Posts Tagged ‘ Gothic Metal ’

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’

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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’

Album of the Week 33-2017: Moonspell – Alpha Noir / Omega White


Bonus cd’s with complete albums are something of a strange phenomenon, but they have been appearing more frequently. It is especially strange when the bonus album is significantly better than the main portion, as is the case with this double album of Portuguese gothic metal stalwarts Moonspell. It could be a simple matter of preference, as ‘Alpha Noir’ emphasizes the band’s extreme metal roots, while ‘Omega White’ is pretty much a full-on gothic rock album. While the band’s power was always in blending these genres, it is praiseworthy that they were inspired enough to come up with this much material that stays interesting almost all the way through.

The sharpest division between the two albums is undoubtedly in the vocal approach of Fernando Ribeiro. Apart from the verses of the title track, ‘Alpha Noir’ features his guttural, yet still somewhat comprehensible growls almost exclusively, while his beautiful, deep baritone takes center stage on ‘Omega White’. Still, there are compositional differences. Only a few songs could have been on either album, depending on the vocal approach. ‘Omega White’ is notably more atmospheric, with Pedro Paixão frequently adding keyboards in addition to guitar riffs, ending up sounding somewhat like a more guitar-heavy take on The Sisters Of Mercy and Fields Of The Nephilim.

Having said that, ‘Alpha Noir’ excels when its songs feature a healthy dose of atmosphere as well. ‘Em Nome Do Medo’ has all the riffy violence you could wish for, but also has some excellent keyboard textures and a beautiful, open middle section. ‘Versus’ is a lesson in layering and song construction, while the bombastic opener ‘Axis Mundi’ is an absolute highlight. It is also, together with the title track, the only song with notable gothic overtones. The cinematic instrumental closing track ‘Sine Missione’ is nothing short of spectacular.

‘Omega White’ is more memorable and consistent, however. Starting out with the gorgeous ‘Whiteomega’, it is obvious that we’re dealing with Moonspell’s goth sound here. This could be an issue for some fans, but the songs are so good that it is easy to forget about that. Its great chorus and the sensuality turn ‘Herodisiac’ into a classic that should not be reduced to bonus track status, while ‘Sacrificial’, ‘White Skies’ and ‘Fireseason’ are all expertly constructed, infectious goth rock tracks with big, beefy riffs, haunting melodies and an excellent vocal performance by Ribeiro. The atmosphere isn’t quite as dark and mysterious as on the 1996 classic ‘Irreligious’, but the best songs are equally impressive.

Ultimately, one could wonder if it would be wise to release this as two separate albums. Personally, I would have gotten rid of some of the weaker tracks (my suggestions: ‘Opera Carne’ and ‘Incantrix’) and released this as one excellent 70-minute album, which could work wonders for the dynamics as well, but I guess people who are only into the band’s heavier side could just settle for the normal edition without ‘Omega White’. However, that would mean missing out on Moonspell doing what they do best: crafting atmospheric songs with great vocals. It’s your choice.

Recommended tracks: ‘Herodisiac’, ‘Whiteomega’, ‘Alpha Noir’, ‘Axis Mundi’, ‘Sine Missione’

Album of the Week 17-2017: The Gazette – Dogma


The Gazette is one of the most popular Japanese rock bands even outside of their native country. Save for a couple of songs, they never appealed to me much until they released their most recent studio album ‘Dogma’. For this dark monster of an album, the goth factor in the band’s familiar alternative metal sound is turned up considerably, resulting in an immersive atmosphere that works surprisingly well alongside the downtuned riff work. Despite being recognizable as an album by The Gazette, ‘Dogma’ is – thus far – a unique entry in their discography and truly takes their sound to a new level.

People who like The Gazette less than I do are prone to dismiss them as a Dir En Grey clone. And while they share a dark aesthetic as well as a preference for the downtuned mayhem of the American nu metal scene of the mid-ninties, The Gazette has always had a sound closer to J-Rock, though on ‘Dogma’, the J-Rock sound is mainly limited to Ruki’s baritone. The electronic experiments of recent albums are still there, but less prominent in the mix. This is a good thing: while the electronics made The Gazette stand out, they feel much more like an integral part of the sound here.

‘Dogma’ definitely excels most during its more atmospheric moments. Sure, the extremely heavy riff work by Uruha and Aoi – as well as their massive, crushing guitar sound – makes for pleasant headbanging on tracks like ‘Rage’, ‘Deux’ and ‘Incubus’, but if it wasn’t for the darker material, I may have taken a pass on the album. The fittingly titled closing track ‘Ominous’ has a subdued, brooding character that doesn’t really sound like anything the band has attempted before. The transitions are a little sudden, but it works remarkably well. Its finale is excellent.

Even better is ‘Deracine’. The guitar interaction in the verses – a pronounced riff with background atmospherics – is incredible, Ruki’s vocal melodies are fantastic and its atmosphere, which at times feels like a relatively heavy J-metal band covering Killing Joke, is impossible to escape. Another highlight is ‘Wasteland’, which brings together all the extremes of The Gazette’s sound. The guitar layering is extremely tasteful and the song flows very pleasantly. ‘Lucy’ is a little more straightforward and probably would not have stood out as much on a different album, but its effective main riff and huge chorus are great. The title track serves as a perfect introduction with its dark, gothic verses.

Before ‘Dogma’, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with an album by The Gazette altogether, but the fact is that it’s a strong, well-rounded album that doesn’t easily let its listener go. It also sounds less like a band trying to emulate its American influences than some of their early works, opting for a sound of its own instead. This is a development that I can only applaud and as a result, ‘Dogma’ is definitely worth hearing if you like your music heavy, dark and atmospheric. I’ll be honest: I never knew they had it in them.

Recommended tracks: ‘Deracine’, ‘Wasteland’, ‘Ominous’

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