the Damned and Delirious they lost me a bit. It didn’t seem to have the magic the first album had and the songwriting was weaker. Now DSO are back with Pandora’s Piñata with a slightly revised and expanded lineup.
Pandora’s Piñata is a noticeable improvement over the previous album, but still not reaching the greatness of The Butcher’s Ballroom. They have added two horn players to the group as permanent members and changed drummers, a switch I noticed on the first track, and a significant improvement. DSO is defined and differentiated by several things – vocalist Annlouice Loegdlund (a classically trained opera singer), cellist Johannes Bergion, and their outstanding songwriting. Normally I am not a fan of female vocalists, but Annlouice has a powerful delivery that I definitely appreciate. Cello is definitely not a normal “metal” instrument, but such string instruments have become more prevalent in the more “alternative” types of metal. DSO incorporates it all very well.
Pandora’s Piñata kicks off with Voodoo Mon Amour, a rousing song reminiscent of Balrog Boogie from the first album. Very big band in its approach and sound, it is a fitting way to start a DSO album. Lots of trumpet and horn work throughout and DSO’s trademark jazzy kind of riffing, along with nice vocal work. Clearly improved drumming on this track as well, noticeable in the first 30 seconds of the song. Next up is Guerrilla Laments, a Latin flavored song, almost a Mariachi feel to it. The horns here add a nice Spanish flair to the work. Really a cool song. Kevlar Sweethearts continues with the initial blast of boldness on the album, a song that is a bit different, alternating between mellow vocals and stronger instrumental parts.
How to Organize a Lynch Mob is a minute long instrumental cello intro to Black Box Messiah, one of the best songs on the album, reminding me somewhat of the previously mentioned Infralove. It is a mid-paced grooving kind of song with horns used in what sounds to me like a tribute to the old Batman television show from the 60s (POW! BLAM!). It is over all too quickly, though. Exit Strategy of a Wrecking Ball has a nice heavy riff, outstanding drumming, and great incorporation of the cello (as well as a cool title). This is also one of the standout tracks on the album, incorporating all the elements that make DSO what they are.
Next song, Aurora, features some nice vocal work by Annlouice, but lacks any degree of heaviness and is a skipable song. Mass Rapture has a Middle Eastern feel to it in the vocal work, especially the chorus, and develops some nice riffs inclusive of the cello, and well-done horn work. Honey Trap Aftermath is a song that shuffles and swings along, a bit mellow, but certainly different, with more great horn work. It sounds like it could be a demented big band from the 40s.
Of Kali Ma Calibre, roughs things up a bit with some nice guitar work, transforming to a song that is almost a military march. Soaring operatic vocals create an epic feeling along with the bombastic drumming and heavy songwriting, another favorite on Pandora’s Piñata. Justice for Saint Mary concludes the album as an orchestral piece, slowly building (perhaps taking a bit too long), reminding of an old movie score, but ultimately becoming a heavy song, even somewhat industrial in its conclusion. It is a song I dig, but it takes a bit too long to develop.
Here is the song Voodoo Mon Amour, a typical stylistic representation of DSO’s music.
DSO is an acquired taste and may be a stretch for many metalheads. If you are open to new and different genres of metal, or if you are already a DSO fan, I highly recommend picking up Pandora’s Piñata. It has quickly grown on me and is a significant addition to DSO’s catalog as well as somewhat of a return to form of The Butcher’s Ballroom.
I hear the sound in a METAL way.