THEATRE OF TRAGEDY

Gothic Metal / Non-Metal / Metal Related • Norway
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Theatre of Tragedy is a gothic metal/death doom metal/industrial rock/futurepop band, originally assembled in 1993 in Stavanger, Norway by Hein Frode Hansen, Raymond István Rohonyi and Lorentz Aspen, together with Tommy Lindal, Pål Bjastad, and Liv Kristine.

Their earlier albums have provided a great deal of influence to the gothic metal genre. The band was one of the first ones who made use of contrasting vocals - male bass vocals and death growls and female soprano singing.

On their first three albums (Theatre of Tragedy, Velvet Darkness They Fear, Aégis) Theatre of Tragedy presented lyrics written predominantly in a form of Olde English, an early form of the language prior to Shakespearean times.

Starting from the album Musique, however, the band made drastic changes to their style, which became significantly inspired by electro-rock and electro-pop, abandoning Early Modern English lyrics writing, heavier guitar riffing and death growls in the
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THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Discography

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY albums / top albums

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Theatre of Tragedy album cover 3.64 | 19 ratings
Theatre of Tragedy
Gothic Metal 1995
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Velvet Darkness They Fear album cover 4.26 | 31 ratings
Velvet Darkness They Fear
Gothic Metal 1996
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Aégis album cover 4.01 | 21 ratings
Aégis
Gothic Metal 1998
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Musique album cover 3.46 | 10 ratings
Musique
Metal Related 2000
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Assembly album cover 3.65 | 9 ratings
Assembly
Non-Metal 2002
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Storm album cover 3.50 | 8 ratings
Storm
Gothic Metal 2006
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Forever Is the World album cover 3.08 | 8 ratings
Forever Is the World
Gothic Metal 2009

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY EPs & splits

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY A Rose for the Dead album cover 3.44 | 8 ratings
A Rose for the Dead
Gothic Metal 1997
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Massacre Classix Shape Edition album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Massacre Classix Shape Edition
Gothic Metal 1999
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Inperspective album cover 2.50 | 2 ratings
Inperspective
Gothic Metal 2000
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Addenda album cover 3.50 | 1 ratings
Addenda
Gothic Metal 2010

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY live albums

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Closure:Live album cover 3.33 | 3 ratings
Closure:Live
Gothic Metal 2001
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Last Curtain Call album cover 3.83 | 2 ratings
Last Curtain Call
Gothic Metal 2011

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY re-issues & compilations

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Remixed album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Remixed
Metal Related 2019

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY singles (8)

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Der Tanz der Schatten
Gothic Metal 1996
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Cassandra
Gothic Metal 1998
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Image
Gothic Metal 2000
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Machine
Gothic Metal 2001
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Envision
Gothic Metal 2002
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Let You Down
Gothic Metal 2002
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1.50 | 1 ratings
Storm
Gothic Metal 2006
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0.00 | 0 ratings
Deadland
Gothic Metal 2009

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

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5.00 | 1 ratings
Last Curtain Call
Gothic Metal 2011

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Reviews

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Theatre of Tragedy

Album · 1995 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
There are some albums that hold an iconic status in the metal community, and the self-titled debut of Norwegian band Theatre of Tragedy is certainly one of those. Released in 1995, this album laid the foundations for the female-fronted gothic metal scene, providing the blueprint for countless artists to follow. Their formula relied heavily on the notion of “contrast”. Contrast between the crushingly slow riffs and oppressive tempos of death/doom metal and the lightness and airiness of instruments like piano, violin, and acoustic guitars. Perhaps all the more iconic is the contrast between cavernous death growls and ethereal, soprano-like female clean vocals, which led critics to dub the approach “beauty and the beast”. Even the lyrical themes are based on contrast, inspired by Romantic themes of dualism between life and death, love and hate, joy and pain. Of course, this was nothing completely new back in 1995, as other metal bands had occasionally relied on these types of contrasts as a compositional element in their music. Celtic Frost had incorporated operatic vocals into their dark music as early as 1985. Paradise Lost’s second album Gothic, released in 1992, contained a couple of songs featuring the interplay between male grunts and clean melodic female vocals. The Gathering’s debut album Always…, also released in 1992, provides another prominent example. Other doom/death bands, like Anathema and My Dying Bride, had experimented with the use of piano, violin and keyboards, and with the insertion of delicate acoustic sections in their songs. What is perhaps unique about Theatre of Tragedy, however, is that they took these isolated elements and put them at the centre of their music, purposely making a whole album out of it.

