Sonic Cathedral


Imperia has produced another first rate Gothic production. We get it all, first rate songs, outstanding musicianship, and some of the best vocals from one of the hottest women on earth. Now if I could just get the next interview.


Metal of any kind has a tendency to feature some of the more interesting human character traits you’re likely to run into. And, I don’t just mean the Marilyn Manson’s of the world. Female Fronted Metal is no exception, although those character traits tend to be somewhat more intellectually oriented and musically sophisticated than much of the rest of metal. Helena Iren Michaelsen certainly meets these criteria, and she’s also a gifted musician, both as a singer and as a song writer. But, she has something else you don’t often get in Gothic Metal, sex appeal. Now that’s not to say there aren’t some beautiful women in Female Metal, there are plenty of them. But few of them use that attribute like Helena does, and you won’t hear any complaints from this poor scribe. I mean, if I was 220 lbs, ran a 4.1 40 and could knock people down with abandon, I’d be a running back in the NFL in a heartbeat. So, the fact that Helena uses her natural attributes, all of them, is quite all right with me. But, for Helena, her most marketable attribute is a voice that covers more territory than the Atlantic Ocean. And she uses it all in this, the band’s 3d major release and the first in 4 years.

Helena, of course, began life as an operatic vocal with Trail of Tears. She then spent a short period of time with Sahara Dust, the precursor to Epica before settling in with Imperia and another project, Angel which released one CD. Imperia has retained its original form pretty much, and it’s an international form, assuming you consider Northern Europe to be a bunch of separate countries which, technically, it is. But, that’s rather like calling New England a bunch of separate countries these days. The makeup for this effort again focuses on Helena, a Norwegian of course, Jan Yrlund from Finland who does the sterling guitar work, writes songs and does some amazing art work on the package, Belgian bassist Gerry Verstreken and German drummer Steve Wolz. There are some additional artists contributing, the principle one being Oliver Phillips from Everon who works with piano and orchestrations and does a splendid job with vocals on a lovely ballad at the end of the CD aimed at Helena’s young daughter. Some additional cello parts are delivered by Tina Guo. All are superb musicians and the resulting effort is a typically outstanding Imperia product.

In the interest of time, it should be noted that SC’s Robin Stryker recently published a rather in depth interview with Helena, much to the consternation of the male writers here at the Zine who would love to have been assigned that task. So, we’ll move beyond the personal information and get right to a discussion of the music, which is every bit as interesting as the musicians who delivered it. Unfortunately, of course, the interview has far better pictures than this review, but one works with what one has to work with.

It should be noted up front that the typical Imperia production tends to cover a variety of styles and this production is no exception. And that variance is not limited to styles across individual titles, and can be applied to individual sections of individual songs. It’s one of the strengths of the music and Helena has few peers when it comes to alternative vocal styles. The pure operatic soprano is, of course, what she has been noted for throughout her career and she can do opera as well as anyone. But, she seems to have toned it down a little with this effort, not too much, just a little. Other styles range from a dark, dusky vocal to a passionate, melodic sound to what one reviewer called her “wicked witch” sound. And this “wicked witch” is used on one of the more interesting tracks on the CD, Suicide, a song that takes a dark ride on that wicked witch vocal. Helena’s music has been known for its personal reflection, she sings about her life, so this title takes on some interesting interpretation. It begins with bagpipes which catches my interest immediately. Then we get to the metal, and then to the witch. The lyrics reflect the angst, the horror and the pain:

All the pictures in my head
Make me fall in the dark tunnel
Like a carroussel, carroussel
When someone is laying cold
In the grave while everyone else
They are smiling around me

Helena doesn’t stay in one style long on this selection. We get the sultry, the full opera and the desperate, all in one song. There’s outstanding background to fill in throughout all parts of the song, guitars, symphonics, drums. . . and each plays a part in delivering a song that reflects an emotion based statement with an intensity rarely encountered in any art form.

