Posts Tagged ‘ Gothic Metal ’

Album of the Week 20-2020: Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest – Requiem

No announcements, hardly any crowd noise, two thirds of the material never played before or since… Even live albums aren’t done in a conventional way by Triptykon. Of course, a conventional live album was never the set-up of ‘Requiem’. It combines the first and third acts of a requiem released during two completely different stages of Celtic Frost’s career with a brand new second act. Three tracks won’t sound like enough to even fill an EP, but keep in mind that the second act is over half an hour long. The Dutch Metropole Orkest helps add extra depth to the music.

Even more so than studio albums ‘Eparistera Daimones’ and ‘Melana Chasmata’, ‘Requiem’ is a highly inaccessible work. Using an orchestra does nothing to weaken the minimalism that characterizes most of Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s compositions. If anything, the orchestra enhances it. With a band like Triptykon, where you can often make a sandwich between guitar strums, but somehow without ever moving even close to drone territory, the temptation is to have the orchestra fill in the blanks, but the arrangement that Dark Fortress and Alkaloid frontman Florian Magnus Maier made with Fischer and guitarist V. Santura emphasizes space and the low end of the spectrum. An excellent choice.

‘Requiem’ kicks off with the oldest act ‘Rex Irae’, which was originally released on Celtic Frost’s 1987 ‘Into The Pandemonium’ album. On that particular album, the track always seemed a better idea than an actual song to me, but after hearing this live arrangement, the truth was probably that nobody was quite sure how to mix gothic doom metal with an orchestra at the time. The sound is far more balanced and while I initially found Tunisian singer Safa Heraghi to be an odd choice for the female lead vocals, she turns out to be perfect. A singer with a more classical background would probably lack the edge needed for the song. Heraghi is a great singer, but she also appears to have an understanding for Triptykon’s inherent grotesquerie.

The main attraction of ‘Requiem’, however, is the 32 minute second act ‘Grave Eternal’, written in 2018 and 2019 specifically for this performance. At times, it feels like a variation on the final movement of Mahler’s ninth symphony, only with an avantgardist metal band as a part of the orchestra. Huge single-note doom riffs and drums that sound like Hannes Grossmann hits them with sledgehammers, in conjunction with an elegant, but not too bombastic orchestral arrangement and tortured vocals. Most of the track is instrumental, with only a few lines of lyrics, though Heraghi and the choir contribute some otherworldly, wordless melodies. Particularly gorgeous is the fragile minute and a half guitar solo Santura plays around the three-minute mark, but the climax that slowly unfolds from around twenty minutes in is a work of pure genius as well.

Just like any other Triptykon release, ‘Requiem’ isn’t easy to grasp. As a listener, you have to be able to absorb the immense darkness in the compositions, but if you are, chances are ‘Requiem’ will not let you go. It is truly a dark symphony, with an orchestra that emphasizes the bass range and includes a metal band. That is another part of the genius of ‘Requiem’: the Metropole Orkest isn’t just there to provide an extra layer. The orchestra cooperates closely with the band. Even when they are playing in unusual combinations, such as with only Grossmann and Vanja Šlajh’s deep rumbling bass, they have no problem adapting to their musical surroundings. If you can handle ‘Requiem’, it will easily be one of the top releases this year.

Recommended tracks: ‘Grave Eternal’

Album of the Week 17-2020: My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion

Another one of those releases that initially went by rather unnoticed because I was underwhelmed by its predecessor was the new My Dying Bride album ‘The Ghost Of Orion’. To me, ‘Feel The Misery’ felt a little too My Dying Bride by the numbers and featured one of Aaron Stainthorpe’s weakest vocal performances to date. Fast forward five years to the release of ‘The Ghost Of Orion’, which sounds exactly the way I would like to hear My Dying Bride, with some of Stainthorpe’s strongest work to boot. Not the most uplifting stuff, as expected, but all the more powerful for it.

‘The Ghost Of Orion’ is pretty much 100 percent doom metal, with some avant-garde touches that remind me of ‘Into The Pandemonion’ and ‘Monotheist’ era Celtic Frost here and there. The album is dominated by slow, mournful riffs, frequently harmonized for additional dramatic effect. In addition, there are more vocal harmonies than ever. Interviews suggest this may be the influence of producer Mark Mynett, but the fact that Stainthorpe actually sings more than the dramatic speaking he is known for helps as well. The creative control guitarist Andrew Craighan had may have just contributed to such a cohesive, powerful result as well.

