This album is a gem within the gothic genre. The title track is probably one of my all time favorite gothic metal songs. However, as a whole, this album doesn't quite live up to it's reputation. The problem with this album is that as it progresses, it slowly becomes less and less coherent. It never relents in it's innovation and complexity, but whereas all of it fits together during the first half of the album, by the end what we have is a parade of creative ideas weakly bound together. I wish I could prescribe the problem as they need to work harder on editing, to not include parts that don't work, but I don't feel that would save this album, because then the album itself would become a bizarre progression from progressive gothic metal to minimalist gothic metal, and would completely go against what the band is trying to portray. In the end, the only solution is "come up with more consistent ideas."
So, to give an idea of what's going on to the uninitiated: Tristania takes the standard (old) gothic formula, and replaces the death metal influence with a black metal influence, and then throws on a plethora of classical instruments and motifs. To elaborate, we have electronic keyboards emulating several other keyboard instruments (piano, synth, bells), a violin, a small chamber choir, the standard drums, guitars, and bass, topped with a tri-vocal assault between Vibeke singing soprano (quite beautifully too), Morten Veland's growls (which seem rooted in black metal shrieks, but sometimes venture into death metal territory), and clean baritone vocals from Osten Bergoy. All of these are not confined to their stereotypical roles either. Many symphonic metal bands will include classical instruments to play the typical stuff you would hear on that instrument, just to give the music a classical coloring, but Tristania utilizes all of the instruments to their fullest, playing unusual yet beautiful passages.
Tristania manage atmosphere fantastically, especially during the first half of the album. Later on, the decoherence of the album manages to kill the atmosphere a bit. However, even during those parts, this album feels quintessentially gothic, maybe even more so than the standard approach to gothic metal which doesn't incorporate influence from black metal. If more bands had followed in Tristania's footsteps, then perhaps we would have a new subgenre of gothic music, and gothic metal would definitely have more respect within the metal community. This is definitely *the* gothic metal album to recommend to serious fans of black/death metal.
Angina is the worst offender of decoherence in my opinion. Random growls cut into a soft moment, a mellow piano/choir cuts off the heavy riff, a random bass break precedes a violin solo, as if the two had anything to do with each other. It is stitched together by the guitar riff, which is substituted by harmonies that imply it occasionally. As I already mentioned, the title track is amazing, and Aphelion is consistent in all the ways that I described Angina as not being. In the end, this album is a beautiful masterpiece that descends into mild schizophrenia. This album will never make it on to my top tier with such masterpieces like Trail of Tears' Profoundemonium, but it comes damn close.