[Metal/Gothic] Theatre of Tragedy – Aegis (20th Anniversary Release)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the second album by the Norwegian gothic metal band Theatre Of Tragedy. Listening to it reminds me how great the 90s was for the gothic metal scene and one of the most prolific period in which we have seen most of the metal divas entering the scene and in their trails new genre of metal in Europe and in particular from Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland).
Indeed, that period was the golden age for the second wave coming from Norway. This time a much different style and approach than the first wave made notoriously famous by the church burning and the intestine hatred between some black metal bands (You cannot go without mentioning the name of Varg Vikenes).
This second wave brought one of the most refined sounds to be heard in gothic metal by two Norwegian bands (Tristania and Theatre of Tragedy) supported by some of the most talented feminine voice in metal.
One of them is Liv Kristine, certainly one of the most hypnotizing voice in the “female-fronted metal bands” (I hate that word but I use it applied to the context of that period).
In this second album, named “Aegis”, Theatre of Tragedy learnt from their first album and perfected their sound and Liv her vocal performance. The result? A masterpiece of Gothic Metal. The album is a 10-track album spanning for about an hour.
We get aspired into it straight by the first title “Cassandra” wrapped by the mysterious atmosphere and the vocals of Liv. It is rapidly followed by “Lorelei”, that is more fast-paced than “Cassandra” but in perfect manner. “Angelique”, takes more into a melodic ballad that is reminiscent of a Lacuna Coil. A very relaxing track to listen. “Aoede”, the fourth track, is original and maybe very disorienting because at first we don’t know if they sing in Norwegian on this track until you read the lyrics and assume they wrote in Old English. Thats give the extra amount of mystery and stimulation. The fifth track, “Siren”, is certainly my favorite. By its composition, by its lyrics and by the voice of Liv Kristin. Definitely Liv is the Siren in this song, as we can only succumb to her voice and drown in the waves of melancholy and sadness. I would give any day a shoot to a “Theatre of Tragedy” to a “Leaves Eyes”. This is the kind of track that makes this album a must-have in your collection.
The rest of the album is also very good with tracks such as “Samantha”, “Venus”, “Poppaea”, giving an escape and some well refined gothic metal songs. “Bacchante” is probably my least favorite and its rightfully eclipsed by “Virago”, my second favorite of the album.
If you want to judge the quality of the album, submit it to the test of time and give it a listening session 20 years after the release. While in the 90s, some claimed the metal scene was deadbeat by grunge and alternative, it was only an appearance. It just needed to be searched, to be initiated by a friend or by a savvy record store to realize that underneath the visible, a whole new genre of metal was growing and morphing giving us some of the best sounds of the 90s. And Theatre of Tragedy was one of them.

Advertisements

[Metal/Gothic] Lacuna Coil – Lacuna Coil EP (20th Anniversary)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the first EP of Lacuna Coil titled “Lacuna Coil”, released on April 7th 1998. Little knew that 20 years later, Lacuna Coil would have become a reference in the gothic metal scene and a flagship for representing the Italian metal around the globe. Lacuna Coil hit hard with their EP, with a unique vocal duo impersonated through Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia that as today remains the founding members still present in the band line-up.
The EP is a six-tracks totaling a 28 minutes of pure delight in terms of gothic metal. Looking back to it, I would say that the musical style is maybe more frugal than the current direction, in the sense the sound is raw from instruments with little arrangements. Otherwise it is some pure Lacuna Coil, especially when you got into the group via their second album “Unleashed Memories”. They got it right, straight from the first try with this EP.
You recognize great bands by being able to get back into their discography and find the same enjoyment in listening to their debut album or extended plays.

[Music/Gothic Metal] Seven Spires – Solveig (80%)