On the surface, ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ is not that different from My Dying Bride’s other more doom metal-oriented – and therefore less gothic – albums. There are plenty of riffs that consist of a few single notes that ring for a full measure or even longer, broken up by even more dirge-like cleaner guitar parts, while the atmosphere is grim and oppressive. But it’s exactly that atmosphere that makes ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ a far better than average My Dying Bride album. It’s not forced upon you by dominant keyboard or violin parts. If anything, Shaun MacGowan appears to be a texturing master.

Like many albums of its ilk, ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ is best experienced listening to it start to finish. Dynamically, it’s always difficult to build up such a slow album, but the band have managed to hold my attention for the full 56 minutes of its running time. The album starts with the faster, more accessible tracks, but that is all relative. None of the first three songs is easy to digest and they are all even short of midtempo. If you can make it through those, you are ready for the 10-minute ultra-doom tracks ‘The Long Black Land’ and ‘The Old Earth’. Even after all these years, it’s remarkable how much Craighan can wring out of what is essentially a limited amount of musical information.

Beside the five actual songs, there are three lengthy interludes, all of which are excellent. The most notable of these is ‘The Solace’, which is almost six minutes of Craighan playing his trademark riffs with Wardruna’s Lindy Fay Hella singing on top of it and no other accompaniment. The best example of the aforementioned Celtic Frost-ish avant-gardism. Add the sublime production – roomy and contemporary, but not too flat or hollow – to the mix and you’ve got yourself an excellent gothic doom metal album. Easily the best My Dying Bride album since ‘The Dreadful Hours’. Possibly even better.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Long Black Land’, ‘The Solace’, ‘To Outlive The Gods’

Album of the Week 02-2020: Apocalyptica – Cell-0

Apocalyptica has never shied away from trying new things. Some of those were great ideas, such as moving beyond the novelty of being a cello-only metal cover band by writing original material and adding drums. Others were hit and miss, such as adding vocals. As a result, Apocalyptica’s journey has always been an interesting one, but no album ever appealed to me nearly as much as 2003’s ‘Reflections’. Enter ‘Cell-0’, their first post-‘Reflections’ album to exclusively feature original instrumental material. This announcement was met with a degree of anticipation that could easily result in disappointment. Fortunately, ‘Cell-0’ is nothing short of excellent.

Do not expect a second ‘Reflections’. ‘Cell-0’ is notably less overtly metallic than that record was. Eicca Toppinen, Paavo Lötjönen and Perttu Kivilaakso still occasionally run their cellos through distortion pedals and other effects, but the dominant sound on ‘Cell-0’ is the natural sound of the instrument. Compositionally, the music on ‘Cell-0’ appears to be inspired by soundtracks first and foremost. Listening to the album is an atmospheric, almost cinematic experience defined by beautiful melodies, interesting textures and an expert sense of dynamics. The movie ‘Cell-0’ accompanies still needs to be written, but the music certainly brings images to mind.

‘Cell-0’ still contains a couple of moments during which the cello parts can be described as riffs. You do not need a lot of imagination to picture large portions of ‘Ashes Of The New World’, ‘En Route To Mayhem’ and ‘Beyond The Stars’ being played by a guitarist. And the lengthy title track is a progressive metal tour de force. Much of the album is devoted to a more traditional approach of the cello, however. Heavy metal is such an important part of Apocalyptica’s inspiration that it will likely never be completely gone, but ‘Cell-0’ certainly sounds more classical. Almost gothic at times.

Like always, Apocalyptica manages to bridge the gap between classical music and rock music. This time around, the dramatic ‘Call My Name’ balances melancholic string quartet arrangements with surprisingly contemporary rhythms and subtle electronics. ‘Fire & Ice’ starts out folky, with pronounced celtic sounds, but has arguably the most metallic middle section on the album, while ‘Scream For The Silent’ switches between metallic and classical modes rather abruptly, but surprisingly never sounds disjointed. The subdued darkness of ‘Rise’ has an almost suffocating atmosphere, while ‘Catharsis’ would not have sounded out of place on the concert programme of a chamber orchestra.

