The Link-Up Spell: A gothic metal retrospect
Today we turn back in time were people looked and behaved like Victorian vampires. Let’s remember Estatic Fear, Virgin Black and The Sins of Thy Beloved!
Even when it passed its prime in terms of popularity, the gothic aesthetic is still a favorite of mine. In the mid-00s, at least in Latin America, we had tons and tons of adepts to the ravenous arts of dark romanticism, and while I think of those days with a youthful naïve remembrance, I still occasionally jam a few bands that froze in time that sentiment.
When I started to digest the metal vibes, I went through the fantastic topics of Rhapsody and Nightwish, in result, my palate was accustomed to various degrees of fine cheese. At the same time, literature was another cottage for my teenager spark, and the one I consumed was also inspired from the obscure linings of the noble writing works.
For this time, I will work as your personal grave keeper, in order to unearth these three bands that served as the perfect soundtrack for those ghastly lecture sessions of Baudelaire, Poe, Lovecraft and some long lost Venezuelan poets, in the middle of the hot tropical nights, eons ago.
A Sombre Dance, the second and final album of Austrian gothic band, Estatic Fear, is one of those pieces that were built to last centuries in perennial artistry.
Before the recording of this release, the band had to face the unforeseen damage of a rude line-up fugue. In the middle of some discussions, three band members returned to the black metal outfit of Astaroth in order to release their cryptical energies through live shows. On the other side, guitarist Calix Miserae (Matthias Kogler) concentrated most of the writing in their second opus, leading the road to a bitter split.
But Calix was not content with this destiny, so he took the cross in his back and composed A Sombre Dance, with the aid of a multiple roster of schooled session musicians. The result was a candid display of mournful tunes, which breathe honesty on each second.
The album is structured as a nine-piece tale, influenced by an eclectic array of disparate feels, including folkloric elements, neoclassical exercises and ambient textures. Female vocals ran wonderfully by the blues singer Claudia Schöftner, intoned with a delicate timbre, and it became a remarkable addition to the already inspired formula of gothic enchanting, carefully crafted by Calix.
Synths, guitars and drums have all that pulsating thin production value, so characteristic of the late 90s gothic scene, but the compositions have their own light by the passion burning cascading of each riff and silence per equal. Tender acoustic guitars and pianos tend to travel there and back again in each song, with a decent amount of finely tuned string and flute sections, airing the listening with passages of mournful marches.
Even when A Sombre Macabre sentiments connects with an inner classical spirit through the highly melodic structures, the metal is also present. Death/doom longing resounds in “Chapter II” and the instant classic “Chapter IV”, leaving listeners satisfied with the mortuary ambiance behind it.
This last Estatic Fear versing is the equivalent of walking at night touching the decayed statues of an old Austrian castle. And that, my friend, is a supreme delight.
One of the common traits of the gothic aesthetics is the dramatic nature of humankind. And one of the best bands that exploited that aspect is Australia’s Virgin Black.
When gothic metal was in agony thanks to a rabid commercialization, the Adelaide congregation quietly released a true milestone on the genre, correctly entitled Elegant… and Dying.
After a touching beginning, guitar crude distortions sounds clash violently aside the correctly positioned synth on “Velvet Tongue”. Afterwards, the cinematic experiments drown the darkwave tints and transform the rest of the album to travel through new territories.
In the process, keyboardist Rowan London tears down all walls with an incredible and over dramatic vocal performance full of different colors and emotions. He shrieks and growls with such conviction that it sounds natural for him, but his clean operatic voice are what put the final nail in the coffin, giving it a frantic peculiarity to the religious experiment of the whole record. Meanwhile, the ecclesiastic choruses push a trance-like experience in some segments to increase the ecstatic feel.
Accordingly, Virgin Black disserts about the metaphysical angst and the spiritual tragedies through the dense metallic material and the abrasive cinematic interludes, and while that could distract a vast group of listeners, the result is very obscure and totally honest, even with the absurd levels of experimentation. Guitarist Samantha Escarbe have a few shining moments, but when she is up the front riffing, soloing or harmonizing, every drop of attention turns back to her playing.
In result, the clever eschatological usage of Christian concepts as metaphors of the human spiritual doubts elevates the listening to another level and adds an extra value to the chaotic runtime. Full of gloom and constant oppression, the long middle section could be bothersome to some, and is understandable, but the precious final track, “Our Wings Are Burning”, is a display of what is Virgin Black capable to express through a pure gothic expressiveness.
Pretentious to some, and genius to others, there is no way denying that Virgin Black has their own voice and if you are able to swallow the operatic overplaying experiments, you will have a charming time burning your soul through the spiritual ambience of Elegant… and Dying.
The Sins of Thy Beloved
Our final stop in this funereal night is Norway, one of the houses of the European gothic scenes and, also, the headquarters of The Sins of Thy Beloved, another good name to remember from this nostalgic remembrance.
To refresh a little from the experiments of Estatic Fear and Virgin Black I had to open up my memories tombs to get one of those romantic dead proses, and Lake of Sorrow put me in the right mood.
From “My Love” until “Silent Pain” this band recollects the forgotten arts of decayed courtship that defined the Norwegian style in 54 minutes of lovelorn fantasies. The core sound is differentiated from their peers Tristania and Theatre of Tragedy thanks to the inclusion of violins, played greatly by Pete Johansen, and tons of keyboards to push the band through symphonic territories.
In general, this mark as a quintessential example of the “beauty and the beast”, but there is some sort of good song writing behind the gothic clichés.
Right there passing the muffled production, the gruff gutturals, the choppy English lyrics and the interchangeable drumming, lies a surprising amount of doom and a great melodic work, portrayed by Johansen itself. His job is greatly enjoyed at the beginning of “Worthy of You”, when the violin starts a nice counterpoint motif that carries the emotive tune. Guitars also have plenty of commanding moments, like in the title track, in which the dueling axes playfully exchange some melodic patterns with the violin and keyboards, enriching the mix and proving what the band could do with their over the top eight members line-up.
Vocal performance by Anita Augland finish to set the one-dimensional mood of the entire record, but her voice is wonderfully applied with a very innocent production that is totally charming, attempting to put her into an ethereal level, floating above all instrumentations and keyboards, in tracks like the classic “Until the Dark”.
While The Sins of Thy Beloved debut could be tagged of gullible to today’s standard, it could give a couple of surprises for the wild adventurer looking for a different edge than the commercial gothic metal side. The truth is Lake of Sorrow delivers as a frozen monolith to those days of yore and a capable gothic doom metal record at the same time.
Do you remember the gothic years? Which other record can you remember of those times? Cast out your spells on the comments, my friend!
The Link-Up Spell is a weekly Toilet ov Hell column about music, movies, books, retro video games and guaranteed Elfic nonsense. If you want to contact the author to send your material, mail us at toiletovhell [at] gmail.com with the subject “The Link-Up Spell” or message him on social media.