Fresh from the press, a band that came out of nowhere in my disc library: Seven Spires, a FFM band from Boston, Massachusetts. Their first album “Solveig” was released this Friday and of course it ends up being reviewed by me. I have been listening several times, interrupted by the livestream of “Wacken Open Air 2017” (thats very nice from the organizers to have a livestream of the main line-up).
This is a 15-track album, lasting 75 minutes. iTunes classified it as death metal/black metal and fairly I disagree with it. Because this album does not fit in one category. It is definitely metal but explores different facets with some gothic, some symphonic, some even sounding like some black symphonic a la “Dimmu Borgir”. So yes, it is a very schizophrenic album but it also a kind of a good showcase for Adrienne Cowan, allowing her to hear her vocal range from clean to growls.
We get into “The Siren” an introduction that really sounds like a Danny Elfman track, you know something like straight from a gothic ambience of a “Nightmare Before Christmas”. It seamlessly brings to “Encounter” blending this Elfman tunes with heavy riffs. Good stuff, really gives you a good grip on the ride. Some fresh air, it has a been a while we did not hear a good gothic metal band and Seven Spires is kind of baiting with that appeal. Then we move to “The Siren (Reprise)” that rather sounds like a revisited opening sequence for “Encounter”. I found it odd to have right in the third track, I would have put as a bonus track. The fourth “Cabaret of Dreams”, sounds a bit more rock giving this kind of abruptness in the ride. Certainly not my favorite. “Choices” sets the train back on its track, brining on some symphonic elements with a heavier tone. A very engaging song that should have been in my opinion right after “Encounter”. “Closure” continues into this very enjoying emotional riding experience, with a slower tone supported by orchestral arrangements and maybe an annoying presence of the bass guitar. Thats one thing I noted, the presence of the bass was too much accentuated in this album. I know the bass player has bad rep but the bass is part of the background unless you are Iron Maiden or Lemmy Kilmister. “100 days” is this nice melodic ballad giving a nice interlude in the album, right in the middle of the album. “Stay” brings us a power melodic tone that is very engaging, a good one. “The Paradox” brings us for the first time Adrienne on the growls into this track that brings on the excitement of a symphonic black metal straight out of a good “Dimmu Borgir” album. You know this kind of track that put your auditive and limbic cortices into fritz, with this rush of dopamine that wants to mosh into your living room by this brutal riffs blended with awesome melodics. Oh yeah! Thats my favorite! This is kind of a title that tells you this band with the right direction that breaks some charts. “Serenity” is falling into more conventional genres, even sounding like metal core. “Depths” brings us back to calmer tracks, a nice one, something similar to the chords of Alissa or Vicky style encountered in “The Agonist”. “Distant Lights” brings on the melodic power metal. Nice but nothing that impressed me. “Burn”, brings on back this “Dimmu Borgir” feels with a good spoon of power metal, sending again into a rollercoaster ride from Hell.  “Ashes” brings on this what I call “anime metal”. Dont ask me why, but this is the kind of metal that would match very well with a opening sequence of an anime. Nice! “Reflections” brings back the orchestral sounding like a ending sequence.
The overall album is good, pretty good. But it kind of misses the overall excitement that some other albums have sparked in the previous months. Maybe it is this mix of different styles and some questionable tracks. Sometimes, lesser is better.
However, this album is a great showcase of Adrienne’s vocal range and ability to sing both in clean and growls. The band also have shown its comfort in playing in different styles with ease. But lets be honest, Seven Spires enters a market highly competitive, especially if they think to take the Symphonic metal direction. Right now, melodic death and power metal are very good niches for entering FFMs. Really, their black symphonic metal composition of “The Paradox” and “Burn” really felt taking a rollercoaster from Hell, giving the thrills and chills of an adrenaline rush only to kick in the endorphins at the end of the ride, sending you in this musical euphoria.

[Metal/Gothic Metal] The Gathering – Always (25th Anniversary Release)

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of The Gathering first album “Always”, released in June , 1992. I retrospectively discovered this album after being introduced to the band through “Mandylion”. It was their only doom metal album, with Bart Smits in the growl, but man that was my gateway to doom/gothic metal. And even 25 years later, it still have the freshness. It is a 48 minutes album, spanning over 8 tracks, nicely blending the guitars and the keyboards.
We got into it “The Mirrors Waters”, that has this distinctive keyboard tunes opening the track and bringing on the heaviness cloak of doom, rapidly introducing Bart growls. The second track, “Subzero”, brings a higher speed tone but never sacrifice the heaviness. The third track, “In Sickness And Health”, continues into the doom with an heavy influence of the keyboards. It is a nice one, but kind of a weak one too. “King for A Day”, wipes it out from your mind pretty quickly, imposing itself as my favorite track. Its starts heavy and doom to slowly transition into a progressive track with the keyboards leading the way and giving Marieke Groot (the female supporting vocal) a full opportunity to display her vocal performance.  With Barts hitting the low cleans and Marieke hitting the high notes, it gives this magic atmosphere.
The rest of the album continues in the doom tunes with “Second Sunrise” and “Stonegarden”, two enjoyable tracks. “Always” breaks the mold as an instrumental mostly played on the keyboards with backing drums, feeling you sailing boat ashore. “Gaya’s Dream”, the last track, concludes the album with the same tunes that most of the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, that was the only album from the band that was close from doom as it can be. Their second album was honestly a disaster, a hodge podge, an UFO in their discography. By “Mandylion”, their third album, and the introduction of Anneke in the band, the sound was deeply settled into Gothic and lasted for their next two albums. There is a reason why Sam Dunn (BangerTV) had The Gathering placed in the Gothic Metal family tree, and they rightfully belongs to it. They set the tone for European metal bands in that genre and surely set the way for female-fronted gothic metal bands. I personally think the Gathering did a major public service to Dutch metal bands, as few years following their release and touring, Dutch metal bands flourished as tulips bringing some of the best metal to hear (Within Temptation, After Forever, Epica…)
There are two versions of the album: the original recording (see the featured image) and a re-engineered version dubbed “Downfall – The Early Years”. Avoid the latter one as the plague. The goal of a re-engineering is to improve the original master to a higher quality. Seems that the sound engineer behind that thought otherwise, resulting in a sort of washing machine sounds that in my opinion slash the original tracks.
Otherwise, if you want to hear some influential bands in the European Gothic Metal and like to explore some metal history, you should grab a copy and listen. A pleasurable experience to listen.

