Originally founded in 1991 by Olaf Parusel, he wanted to have a way to connect his musical and philosophical thoughts and thus sToa was formed for this purpose. He soon found a beautiful voice to put to the music with Conny Levrow contributing her talented voice. Soon after, Urthona was released in 1992. The second album Porta VIII was released later in 1994. Both of these albums have been very successful in the Neo-Classical and Darkwave scenes over the years and it's absolutely no surprise considering how absolutely beautiful and inspiring both albums are.
During all of this time, both of these artist pursued other works in classical choruses, music compositions and philosophy. After several more years it was time for the next album in 2001. The lineup changed in 1997 when Conny left to pursue her classical career. With her departure, Antje Buchheiser joined the group with her wonderful talents. Also, around 1996, Christiane Fischer joined with her talents at Cello and vocals. The lineup then consisted of this very talented trio and their music continued to progress and evolve into a beautiful soundscape on the album Zal. This album was first released in Mexico but as later picked up by the German label Alice in... along with a re-release of the two previous albums.
Luckily we haven't had to wait another eight years for the next album Silmand, though it has still been a long wait. Also released on their german label, we also have yet more changes in the lineup, something that we've grown accustomed to in this genre. You can hear old and new tracks from this wonderful group on Gothic Paradise Ethereal Radio.
Silmand - Review
It hasn't been quite as long since the last release as the difference between Porta VIII and ZAL, but it has been a long wait just the same for fans longing for more great music from these artistts. It comes with a beautiful eight page booklet with artwork, lyrics and other info. The disc is packed with thirteen beautiful tracks breaking the mold slightly from past albums including some avantgarde electronics and percussion along with the tried and true sound of ethereal and neo-classical music.
The album begins with moody subdued sounds of "Sakrileg" which is of soundtrack quality for a melancholy film featuring a range of synthesized instruments as a backdrop to the beautiful viola and cello. This creates the introduction and sets the mood for this spellbinding album as we move along slowly and softly through each piece. "Broken Glass" introduces the multi-talented instrumentalist and vocalist Louisa John-Krol as guest vocalist on this album. Most readers and listeners should be familiar with this beautiful voice that graces this stunning piece which features a little more modern twist with a little percussion and moving rhythm. Louisa appears again on "Palladium [Night]" which also features more percussion in a sort of tribal rhythm alongside a sweet musical composition.
"La Lune Blanche" introduces us to the other new female vocalist Mandy Bernhardt with her beautiful soprano opera vocals. The tracks that she appears on are in true sToa fashion that we've grown to love over the years with a sweet classical style that is both majestic and captivating, soft and beautiful. Each of the four pieces feature beautiful cello, harp, piano, viola and other classical instruments accenting and providing a backdrop for Mandy's hypnotic vocals. "Hanuz Nist" stands out the most out of these pieces with it's Persian influence actually taken from 14th century lyrics.
A nice little twist comes in the form of two tracks featuring male vocals. The first in the form of "My Last Way" with vocals from Ralf Jehnert of Love Is Colder Than Death fame. This deeply moody piece keeps the tempo low and the emotions high through the deep and dark vocals and music. The next comes near the end of the album with "A Drinking Song" which also features a somewhat avantgarde style with the unusual inclusion of a moving rhythm alongside Pieter Nooten's vocals.
This brings us to the solid core foundation of the music which is Olaf Parusel's musical and compositional talents. These shine brightly in the instrumental pieces such as "Daare", "Ways", "Modesty" and "Tacitum". Each of these could be used in film scores for movies like The Fountain, The Piano or a number of Jane Austen classic stories put to film or others in the related genres. For me each is a prime example of the raw talents of the man behind this and the other great sToa albums.
After ZAL, the standard was set extremely high, but I think Olaf and company have managed to pull it off again. This is another excellent album that fans will love and keep as a classic for many years to come.
ZAL - Review
Being eight years since the release of Porta VIII, you could say that for fans of sToa this was a very highly anticipated release. I thought that the group had gone inactive and didn't really expect this release, so one can imagine my excitement when I heard the news, because I absolutely love their first two albums!
This is the limited edition digipack CD with a 14 page booklet full of beautiful artwork, lyrics and credits. Once again, Olaf's lyrics and music bring to life another world of stunning beauty and thought through each song. And we're treated with a remastered version of the cover of Black Tape for a Blue Girl's "I Wish You Could Smile", and this version has quickly become one of my all time favorite songs. It's majesty, emotion and sheer elegance, coupled with the soaring female vocals and fabulous music all combine to create a masterpiece.
From start to finish, from "I Held The Moon" to "Puisque Tout Passe", the music envelops the listener with classical elements, melded with a bit of darkwave and ambient styles. There are a few beautiful instrumentals, like the excellent piano solo "I Held The Moon" which starts the album off and sets the tone. Long-time fans will recognize a couple of tracks that appear on previous albums, but these have been remastered and wonderfully redone, so it is well worth having the new versions.
Several tracks combine cello, oboe, brass and percussion added to the nice vocals to create stunning pieces, such as the second track "Alone" and "Ariels Song". Everything comes together so well, as the intensity gradually builds and fades under the vocals. I could say this about each song, as each holds a little piece of beauty, poetry and majesty all combined together. And so I'll leave it at that and let the readers go have a listen and judge for themselves.
I give this entire album a perfect rating for beauty, production, talent and just overall performance. Fans of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Arcana and other neo-classical and "Heavenly Voices" artists will love this album. Be sure to pick it up as soon as you get the chance, you won't want to miss this!
Label: Alice in...
sToa photo © www.ankemerzbach.de