The tone changes dramatically on the following selection Hold On. We get a ballad, one that seems to answer the desperation of the previous selection with a positive statement that suggests healing, enlightenment and hope. Helena sings:

I know you’re going through a rough time
Don’t be afraid, I’ve been there too
I can’t tell you what to do, but after all
I will be right behind you to catch you if you fall

This ballad structure is a staple of Imperia music, and she seems to aim several of the songs over the past several CDs at her young daughter who she clearly cherishes beyond all others. On this production, the title is My Sleeping Angel, a duet done with the previously mentioned Oliver Phillips over a limited piano accompaniment. For any of us who are parents, this one will draw a smile, those days when all was possible, when the beauty of youth was in full view. We all cherish this time and think back on it fondly. Especially on that day when you receive a communication from your child saying, “Hey, my Marine company has been reassigned from Afghanistan to the combat Surge in Iraq, gonna be dicy. And, oh, that kid in my command you talked football with on our last leave, he won’t be coming home”. Cherish the good times. Remember when all things were good and possible.

For many, the rockers on the CD will be viewed most positively. Touch of Your Hand, Secret Passion and Fragile, remind us that Imperia is a metal band, one that can rock. And Helena is no stranger to this format; she can crank out metal as well as anyone in the genre, in both opera and traditional formats. Violence is another one of these, a song with some Eastern influences, maybe even some Greek sounds. It has the symphonics we all love and, again, Helena produces additional sounds that make this a music that you just can’t approximate with other artists. The message too takes us to dark places, again, one wonders where in the personal this has originated, and we tremble at the interpretations:

Nothing changed
So I decided not to believe
I don’t believe in God
The last hope was gone

Imperia has produced another first rate Gothic production. We get it all, first rate songs, outstanding musicianship, and some of the best vocals from one of the hottest women on earth. Now if I could just get the next interview.

9.5 / 10


De Peppel, Zeist, the Netherlands March 18th 2005

Even before the show had started Helena was entertaining people, just by walking through the venue with a radiant smile she was obviously looking forward to the show. The crowd had grown a little by the time Imperia hit the stage and they were very enthusiastic.

‘A siren surrounded by metal heads’ is one of the many ways you could describe Imperia.

You can say all you want about Helena but one thing is for sure, she has a great voice and she has it completely under control for she is even able to sing the highest notes while head banging. They played a great gig and were even cheered in to doing two encores.

Helena entered the stage wearing a cowboy hat which she borrowed from Asrai but during the second song she took it off because she wanted to bang her head. She also untied her ponytail, which caused her to look like al lion at first, wild manes surrounding her head, a hairdo which suited her mood for she was wild this evening. In between songs Helena was enjoying a beer and every time she took a sip she shouted “Cheers”. A guy in the first row answered this with “skol” (cheers in Norwegian) after which Helena asked us all to join in and shout “skol”. She had great contact with the audience and this all added to the intimate atmosphere of this evening. It didn’t matter that the venue wasn’t packed, she was there to entertain and she did! The other band members seemed to enjoy themselves as well, although they hardly had any space to move especially when Helena asked two fans to dance with her on stage. She was a bit too enthusiastic for she asked them on stage about three times and we weren’t there too see the fans, we were there to see Imperia but they did seem to enjoy themselves big time and I don’t think they’ll ever forget this evening. At one point during the show a girl came up to Helena and asked her if she would take her shirt of for a beer. I think this was absolutely outrageous showing no respect what so ever for Helena as a person. If this girl wanted to see naked women she was in the wrong place. The light was bad, adding absolutely no extra value to the show and huge clouds of smoke did nothing but block my view, hiding the entire band which was a pity.

Written by Roos Glastra


Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam, the Netherlands February 11th 2005


I have seen Imperia perform before but never on such a big stage and I have to say this does them more justice. Considering they were the first band of this evening and not as well known as After Forever and Nightwish the audience was quite enthusiastic and willing to applaud.