[Metal/Gothic] The Gathering – Nighttime Birds (20th Anniversary Review)

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the Gathering fourth album “Nighttime Birds”. In my opinion this is the last best album from the album, right before they achieved their  transition into some more acoustic and trip-hop album. It has the vibes and the heaviness of “Mandylion” and yet also explored some new sounds. It is a 9-song album lasting 49 minutes.
If I had to go to a desert album and have to choose three albums of the band, this one will make it into the top 3 with “Always” and “Mandylion” (I guess by now you get the point that I am obsessed with the latter, no?)
We get introduced into it with “On Most Surfaces” directly a continuation of “Mandylion” with a lot of similarities with “Sand and Mercury”, in other words some musical delight. “Confusion” downplays the heaviness but still keep on the melodics we got accustomed to  in their previous album, allowing us to enjoy Anneke’s voice, having this kind of melancholic tone. Thats one of my favorite that’s acting as a tag when someone ask me “how The Gathering sounds like?”.
“The May Song” is already investing more into a more progressive sound, more trip-hop sounds clearly cueing us on how the band was envisioning themselves with their next albums. “The Earth Is My Witness” brings us the “Mandylion” feels, with Anneke’s lyrics and vocals making a prime example of the melodic style of this album: a transition from gothic metal into something more progressive. Another favorite.
“New Moon, Different Days” gives this chilling and relaxing feels, slowly swung by Anneke. Almost feels like a lullaby for a metalhead. “Third Chance” brings on the guitars and the gothic metal sounds, giving this extra kick, whereas “Kevin’s Telescope” brings us as a farewell note from “Mandylion” by its melodics and musical arrangement. “Nighttime Birds” indeed marks the blends of the past (“Mandylion”) and the upcoming future (“If Then Else”) artistic direction of the band, giving this surrealistic track, like a seal on a whole epoch.
Finally, the last title of the album “Shrink” a mostly acoustic (piano solo) with Anneke’s solo is just an amazing song to listen and enjoy. This was a time in which very few female voices were heard on the metal scene and really before the scene got populated by Tarja, Cristina and Sharon. I still remember this song, as it was part of the playlist of their gig in town, somewhere in 2003. Anneke performed it live with the lead singer of Pale Forest (the band that provided the opening act).
This album is in my opinion the epitaph of the band. This is where I felt the most comfortable with the band before moving away to other sounds. Other albums came such as “If Then Else”, “Souvenirs”, “How To Measure A Planet” but none of them had this attraction that I had with the previous ones. By then, the band sailed away into other shores.
If you are not a metalhead by heart and want to get introduced to the band, pick this one. It is a great primer and I would definitely recommend to swim upstream and explore their gothic/doom roots.

[Metal/Doom] Trees Of Eternity – Hour Of The Nightingale

I wish I could have reviewed this album in a better context, but I also wanted to review this album in the memory of late Aleah Stanbridge. Aleah left us that day last year, leaving us orphan with her only album “Hour of The Nightingale”.

I started to know Aleah only after learning her death from the announcement by Juha Raivio (Swallow The Sun) last year. Sadness and tears came by listening to her ethereal  and melancholic voice, perfectly matching to the gothic and doom metal artistic style harbored by the album.