Regardless of who came first and who inspired whom, Theatre of Tragedy’s debut album contains all the archetypal elements of the “beauty and the beast” gothic metal sound and is therefore commonly seen as the precursor of that scene. The songwriting is complex and multifaceted, unafraid of taking the songs in multiple directions and long detours before going back to familiar themes. The tempos are shifting all the time, as the songs keep speeding up and slowing down, toying with the listener as they move from section to section in an endless spiral of despair. Guitarists Pål Bjåstad and Tommy Lindal provide ample doses of thickly distorted, slow-paced doom riffs that twist and turn like maggots in a coffin. But then, suddenly, the music opens up: a piano introduces an ear-pleasing motive; a cello intermezzo gives sadness a new sound; a gentle acoustic guitar dispels the thick fuzz of the distorted guitars. It’s this constant change of moods and atmosphere that makes the music so interesting, dynamic and special.

However, what gains this album its iconic status is undoubtedly the interplay between male and female vocals. Raymond Rohonyi is the growler. His vocals are cavernous, monotonous and grim, thick as the darkness itself. The contrast with Liv Kristine Espenæs’ eerie operatic vocals could not be starker. Her voice is delicate, almost whispery, as she mostly uses her upper-register to create maximal contrast. Both singers are given space to sing on their own (sometimes on entire songs, like Liv on “… A Distance There Is …”). But often the two vocalists are used simultaneously in the same song, providing a sort of counterpoint to one another and accentuating the contrast between the two different styles. Oddly, however, neither singer really manages to convey strong emotions with their voices, an effect that is partly compounded by their cold, one-dimensional delivery as well as by the use of Old English in the lyrics, which creates a further barrier between the singers and the listener. It makes for an odd effect, transmitting a sense of apathy and detachment to the listener that contributes to the dramatic and oppressive atmosphere of the album.

Another aspect of the music that nurtures this sense of oppression and emotional detachment is the lack of strong and memorable melodies, both in the vocals and the underlying instrumental background. Sure, there are riffs, piano motifs, and even a couple of cello solos (played by prog rock outfit Unicorn’s Anders Måreby), but overall the album feels melodically unyielding. This is perhaps also the biggest limit of the record, which prevents me from rating it higher. The music is not particularly accessible or easy to assimilate, making a few songs feel plodding and dull (“Cheerful Dirge”, “Monotone”) and the overall album somewhat of a chore to go through. Theatre of Tragedy will soon learn to write much better melodies, and already their follow-up album Velvet Darkness They Fear will constitute a dramatic improvement in terms of accessibility and enjoyment of the overall listening experience.

Although Theatre of Tragedy will do better in later releases, the album has nevertheless some great moments, especially in the songs that are more concise and focused, like “A Hamlet for a Slothful Vassal” and “Mire”. These songs are punchy, direct and fun to listen to, showcasing the best features of the beauty and the beast approach. The acoustic piece “… A Distance There Is …” also stands out as a long threnody for piano and voice that keeps spiralling from lament to lament. “Hollow-Heartéd, Heart-Departéd” features a nice cello part and good vocals by Liv, although it loses a bit of focus in its second-half.

The overall production of the album is excellent. Recorded at Unisound studios in Sweden under the watchful eye of Dan Swanö, the album’s sound is miles better than that of many similar albums in the genre (I think of those early, muddy, thin-sounding Tristania and The Sins of Thy Beloved albums). The guitar tone is great, deep and powerful. The balance between instruments and voices is also good, and so is the balance between Raymnod’s growls and Liv’s cleans. The overall production value of the album is really strong and makes the album sound good even for today’s standards, 25 years after its release.