In true Apocalyptica tradition, ‘Cell-0’ is once again something completely different than anything they have ever done before. There are subtle nods to the likes of ‘Reflections’ and ‘Cult’, but the band was careful not to release the same thing again. Turns out the title of the album was not just a random thing to put on the album cover: ‘Cell-0’ definitely is a tribute to the instrument that defined the careers of Toppinen, Lötjönen and Kivilaakso. Anyone who, like myself, was somewhat disappointed by the vocal detours of the past years should be pleased by Apocalyptica’s return to instrumental. Let’s hope it’s the first chapter of a new trajectory.

Recommended tracks: ‘Call My Name’, ‘Cell-0’, ‘Ashes Of The Modern World’

Album of the Week 51-2019: The Vision Bleak – The Unknown

Gothic rock’s mournful melodies and doom metal’s crushing heaviness appear to be made for each other, both having an irresistibly ominous theatricality to them. More often than not, however, gothic metal bands go for the goth aesthetic rather than the stylistic properties of the genre. For every ‘Irreligious’, there is a symphonic power metal band with operatic female vocals calling themselves gothic. Germany’s The Vision Bleak actually managed to create a genuinely atmospheric sound that is almost equal parts gothic and metal, although their most recent album ‘The Unknown’ is significantly heavier and more metallic than some people might expect.

After the more upbeat, folky nature of ‘Witching Hour’, ‘The Unknown’ was a bit of a surprise. It’s not like The Vision Bleak displays a completely different approach here. The music is still lead by slow to midtempo, not too complicated riffs and the deep gothic baritone of Konstanz. It’s just that the increased heaviness makes ‘The Unknown’ the most immersive listening experience since the band’s sophomore ‘Carpathia’ album. The keyboards and symphonic elements have been toned down a bit, but that doesn’t make the album any less atmospheric. If anything, the compositions and the choice of instruments create a nightmarish musical landscape.

The Vision Bleak were always masters of dynamics. Even their heaviest tracks have a great sense of build-up. An excellent example from this album would be ‘Into The Unknown’. The slow gallop – which would technically make it a trot, but whatever – may be pounding quite heavily throughout the song, but the riff takes a back seat to Konstanz’ vocals and Schwadorf’s clever clean guitar touches during the verses, only to make the chorus sound extra bombastic. ‘Ancient Heart’, the album’s most gothic moment, alternates between big, beefy riffs and mostly acoustic sections with an almost Middle-Eastern feel to them. Highly effective and above all enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the band reconnects with their extreme metal roots without forsaking their sense of atmosphere and melody. Opening track ‘From Wolf To Peacock’ is built upon mournful riffs and melodies, but the drums are somewhere between a polka and a blastbeat, while the climaxes of the particularly theatrical, Moonspell-ish ‘How Deep Lies Tartaros?’ have a black metal-ish vibe to them. A full album of those tracks would get old soon, but when they are alternated with moments of amazingly atmospheric doom and gloom, such as the annihiliatingly heavy doomster ‘The Whine Of The Cemetery Hound’ and the climactic closer ‘The Fragrancy Of Soil Unearthed’, it just works.

While The Vision Bleak is another one of those bands with a wide appeal of which I don’t understand why they don’t have a larger audience, ‘The Unknown’ is definitely the perfect album to check out for the metal side of their potential fanbase if they have not heard the band. Schwadorf’s big riffs and clever use of simple, yet effective melodies are all over the album. The combination between those and Konstanz’ charismatic vocals are definitely what won me over. A must for gothic metal fans, but adventurous doom metal fans should probably give this a chance as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Into The Unknown’, ‘Ancient Heart’, ‘The Whine Of The Cemetery Hound’

Album of the Week 50-2019: Nefilim – Zoon

Back in the mid-nineties, the lone Nefilim album ‘Zoon’ must have been quite a shock for anyone who expected a continuation of the cinematic gothic rock sound that Fields Of The Nephilim was known for. There are similarities with the Fields’ sound, but those are not immediately apparent. Upon first spin, the music on ‘Zoon’ has much more in common with the industrial thrash metal leanings Ministry had around the same time. ‘Zoon’ still has plenty of atmospheric clean guitar moments and meticulous arrangements, but this is certainly a heavier, more industrial take on Carl McCoy’s visions than Fields ever was.

