SILENTIUM — Altum (review)

SILENTIUM — Altum album cover Album · 2001 · Gothic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Silentium are a 7-piece band from Finland that plays a combination of gothic/romantic metal in the tradition of bands like Theatre of Tragedy, Tristania and The Sins of Thy Beloved. There are many elements in their music that recall these bands: the juxtaposition between dark male vocals and ethereal female vocals (the famous beauty-and-the-beast approach), the use of the violin and the piano as main instruments to carry the melody, the depressing lyrics about love and death. However, rather than being simple clones of these more famous bands, Silentium manage to carve a path of their own. The original element that Silentium bring to the table are a strong penchant for baroque/classical music as well as the influence of English doom bands like Paradise Lost, (early) Anathema, and especially My Dying Bride. The outcome is a mix between classical music, gothic, and doom that gives a new angle to the (by 2001, quite trite) beauty-and-the-beast approach.

On Altum, the classical and doom influences are perhaps a tad toned down compared to the band’s previous album, Infinita Plango Vulnera. But they are nevertheless still apparent throughout the nine songs of the record. The most obvious doom influences are in the male singer Matti Aikio's clean vocal style that reminds quite closely My Dying Bride’s Aaron Stainthorpe's. This is also a clear point of departure relative to other gothic/romantic metal bands, which typically rely on death/black male vocals as a contrast to the female clean vocals. There are a few moments where death/black vocals appear on this album too, but the male vocals are predominantly clean. The female vocals are also used much more sparingly as compared to other gothic/romantic bands. Both singers have good voices, which is a bonus especially in comparison to other similar acts (Theatre of Tragedy, for instance, have a quite poor male vocalist). The black/death vocals, however, are not always excellent (listen, for instance, to the asthmatic rasps on The Lusticon).

Musically, the violin and the keyboards/piano are the main instruments around which the songs are composed and arranged. The violin, in particular, plays quite a distinct role relative to what we can find on The Sins of Thy Beloved's albums. There is less free-form soloing. Instead, the violin is used to construct the leads that form the backbone of the songs (like a guitar's riff or lead). The other instruments take a bit more of a backseat role, with the guitars often either doubling the violin or just providing background distortion.

The music is quite doomy, in the way the riffs and melodies evolve slowly and repeat over long sections of the songs. The songs normally last more than 5 minutes and, compared to the band’s previous album, there is perhaps an added layer of complexity here, with songs that are comprised of multiple parts, with lots of mood and tempo changes. This makes the album somewhat more difficult to get into. The arrangements are very meticulous and classy. Listen for example to the beginning of “Revangelis”, with the sequenced ingress of piano, guitar, violin and drums. Really beautiful and tasteful. The songwriting quality, however, is not always top-notch. The longest songs feel a bit unfocused, with the different parts not flowing perfectly into one another. Also, there is often a bit too much repetition and the songs feel a bit overstretched and directionless. This makes the music a bit difficult to digest, especially if one is listening attentively in which case boredom can at times prevail.

But in general the songs flow pleasantly, with enough melodic hooks to make them memorable and distinguishable one from another. This is especially the case in tracks like “Revangelis” (the best song here), “Painless” (which swerves in avant-garde territories in its second-half, brining to mind Arcturus), “The Sinful”, and the epic “The Propheter of the Unenthroned”. These four songs can rely on good melodies and a more concise form that make them stand out from the rest. The other songs are not bad, but suffer from the problems I was mentioning earlier (unfocused, directionless songwriting and excessive repetition).

Overall, Altum is a good album, although I prefer Silentium’s debut album Infinita Plango Vulnera to it. The band has made a number of small changes to their sound with this record. The gothic component is more dominant, pushing the classical/baroque and doom influences more in the background, and positioning the band more firmly in the then-trending symphonic gothic scene. At the same time, the complexity of the compositions has also increased, with the songs stretching through multiple parts, with frequent tempo changes. This makes the album both more ordinary and more convoluted than its predecessor, which is not necessarily a great combination. Nevertheless, the quality of the music is still high, confirming the great songwriting and arranging skills of this criminally underrated Finnish ensemble.

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