Regardless of its strengths and weaknesses, the album stands tall as a seminal contribution to a nascent musical genre. Ambitious and innovative, the combination of doom/death, operatic vocals, and classical instrumentation will influence many bands in the following years, with dozens of albums in this style being released in the second half of the 1990s. Theatre of Tragedy will produce one more full-length in this style (1996’s Velvet Darkness They Fear, perhaps their crowning achievement), before starting to incorporate gothic rock, electronic and industrial influences in their sound, effectively leaving behind the scene they had so much contributed to establish.

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Velvet Darkness They Fear

Album · 1996 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Velvet Darkness They Fear is the quintessential “beauty and the beast” gothic metal album. Released in 1996, a mere year after Theatre of Tragedy had debuted with their self-titled album, the record is an impressive collection of beautifully crafted anthems that are rooted in the doom/death sound of the band’s debut album, but at the same time are leaner, punchier, more melodic and emotional. The result is an album that is much more accessible, memorable and enjoyable than its predecessor, which is why many consider it the high point of the band’s career.

The band’s lineup is largely unchanged relative to the debut album. The only difference is that guitarist Pål Bjåstad has been replaced with Geir Flikkeid (who will leave the band after this album). Pål nevertheless features as a songwriter in many of the tracks here, which emphasizes the sense of continuity between the sound of the two albums. The rest of the instrumental lineup is comprised of guitarist Tommy Lindal, keyboard player Lorentz Aspen, drummer Hein Frode Hansen and bassist Eirik Saltrø. Raymond Rohonyi and Liv Kristine Espenæs trade vocal lines throughout the album. Liv sings in the trademark fragile and operatic style of the “beauty and the beast” genre. Raymond provides mostly guttural growls, dark and cavernous, albeit he occasionally also experiments with spoken vocals and gothic crooning, a style he will fully embrace on the next few albums of the band.

Musically, the album is quintessential “beauty and the beast” gothic metal. The songs are long, slow-winding and doomy, built around flowing structures that twist and turn and rarely go back to familiar motives more than once or twice. The riffs are dense and keep accelerating and decelerating in the course of the song, giving the music a dramatic and oppressive feel. The piano is omnipresent, weaving a tapestry of arpeggios underneath the thick distortion of the guitars. It’s a beautiful contrast that adds to the dramatic atmosphere of the songs. Four songs also features orchestral arrangements performed by the Streicherensemble Nedeltcho Boiadjiev, adding a symphonic touch to the music. One major difference between Velvet Darkness They Fear and its predecessor is that the tracks here much more immediate and accessible compared to the first album. This is due to two crucial factors that have changed between the two albums. First, the new songs are built on stronger, more memorable melodies. Songs like “Fair and 'Guiling Copesmate Death”, “And When He Falleth”, “Der Tanz der Schatten” and “Black as the Devil Painteth” all feature superb vocal melodies. Liv Kristine's vocal lines are particularly effective, especially as she embraced a fuller and warmer vocal style here compared to her thin and fragile delivery on the debut album. But also Raymond’s growls are more expressive and melodious compared to its tone-deaf, flat delivery of the debut album. Second, the tempos of the songs are less sluggish and oppressive. Tracks like “Seraphic Deviltry” and “Der Tanz der Schatten” showcase a gothic groove that forebodes the gothic turn Theatre of Tragedy will take with their next album Aégis. As a result, the album sounds more energetic and dynamic, and it is much easier for the listener to navigate through its 50+ minutes without getting bored or distracted.