Then again, the gothic music landscape had changed in the nineties. Instead of desperately clinging to his past, McCoy and his fellow musicians apparently kept up with the times without forsaking their roots. McCoy largely sheds his “gruff Andrew Eldritch” label in favor of something that is pretty damn near a death grunt, but even the clean vocals sound more gruff than usual here. Also, in less than two minutes, you will have heard more distortion on Paul Miles’ guitar than Paul Wright and Peter Yates ever had. The combination of fast, palm-muted thrash riffing and chorus-heavy arpeggios works surprisingly well.

Any metalhead curious about the gothic industrial sound of ‘Zoon’ should start with the riffier songs, such as opening track ‘Xodus’, ‘Penetration’, the relatively complex ‘Pazuzu (Black Rain)’ and the almost full-on thrash metal of ‘Venus Decomposing’. Aside from its brooding middle section, the latter sounds like it could be the missing link between Sepultura’s ‘Arise’ and ‘Chaos A.D.’. All of these songs have super tight riffing courtesy of Miles and particularly intense drumming by a musician with the impossibly metallic name Simon Rippin. The blunt riffing causes the immediate impact of these tracks, but don’t be fooled: the production is surprisingly sophisticated.

Songs like ‘Shine’ and the titular trilogy – though the three parts span two tracks – make ‘Zoon’ a surprisingly smooth transition from ‘Elizium’, however. It is here where McCoy gets his chance to, well… Shine. That song in particular shows him building from the mournful verses to the barely contained anger of the chorus and the surprisingly emotional climax. ‘Zoon’ in particular feels like an industrial reimagining of the longer suites on ‘Elizium’. It builds from a dark ballad through industrial ambience into the epic grandeur of the third part, subtitled ‘Wake World’. That particular part also starts out with McCoy singing as I prefer him: deep and clean.

Is this better than Fields Of The Nephilim? Of course it isn’t. ‘Elizium’ is a work of uncommon beauty. It is worth noting, however, that the “reunion” album of Fields Of The Nephilim – ‘Mourning Sun’, released almost a full decade later – sounds like a combination of their classic sound and the heavier industrial approach of ‘Zoon’. McCoy was obviously serious about this sound and despite familiar influences, ‘Zoon’ is quite a unique-sounding record. Admittedly, I personally prefer the more gothic moments of the record, but there’s some of the best industrial thrash metal of the nineties on the album as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Shine’, ‘Zoon (Part 3) (Wake World)’, ‘Xodus’

Album of the Week 27-2019: Swallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light

Occasionally, there are rare instances in which the cliché that great misery inspires great art proves to be true. Swallow The Sun’s seventh album ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ is one of those instances. Rhythm guitarist and main songwriter Juha Raivio lost his wife, South African singer Aleah Starbridge, to cancer at the much too young age of 39 and her absence is felt throughout the album. Being a Finnish doom/death metal band, Swallow The Sun was never the most cheerful bunch, but the beautiful melancholy on display here gives the album its unique character within the band’s discography.

Even without knowing the story behind the album, one thing stands out immediately and that is the profoundly sad gothic atmosphere that defines a large portion of the album. There are still outbursts of extreme metal, but tracks like ‘Upon The Water’ and the gorgeous ‘The Crimson Crown’ are so full of arpeggiated clean guitar chords that they feel stylistically closer to Fields Of The Nephilim’s masterpiece ‘Elizium’ than to anything Amorphis ever released. In a way, the album reverses the process of ‘Songs From The North’ (2015), on which the band gave different discs to each aspect of their sound.

Bringing those extremes back together has really done wonders for the dynamics on ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’. Mikko Kotomäki utilizes his deep, clean vocals for a majority of the album, but he is backed by electric guitars almost exclusively. These alternate between the aforementioned clean chord work and beefy doom riffs that are notably more spaciously produced than the guitars on the band’s earlier works. It helps that the riffs are significantly less chord heavy than on their previous albums; the single notes can really ring through with the intensity they should have.