“Hour Of The Nightingale” is a 10-track album totaling 63 minutes of beautiful doom metal tracks. The album starts with “My Requiem” introducing us to Aleah’s voice and to familiar tunes, as Juha from Swallow The Sun collaborated heavily on this album, among other Finnish metal artists. It is minimal but so heavily laden with emotions through the lyrics that it infuses you with the melancholy of nostalgia. The descent in the melancholy continues with “Eye Of The Night”, “Condemned To Silence”.

“A Million Tears” brings on the doom and the gloom, making it one of my favorite. Melancholic tunes, the ethereal voice of Aleah and the lyrics loaded with sadness and full of sorrow, making it hard to keep on your tears. It wrenches your mind and makes the mourning even more painful, even after a year.

“Hour of the Nightingale” and “Broken Mirror” may sound a bit more cheerful, with a touch of sludge metal (a sub-genre in the doom metal involving an infusion of Southern metal)  in it but it is still loaded with emotions.

“Black Ocean” gives this atmospheric doom tunes that providing a soothing moment, with a remarkable instrumentation and melodics. Finally, the album closes with “Sinking Ships”, leaving us ashore with a melancholic ballad and with “Gallows Bird” featuring Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost). Minimalistic but so powerful, making a perfect bond between one pillar of Gothic/Doom metal and a new generation.

It is a remarkable and flawless album, solid as a granite tombstone, with no imperfections. Considering this was her first album, it was a remarkable piece of artwork that very few artists could master at this stage. There is no filler, there is no weak tracks. All tracks are remarkable, yet each of them with the unique identity but all sharing the same converging point: the sadness, the melancholy and the mourning of loosing our dearest.

Aleah left us taken by cancer, roughly in the same time that one of my beloved uncle also got taken away by the same type of disease (very unlikely the same type of cancer, but from the metastatic cancer cells that have spread inside his body). We came far with our fight against cancers (because each cancer is somehow unique) but we are still far over on winning that war. Until then, we will loose more talented and affectionate people from it.

RIP Aleah 😦

[Metal/Gothic Metal] Within Temptation – Enter (20th Anniversary Release)

Today marks the 20th anniversary release of the first album of the Dutch Gothic/Symphonic Metal band Within Temptation.
What I can tell is after all these years, this remains my most favorite album by the band. Why?
Probably this perfect blend of doom, gothic with a pinch of symphonic metal and of course Sharon Den Adel alias “Angel Voice”.  It may also because it was the heaviest album they had in their whole discography. The album is an 8-track album totaling 46 minutes.
It starts with “Restless”, a minimal but nicely starter allowing to appreciate Sharon’s voice. A classic of all WT song. The second track, “Enter”, brings on the heavy guitars, Robert Westerholt growls and Martijn Westerholt (Delain) on the keyboards. This gives this magic formula that makes “Enter” such a good song, giving this magical and gothic feel. The third track continues in distilling this magic “Pearls of Light” with Sharon taking the lead with the sounds of the harp. Listening to this song brings this soothing relief, followed by the lead guitars smashing the heavy tones into it and giving this bipolar tunes between the heavy from the guitars and the lightness of the keyboard.
“Deep Within”, the fourth track is in the continuation of the tone of the whole album. Nice but I always felt it was the weakest of all songs, considering the whole album standing strong like a rock. “Gatekeeper”, the fifth track of the album, is my favorite of all. Heavily gothic and influenced by elements of doom metal, it is dark and gloomy with a crescendo in the instrumentation slowly adding the heaviness and boldness. I lost my voice each time I try to keep on Sharon’s frequency notes.
“Grace” is another good song (Nº6 song), especially the second half of it as Sharon takes on the main part. It is also reflecting the heavy influence of Kate Bush on Sharon singing style, using the same song dynamics than the latter used to. “Blooded” is the instrumental track of the album, a finely arranged piece that really marked the band with their signature. “Candles”, the last track, is another jewel from the album by keeping the same flow of “Gatekeeper”. It is so beautiful to listen, with its melancholic tones and Sharon soothing voice all over, only to get shaken by the heavy guitars and Robert’s growl.
If I had to go to exile with only one album from my favorite bands, this is the album I would take from Within Temptation without an hesitation. This is where I found they had their best blend and musical style before they sailed into other directions that were not following my ears.
My only wish is as we mark the 20th anniversary of that release is that the band decide to rediscover this rich and engaging style that made them at the frontier of the symphonic metal scene.