But eventually the strength of Velvet Darkness They Fear lies in the outstanding quality of its songs. The first seven tracks of the album are all absolute gems, leaving the listener completely stunned by the incessant stream of melodies and structurally perfect arrangements. “Fair and 'Guiling Copesmate Death” is a feast of mesmerizing duets between Liv and Raymond, who here inaugurates his new spoken/crooning vocal style. “Bring Forth Ye Shadow” features a beautiful acoustic intermezzo before slowing down and morphing into a doomish coda. “And When He Falleth” is perhaps one of the best songs in the band’s whole discography. It features a sampled dialogue from the 1964 movie The Masque of the Red Death that is just perfectly synced with the superb instrumental background, creating a strong cinematic effect that would not disfigure on a post-rock album. “Der Tanz der Schatten” is the other highlight of the album. It is a beautiful gothic piece whose remix will actually become a minor hit in the gothic club scene. Its strong, emotional finale (“Ich liebe dich….”) is an all-time classic for the band’s fans.

It is a pity that the remaining two songs of the album (“On Whom the Moon Doth Shine” and “The Masquerader and Phoenix”) do not match the quality and the intensity of the previous seven. The main issue here is that these two songs are vocally weaker than the others. The string arrangements of “On Whom the Moon Doth Shine” are also quite messy, while “The Masquerader and Phoenix”, after a nice atmospheric beginning, loses steam and fails to eventually take off.

Despite the slight dip in quality towards the end, Velvet Darkness They Fear is an absolute masterpiece of female-fronted doom/gothic metal. It has everything the genre is known for: dark, doomy riffs and tempos, mesmerizing duets between ethereal female vocals and cavernous growls, dramatic contrasts between electric and acoustic instruments, beautiful melodies and romantic atmospheres. All these elements are used to perfection in this album, which strikes a miraculous balance between sounding extreme and accessible at the same time. It is a formula that countless doom/gothic metal bands have tried to master over the years, often unsuccessfully. On their second attempt, Theatre of Tragedy nailed it. If doom/gothic metal is your poison of choice, make no mistake: Velvet Darkness They Fear is the real deal.

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Aégis

Album · 1998 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Theatre of Tragedy are a band I have a lot of respect for. They kickstarted the whole female-fronted doom/gothic metal scene with their 1995, self-titled debut album. They followed that up one year later with Velvet Darkness They Fear, which is perhaps the quintessential “beauty and the beast” album of the period, laying the blueprints of this specific brand of gothic metal for countless bands to follow. And, no doubt, many bands did follow, as the late 1990s saw an explosion of albums owing more than one debt to Theatre of Tragedy’s early catalogue. Commercially, the sensible thing to do for the band would have been to keep milking the same cow by releasing one or two more albums in the style of the self-title debut and Velvet Darkness They Fear. Instead, in 1998 the band released Aégis, dropping almost altogether the doom influences and the cavernous death growls of their previous albums, and veering instead towards a more energetic and accessible form of gothic metal that is closer to the 1980s darkwave and goth rock scene than the doom/death metal scene that the band came out of.

It’s a bold change, but not one that was totally unforeseeable. Already Velvet Darkness They Fear contained a couple of tracks, most noticeably the groovy “Der Tanz der Schatten”, that had a more marked gothic flavor. These influences are greatly magnified on Aégis. The guitar work, in particular, is very different from the death/doom sound of the band’s earlier albums. The change was probably facilitated by the departure of guitarist and founding member Tommy Lindal, who is here replaced by Frank Claussen and Tommy Olsson. Olsson in particular was likely a big influence on the band’s new sound direction, as he was previously the guitarist of Norwegian gothic rock band The Morendoes. However, the guitars on Aégis are heavier than what one would find on a typical gothic rock album, although they do have that downstroke, palm-muted chugging playing style that is typical of the genre. Clean arpeggios and effects are also used frequently, in stark contrast with the doomy, long-winding riffing style of the earlier albums.

Also differently from previous albums, Aégis presents a mixture of energetic up-tempo tracks as well as more subdued mid-tempos and ballads, but it almost always escapes the sluggish slowness of doom metal (“Siren” is perhaps the only track that gets closer to the band’s earlier doomy style). The drums are groovy and tight and, combined with pulsating bass lines, frequently conjure up the feel of late nights in dark goth clubs (“Lorelei”, “Aoede”, “Poppea”). The use of keyboards has also changed. On Aégis the clean guitars play the part that on earlier albums was reserved to the piano. Indeed, the piano is much less prominent here, as Lorentz Aspen more frequently uses synths and samplers instead.