The sound was great, from the first second on metal was thundering over our heads. It was a pity that when wanting to start up their second song the hard disk had fallen and we had to wait a while. When this was taken care of the show was off to a good start. Imperia sounded more bombastic then normally, more heavy. Which I think appealed to the audience. As always Helena hit the high notes without any trouble but during this performance it noticed that she also sounds great when singing a pitch lower.

Helena is always quite a sight, this evening she had even added something to her outfit; hair extensions. She had incredibly long waving blond hair reminding me of a mermaid, or a siren perhaps which is off course more appropriate in this case. During the break caused by the fallen hard disk Helena persuaded us to enter a screaming contest, men against women. In between the songs we were often invited to shout or grunt, Helena is always busy entertaining the crowd. Due to the bigger stage the guitarist (and bass player of course) finally had some space to move around the stage without getting in Helena’s way. This made us actually look at them for once, now that she wasn’t the only one moving and it also added to the energy level of the show. Even the lights did so for they seemed to really support the bombastic sounds this evening. During the song “Mordor” she kneeled down on stage, she always seems to loose herself in the songs, really feeling it, while singing “The lotus eaters” Helena showed us some dance moves and it was clear that she was enjoying herself on stage. After their last song she even told us it had been an honour to play for us.

Written by Roos Glastra

Nightwish, After Forever, Imperia – 11 February 2005, Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam

Nightwish has been one of the leading bands in the gothic metal scene for years. Also in our country the band gains more and more popularity, so much that the Heineken Music Hall (good for thousands of people!) was sold out months before this show. As support act we get Imperia and After Forever, and yes, we have seen After Forever as a Nightwish support act before.

The honour of opening this evening was for Imperia. This young band around ex-Trail of Tears singer Helena Iren Michaelsen released one album so far, “The Ancient Dance of Qetesh”, that was well received by the international press. Imperia was set for 19:30, but when we arrive at 19:10 the band was already playing. As usual Helena and her guys were on stage loaded with energy and passion. They obviously like to be on stage! Songs like “Mordor” and “The Lotus Eaters” pass by, and show that Imperia can handle a great stage just as good as a smaller one.


Mindview Metal Convention in MINDVIEW December 2004 nr. 114

Dat Helena een fantastische stem heeft weten we nog uit haar Trail Of Tears- periode. In deze akoestische set kon ze zich dan ook helemaal vocaal uitleven geruggesteund door de rest van haar internationale gezelschap. Voor mij persoonlijk een kippenvel moment.


Aalst Rockt 2004 in MINDVIEW nr. 10 / 2004 (B)

Ex-Trail of tears vocaliste Helena iren Michaelsen kon met haar band Imperia op heel wat belangstellenden rekenen of beter gezegd; kijklustigen. De knappe Noorse danst niet alleen zeer sierlijk over het podium, muzikaal is het nieuwste kindje van Helena mooi. Wat meteen opvalt zijn de hoge vocalen, de ene keer ondersteund door stevig metalgeweld, de andere keer door klassieke muziek. De nummers die we vandaag horen en die op het debuut The Ancient Dance Of Qetesh zullen staan, stralen mystiek uit, soms zelfs met een donker randje..

Summer Darkness 2004 in Aardschok nr.10 / October 2004 (NL)

Helemaal een stap verder is IMPERIA. Eigenlijk wat vreemd dat deze band van voormalig Trail Of Tears-zangeres Helena Michaelsen op dit podium staat. Imperia had het zeker verdiend om bijvoorbeeld op vrijdagavond in Tivoli te staan.
Het enthousiasme van Helena is er niet minder om. Vol overgave stort ze zich in het optreden en geeft een geweldige show weg. Wat een stem en wat een passie zit er toch in deze zangeres!
En bovenal, ze weet het publiek in haar avontuur mee te slepen. We krijgen een heerlijk voorproefje van het nieuwe album “The Ancient Dance Of Qetesh”, dat begin oktober verschijnt.
Als die CD net zo goed klinkt als dit concert, dan zitten we gebakken.

Anita Boel