While an album like ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’ is best listened to in its entirity to let the atmosphere carry you away, anyone into the darker spectrum of music needs to hear ‘Stone Wings’. The song is mainly carried by a Nephilim-esque eye-watering guitar part and has what is probably the most hauntingly beautiful chorus released this year. There is a more extreme middle section, but even that part of the song is quite melancholic. By comparison: the aggressive middle part of the otherwise sorrowful ‘Firelights’ is the closest the band has ever gotten to black metal. Elsewhere, ‘Here On Black Earth’ contains a surprisingly dynamic guitar arrangement.

No, ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into Night’ is not an easy record to listen to. It is in the sense that it’s probably the most accessible album Swallow The Sun has released thus far, but the feeling of loss hangs over the album like a pitch black cloud. As a result, the album is not for the faint of heart, but it is in fact the best record the Finns have released thus far. Its superior flow helps too; many of their earlier albums were difficult to listen to in one setting, but once the piano and string laden closer ‘Never Left’ extinguishes, I have been captivated for 52 straight minutes. One of the better metallic releases of 2019. Highly impressive.

Recommended tracks: ‘Stone Wings’, ‘The Crimson Crown’, ‘Never Left’

Album of the Week 52-2018: Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches

Cradle Of Filth’s immense popularity is at least as much a result of their image and provocative shirt designs as it is of their music. That does not mean that they never made any good music, but at times, it seemed like the market desired the band to put out albums faster than they could actually come up with enough decent material. Often, hollow bombast covered up the lack of durable songwriting. The opposite is true for ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. The orchestrations have been dialed back considerably, resulting in what is essentially a great riff-driven modern metal album.

It is only natural to assume that the changes that Cradle Of Filth went through contributed to this sudden indrease of quality. No less than three members debut on ‘Hammer Of The Witches’, including guitarists Marek ‘Ashok’ Šmerda and Richard Shaw. And they certainly make their presence known on the album. Especially their riffs are highly prominent. And since these riffs are closer to traditional heavy metal than the band’s black and death metal roots most of the time, the album gives off a somewhat Mercyful Fate-like vibe at times. The keyboards are the most subtle and tasteful on any of the band’s records.

Where Cradle Of Filth used to cram its records full of contrasting sections, the songs on ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ appear to be written with the idea of just making the best songs possible and it certainly paid off. The album never becomes as overwhelming as most of the band’s records and is dynamically excellent. Apparently, the current line-up of the band consists of the best riff writers the band had in ages and judging from the solo trade-offs in ‘Enshrine In Crematoria’ and ‘Deflowering The Maidenhead, Displeasuring The Goddess’, Šmerda and Shaw are an excellent lead guitar duo.

Atmosphere used to be provided by the keyboards and orchestrations, but the band seems to have learned that the real atmosphere should be in the melodies. That would certainly explain the fantastic doomy riffs of ‘Black Magick In Practice’ or the dramatic melodies that pop up in ‘Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych’. Elsewhere, the band goes for sheer destructive force with riffs that are almost thrashy in nature (‘The Vampyre At My Side’, the excellent epic closer ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’) and several songs contain elegant guitar arrangements somewhat reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity’s ‘The Gallery’ (the middle section of ‘Yours Immortally’). And it all works. More so than on any of their previous records.

Anyone who didn’t like Cradle Of Filth before may want to give ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ a chance regardless. Even founding vocalist Dani Filth is surprisingly bearable on these recordings by only employing his high-pitched shriek strategically. Those who were enamored by the band’s gothic leanings may be disappointed, but even those fans may be pleasantly surprised by the consistently high level of songwriting on the album. Boredom doesn’t set in until the bonus tracks, which are decent enough, but notably less interesting than the main album. That still accounts for almost an hour of powerful heavy metal that is really only pushed into extreme territory by the vocals.

Recommended tracks: ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, ‘Yours Immortaly’, ‘Enshrined In Crematoria’

Album of the Week 42-2018: Warrel Dane – Shadow Work

‘Shadow Work’ is a bittersweet affair. While it is good to have a new album with Warrel Dane’s vocals, he died during the recordings of the album in São Paulo, making this the last time we are treated to new material by Dane, who I consider one of the best metal singers of all time. One thing his fans can rejoice about is the fact that his unexpected farewell album is incredible. It is a dark, twisted record that should please all fans of Nevermore and Sanctuary, save for maybe those who only enjoyed the earliest work of the latter.