The song structure is also leaner and more direct compared to the band’s previous two records, with abundant repetitions of the choruses and fewer middle-eights and instrumental detours. The vocal arrangements are also quite different. The dualism between Raymond Rohonyi and Liv Kristine Espenæs is still present. However, Raymond almost completely abandoned his cavernous growling style, embracing instead the spoken/crooning style he had already experimented with in some of the songs of Velvet Darkness They Fear. The growls only feature briefly on a handful of tracks (“Angélique”, “Venus” and “Bacchante”). Most of the time, Raymond resorts to a low-register, half-sung/half-spoken singing style that accompanies quite well the high-pitched vocals of Liv Kristine Espenæs. Her singing style is also somewhat different from previous albums, as she substituted her ethereal operatic style with a warmer and poppier approach. These changes, combined with the leaner and more energetic musical approach and simplified song structures, make the music much more accessible and agreeable, turning tracks like “Cassandra”, “Venus” and “Poppea” into irresistible gothic hits.

The album flows well from start to finish and it has a cohesive atmosphere that is dark and dramatic without being excessively morose and oppressive. A few songs stand out from the rest because they have particularly strong melodic hooks. The single “Cassandra” is one of those. Raymond’s vocal performance is top-notch as he manages to give the song a groovy, memorable chorus. Liv’s interjection in the second half of the song acts as perfect complement to Raymond’s dark crooning, showcasing the strengths of the new vocal approach. “Lorelei” is another memorable piece, moving between floor-dance gothic grooves, spoken vocal parts and ethereal female singing. “Aoede” and “Poppea” are two other groovy goth pieces, while “Venus” stands out for Liv’s beautiful vocal melodies and the lyrics in Latin. “Bacchante” is also worth mentioning as it is a slightly more experimental track than the rest, showcasing some vaguely industrial influences that foretell the imminent turn the band will take on their next album, the shockingly electrogoth / industrial Musique.

Overall, Aégis is a thoroughly enjoyable gothic metal album that is often regarded one of the best records released by Theatre of Tragedy. Personally, I believe their previous album, Velvet Darkness They Fear, is the true apex of the band’s catalogue, but Aégis comes close second. Groovy, energetic, and catchy, it presents a natural evolution of the band’s sound that is here perfectly suspended between the doom/death of the origins and the electrogoth of the next two albums, Musique and Assembly. Bursting with strong tracks and memorable hooks, the album is a treasure-trove of delights for those who like their metal dark, groovy and laced with fishnets and leather.

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Musique

Album · 2000 · Metal Related
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lukretion
The late 1990s saw an increasing number of iconic doom/death bands experiment with new sound directions. From Paradise Lost to Anathema, many bands decided to leave behind (at least temporarily) the doom metal of their beginnings and explore new ways of expressing their dark and melancholic feelings. The most shocking change of direction, though, must surely be that taken by Theatre of Tragedy with their fourth full-length Musique. In 1995 the band had kickstarted almost single-handedly the whole “beauty and the beast” doom/gothic metal scene with their self-titled debut album. However, after just one more record in this style (the fantastic Velvet Darkness They Fear), Theatre of Tragedy already started to show a desire to push the boundaries of their sound. Their third album (1998’s Aégis) saw the band almost entirely abandon the doom/death format, ditching the growls and the slow tempos in favor of a more energetic and accessible form of gothic metal. In 2000, with the EP Inperspective, the band showcased their love for electronic music, releasing heavily remixed and almost techno versions of songs from their previous full-lengths. And then came Musique, an album that cancelled almost every single aspect of the band fans once knew.

