The Provenance
Still at Arms Length

The Kim Anderson-ish cover art should clue you in as to the direction this previously very doom/goth melodic death metal outfit have taken with their second album. And yes, they have evolved and matured, but to be honest I think the new material suits them better than the hodgepodge mix of musical styles that was displayed on 25th hour; Bleeding.

Now, The Provenance seemed to have streamlined their sound into a far more emotive form of goth and progressive rock. Less death metal, despite the presence of some snarled vocals, overall the sound is tamer and far more acceptable to the non-metal ear. With an increased use of a Hammond, and less of Emma Hellstrom’s flute, their sound is now more akin to, dare I say, Opeth’s musical duality, being equal parts intrinsic, solemn harmony laced with some more aggressive driving guitar work, intermingled with some ’70s-ish progressive rock. Although to be fair, the “heavy” parts never quite veer off into Opeth levels of death metal competence.

Still at Arms Length is a lot less varied than their debut, with essentially two moods fighting for air time – a mellow, hazy relaxed vibe and a more forced progressive metal edge. Personally, and basically due to Emma Hellstrom’s voice and keyboards, The Provenance are more convincing when Emma takes my hand and leads me into smoky, warm, back alley art-house bars with oaken tables and deep conversation afoot. The metal element now seems piecemeal as if to keep guitarists Tobias Martinsson and Joakim Rosen interested and employed. Some of the more relaxing moments on the album are beautiful and evocative, but at the same the injections of a more metallic harsh mood ruin the buzz.

I was disappointed with the lessened role of the flute; it adds a mood to the music that many bands of this ilk lack. The flute does not surface until “Carousel of Descent”, and by no coincidence, turns out to be one of the album’s deepest and most impressive cuts. The spoken part that breaks up the song introduces a sublime moment of musical rhetoric, whereby I am truly drawn in by Ms. Hellstrom’s lament and the soft acoustics create a peaceful sonic beauty. It’s then aided then by Tobias Martinsson’s clean vocals that are more suited to the ambience than his occasional growl. It’s a shame it took three songs for it to get my attention. That seems to be the theme throughout the album.

Still at Arms Length is pretty good but not consistently great. The standout material is often hidden by fairly average goth metal fodder. But, and I mean this most seriously, when The Provenance hit on all creative cylinders and kick out something as special as the last few minutes of the title track, I doubt there a few music aficionados that are not moved. It’s no coincidence that generally the better moments feature Emma Hellstrom, either when singing or playing she simply steals the show. Enough about her.

“Mimic” is another of the better songs, with a very regular rock feel, and an accentuated guitar melody, and again no surprise some wonderful atmospherics and brilliant mood setting. The delicate riff at 2:38 gives another brief glimpse of The Provenance’s uncanny ability to sometimes weave musical perfection. However, with equal ease it disappears into thin air with the attempted goth blasting of “At Random Choose”. However, they follow up with “World of Hurt”, a somber roller coaster ballad that has peaks and valleys of both emotional and musical qualities. As the album closes with the title track, its aforementioned closing few moments leave you scratching your head wondering how The Provenance can come up with such mind blowing perfection, but let some of the other songs be assailed by frustrating mediocrity. The production is fine, as the whole sound is spot on; even the guitars, while less than memorable most of the time have a nice natural quality about them.

Overall Still at Arms Length is certainly a good album, especially for those more artistically inclined. Personally, I’m glad The Provenance narrowed their range of diversity from four of five styles to two, but still this band often just teases, and for that The Provenance are still at arms length from greatness.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
January 28th, 2002

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