Dane’s solo debut ‘Praises To The War Machine’, released ten years ago, sort of felt like “Nevermore light”. While it sounded similar to his main band, it had a simpler, more open sound, with the virtuosic technicality of his main band reduced to a minimum. By contrast, ‘Shadow Work’ is heavy as it gets with some impressive playing by Dane’s Brazilian backing band. Guitarists Johnny Moraes and Thiago Oliveira must be fans of Jeff Loomis or at least must have studied his work closely. Their heavy riff work and melodic ornamentations certainly would not sound out of place in Nevermore.

Where ‘Shadow Work’ does distinguish itself is its atmosphere. The intense ‘Madame Satan’ and the nearly extreme metal of the intro to ‘The Hanging Garden’ are quite possibly the darkest stuff Dane ever worked on. The guitar work manages to be vicious and atmospheric at the same time, the compositions take a few unexpected turns and Dane’s emotional vocals give this stuff a melodic dignity that many progressive death metal bands can only dream of. ‘Disconnection System’ sounds closest to Nevermore (and even recycles a bit of the lyrics of ‘The Politics Of Ecstacy’) and would therefore be the best track here to sample before diving into the album.

Metal was never Dane’s only ace in the hole though. Much of his increasingly equipped lower register has a strong gothic quality to it, which fits the ethnic sounds of the overture ‘Ethereal Blessing’ perfectly. The closing epic ‘Mother Is The Word For God’ features him snarling, bellowing, begging and whispering into your soul, truly enhancing the constantly shifting moods of the song. The track has echoes of Nevermore’s ‘This Godless Endeavor’, without sounding like a copy. The arena rock vibe of ‘As Fast As The Others’ and the ballad ‘Rain’ are slightly more accessible, but no less gloomy.

It would be tempting to call ‘Shadow Work’ unfinished. It was supposed to be an eighty minute record (instead of slightly over forty) and I’m sure Dane would have polished up a few vocal lines had he lived long enough to do so, but complaining about that would be missing the point entirely. Dane’s band deserves all the praise they can get finishing these recordings as well as they did and the singer’s emotional, dramatic delivery is exactly what makes ‘Shadow Work’ the goosebumps-inducing experience it is. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges sometimes, but that doesn’t deter from the fact that this is easily the best album with Warrel Dane singing in thirteen years.

Recommended tracks: ‘Madame Satan’, ‘Shadow Work’, ‘Mother Is The Word For God’

Album of the Week 31-2018: Moonspell – Irreligious

Depending on your outlook on music, ‘Irreligious’ is either the album where Moonspell finally got its shit together or the first step into the wrong direction. As a whole, ‘Irreligious’ sounds infinitely more professional than its legendary predecessor ‘Wolfheart’, but it also shifts the focus somewhat away from metal towards gothic. That was never a problem for me, as I tend to prefer the Portuguese band when the goth elements are most pronounced. A majority of these songs are still live staples at Moospell shows, which is a confirmation of the quality songwriting and the fully immersive atmosphere of ‘Irreligious’.

In hindsight, the change from ‘Wolfheart’ to ‘Irreligious’ was not as massive as some extreme metal fans may want you to believe. Some streamlining was really all it took to reach the sound of the latter the likes of ‘Vampiria’ and ‘Love Crimes’. Compositionally, ‘Irreligious’ is more efficient than the debut. These songs certainly are simpler in the sense that they are shorter and contain less riffs, but the arrangements are significantly more thought-out. Fernando Ribeiro’s deep baritone improved considerably in the year between the albums, which is undoubtedly part of the reason why it is much more prominent here.

Hardly any filler can be heard on ‘Irreligious’ and the flow of the album is very pleasant. Part of that is the way the tracklisting is set up. The album consists of a couple of suites that span multiple songs and a handful of stand-alone tracks. Fields Of The Nephilim’s masterpiece ‘Elizium’ was undoubtedly an influence here, given the clear display of inspiration from that album in the many clean guitar lines of Ricardo Amorim. Many may know ‘Opium’ as a powerful goth single, but it actually forms a continuous suite with the desperate ‘Awake!’, the cathartic ‘For A Taste Of Eternity’ and the brooding (and brilliantly titled) intro ‘Perverse… Almost Religious’.