There is no trace of the band’s doom/death beginnings on this album, nor of the more straightforward but still heavily metallic gothic approach showcased on Aégis. On Musique, Theatre of Tragedy explore a new sound halfway between industrial metal, EBM and electro-goth music. The standard metal instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums) takes mostly a backseat on this album, and so do the piano and the string arrangements that the band had used so frequently on previous records. The music is instead dominated by electronic beats, loops, sound effects and keyboards. The distorted guitars are used sparingly and almost exclusively rhythmically, to add thickness and momentum to the choruses. The songs are much simpler, built around a canonic verse-chorus-verse structure, with plenty of melodic hooks and very few instrumental digressions or structural innovations. It’s a lean and catchy approach that stands in stark contrast with the sprawling compositions of the band’s previous albums, where the track length very often exceeded the 5 minutes. These changes in the instrumentation and musical approach are also accompanied by a mini-revolution in the band’s lineup, with guitarist Tommy Olsson and bassist Eirik Saltrø quitting the band without being replaced.

The vocal styles of the band’s two singers, Raymond Rohonyi and Liv Kristine Espenæs, are also completely different compared to previous albums. Raymond has nearly completely ditched his growling style of the first two albums (except for a brief episode on “Crash/Concrete”) as well as the gothic croon of Aégis. He instead uses a robotic, half-spoken singing style that brings to mind Kraftwerk and the krautrock movement. Liv Kristine abandons the operatic vocal style she had frequently used up to this point and adopts a more modern, poppier approach instead. It’s a completely new take on the “beauty and the beast” aesthetics that Theatre of Tragedy contributed to popularize in the second half of the 1990s.

But Theatre of Tragedy’s metamorphosis goes even further than this. The lyrics on Musique are at the antipodes of those on the previous three albums, where Raymond Rohonyi wrote in Old English and tackled typically romantic topics of lost love, death and tragedy. The lyrical approach on Musique could not be more different. The lyrics are written in modern English and deal with very contemporaneous and even mundane topics, like city life, computers, machines and sex. The band’s image is also completely different. Gone are the laced-up corsets, the elegant Victorian dresses and the long hair, as the band showcases instead a new look made of tight leather jackets and dyed short hair.

While these are big, bold changes that no doubt shocked more than one early-day fan, it should be said that the new musical direction Theatre of Tragedy take on Musique is nothing completely unheard before, even in the metal universe. Bands like Sundown, Samael, Paradise Lost, The Kovenant, Seigmen and Zeromancer had all dabbled with similar sonic experiments around the same time, mixing industrial, electronica, pop and gothic metal. Regardless of the novelty, Theatre of Tragedy do a great job at giving their interpretation of this aesthetic, with some excellent results. The first two tracks of the albums are absolute killers. “Machine” strikes a perfect balance between being catchy and sinister, while “City of Light” is more disturbed with its heavy industrial influences and brings to mind The Prodigy.

The rest of the album follows in a similar vein, mixing eerie electronic atmosphere, sinister robotic voices and catchy melodic hooks. And herein lies the greatest pitfall of the album. From the third track onward, when the surprise effect starts fading out, it is almost impossible not to be pervaded by a strong sense of deja-vu. The lack of variation in the song structure and tempo and in the overall sound direction makes it hard to distinguish one song from another, as the various loops and melodic hooks become almost interchangeable from song to song. There are only few moments between track #3 “Fragment” and track #11 “Space Age” that truly stand out. One is the album’s lead single “Image”. It’s a decidedly poppier piece that only features Liv on vocals, thus breaking the cycle of robotic verses – female choruses that had characterized all previous tracks. The other is the final track “Space Age”, which is my personal favourite song of the album. It’s a more atmospheric and meditative piece that unfurls slowly between computerized vocals and eerie programmed loops. It gives the album a much needed change of tempo, breaking the songwriting formula that had been (ab)used in the course of the previous ten tracks. Although this comes too late in the tracklist, it’s nevertheless a great way to finish the album on a high note.

Despite being too unidimensional and formulaic, Musique is nevertheless a pleasant album that represents a bold change of direction for Theatre of Tragedy. The feeling I get from this record is that the band is not yet fully in control of the new sonic approach. As a consequence, the album lacks subtlety and depth, giving it limited repeated listening value. The band will do much better on their follow-up record, 2002’s Assembly, which will continue with the same sonic approach but in a decidedly more mature and assured manner. If you have not listened to this phase of the band’s discography, I suggest you start with Assembly first, and only get Musique if you like what you hear on that record.

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Assembly

Album · 2002 · Non-Metal
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lukretion
Theatre of Tragedy are one of the most well-known gothic bands of the late 1990s. Their 1995’s self-titled debut album kickstarted the whole “beauty and the beast” doom/death gothic metal scene that dominated in the second half of the 1990s and beyond. By 1998, however, the band had already showed a desire to explore new musical territories, releasing a simpler and more straightforward gothic metal album (Aégis). However, the real shocker came in 2000 when Theatre of Tragedy released Musique, an electro-goth / industrial metal record that really had little in common with the band’s previous three albums. Released in 2002, Assembly continues the musical discourse undertaken on Musique. There are a few differences between the two albums, though, with Assembly sounding more mature and assured than its predecessor.

Musique had one main flaw: it lacked variety. Its eleven songs were far too similar to one another, moulded from the same formula of glitchy electronic loops, sinister robotic vocals and catchy choruses. After two or three tracks, the whole album quickly blurred into an indistinguishable, anonymous blob that made it hard to maintain interest until the last song. Assembly is a huge improvement in this respect. On this album Theatre of Tragedy tweak the formula just enough from song to song to keep things fresh and interesting. The catchy, hook-oriented electro-goth numbers are still there, but they do not dominate the whole album as on Musique. Next to ear candy moments like “Universal Race” and “Envision”, we have heavier and more sinister tracks, like the mean, industrial-heavy opener “Automatic Lover” (one of the best songs of the album), as well as eerie electronic dreamscapes like “Starlit” and “Motion”. Meanwhile, “Liquid Man” embraces more standard gothic metal aesthetics, almost harking back to the sound of Aégis. The alternation between these different moods and styles is crucial for the success of the album, as it injects depth and dynamics into a formula that otherwise would have grown stale very quickly.

Another improvement compared to Musique is that on Assembly both of the band’s singers, Raymond Rohonyi and Liv Kristine Espenæs, feel more at ease with the new sound direction. On Musique, Raymond had adopted a weird robotic, half-spoken signing style which grabbed attention on the first couple of songs, but soon became too monotonous. On Assembly, his approach is more varied. He occasionally uses his robotic vocals, but there are also songs where he adopts a more human and, hence, more melodic singing style. Liv Kristine has also improved relative to Musique. She retains the modern, poppy vocal approach that she had inaugurated on that album, but she is more expressive and nuanced. She seems in much better control of her voice, compared to the cold, deadpan performance she had pulled off on Musique.

Probably as a consequence of the more assured performances of the two singers, it is much easier to connect at an emotional level with this album. There is an aura of melancholy that pervades its eleven songs that is quite irresistible if you are a fan of dark gothic atmospheres. But there is no lack of humorous, happier moments either (the tongue-in-cheek love-story-gone-wrong sung on “Superdrive”), achieving an overall great balance between different moods and emotions. There is also a lot of subtlety in the eleven songs of Assembly, with fewer moments where the emphasis on the melodic hooks is so shamelessly “in your face”, like it was the case on Musique.

Another difference between the two albums lies in the instrumentation that on Assembly is slightly more standard for a metal album. The loops and samples are still there, but they are used more as an embellishment rather than as the main ingredient of the songwriting. The guitars take more centre stage, instead, probably reflecting the presence of a second guitar player in the lineup (Vegard K. Thorsen joined Frank Claussen on this album).

Overall, of all the post doom/gothic metal albums released by the band, Assembly is the record I enjoy the most. It sounds fresh and eager to explore the boundaries of the band’s possibilities, but it also has a maturity and subtlety that elevate the album to a different level compared to its predecessor Musique. The alternation between hook-oriented electro goth/pop pieces and heavier, more intense pieces is one of the main strengths of the album, which remains interesting and enjoyable from start to finish. Featuring a couple of true gems like “Automatic Lover”, “Starlit” and “Motion”, I consider Assembly one of the best albums in the band’s whole discography, second only to masterpieces like Velvet Darkness They Fear and Aégis.

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