Compared to what came before, ‘Opium’ refuses to let go because of its increased memorability despite lacking an actual chorus. That in itself is one of the greatest redeeming qualities of ‘Irreligious’. The album is basically a never-ending chain of memorable moments. If it’s not an utterly sublime chorus (the album’s most gothic moment ‘Ruin & Misery’, the borderline poppy ‘Raven Claws’), it’s a gorgeous guitar melody (‘Herr Spiegelmann’ has a couple) or the general horror-esque atmosphere of a song (‘Mephisto’, ‘A Poisoned Gift’). ‘Full Moon Madness’ still closes Moonspell’s concerts to this day and it does sort of feel like a mission statement. It is also by far the album’s heaviest, most doom metal-inspired track; don’t let that beautiful clean guitar intro fool you.

While ‘Irreligious’ is considered a gothic metal classic these days – and rightfully so – I can see how the album could have alienated an audience that felt attracted to Moonspell’s black metal roots. Those influences have not completely disappeared on ‘Irreligious’, but the gothic side of the band certainly is more prominent. Those who have acquired the album hoping to find some intricate riffing should be warned: the distorted riffs are fairly simple and there is an abundance of elegant clean guitar parts. Anyone hoping to find a more metallica alternative to The Sisters Of Mercy or Fields Of The Nephilim will certainly find something of their liking here though.

Recommended tracks: ‘Opium’, ‘Ruin & Misery’, ‘A Poisoned Gift’

Album of the Week 51-2017: Septicflesh – Codex Omega

While the orchestral death metal of Septicflesh should have a decent amount of appeal to me, their albums always felt just short of interesting to me. Admittedly, 2011’s ‘The Great Mass’ came close, but this year’s ‘Codex Omega’ was the first Septicflesh album I pretty much enjoy start to finish. In essence, the elements that defined their last few albums are the same as those defining ‘Codex Omega’, but something has changed for the better. It is sort of hard to put my finger on what that is exactly, but let’s make this review an analysis of the album’s immense qualities.

First off, let’s focus on what has changed since the somewhat lackluster predecessor ‘Titan’. Most obviously, Septicflesh changed drummers. Former Decapitated drummer Kerim ‘Krimh’ Lechner is now on the stool and the band certainly profits from his approach to extreme metal drumming. His style seems to be a little looser and somewhat less predictable than that of most of his peers. Though I don’t know big his role in the songwriting process was, the unconventional placement of his accents must have influenced the dynamics of segments like the intro of ‘3rd Testament (Codex Omega)’ and the chorus of ‘The Faceless Queen’.

In addition, Septicflesh worked with in-demand producer Jens Bogren for the first time, who did an incredible job. Mixing a Septicflesh album cannot be an easy task: there are bottom-heavy riffs that give the music its balls, but there are also huge orchestral parts that define Septicflesh’ music. He managed to find a perfect balance between these two seemingly contrasting elements though, creating a surprisingly natural drum sound for Lechner in the process. The drums on many contemporary extreme metal records sound computerized to a fault. On ‘Codex Omega’, you can actually hear that a person is hitting them. Hard. Look no further than the intro to ‘Dark Art’ for proof.

Quite simply, the songwriting had a bit of a boost as well. ‘Our Church, Below The Sea’ could have easily been a dime a dozen extreme symphonic metal song, but the way the two guitar parts are interwoven creates an almost baroque guitar pattern. Opening track ‘Dante’s Inferno’ toys with expectations of tempo in a really powerful way, best expressed in the start-stop riff that occurs repeatedly throughout the song, while ‘The Gospels Of Fear’ is composed in an almost lineair way that makes it feel like it is coming over you in waves. Closing track ‘Trinity’ is a masterpiece due to its relatively simple, yet extremely powerful rhythms and its effective use of dynamics and acoustic instruments, which lend an almost gothic-like feel to the track.

‘Codex Omega’ is the album on which Septicflesh finally makes use of its full potential. While the excellent work by the choir and the FILMharmonic Orchestra of Prague add an irresistible layer of bombast to the music, the album would not have worked nearly as good if the basic compositions were an less good than this. Even the most standard extreme metal riffs have been arranged in a way that it sounds just a little different. Easily the best death metal album released this year, symphonic or not.

Recommended tracks: ‘3rd Testament (Codex Omega)’, ‘Trinity’, ‘Dante’s Inferno’