Gothic Metal

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Gothic metal or goth metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music. Gothic metal combines the aggression of heavy metal with the dark melancholy of gothic rock. The genre originated during the early 1990s in Europe as an outgrowth of death/doom, a fusion of death metal and doom metal. The music of gothic metal is diverse with bands known to adopt the gothic approach to different styles of heavy metal music. Lyrics are generally melodramatic and mournful with inspiration from gothic fiction as well as personal experiences.

Pioneers of gothic metal include Paradise Lost, Theater Of Tragedy, The 3rd And The Mortal. Other pioneers from the first half of the 1990s include Type O Negative from the United States, Tiamat from Sweden, and The Gathering from the Netherlands. Norwegian band Theatre of Tragedy developed the "beauty and the beast" aesthetic of combining aggressive male vocals with clean female vocals, a contrast that has since been adopted by many gothic metal groups. During the mid-1990s, Moonspell, Theatres des Vampires and Cradle of Filth brought the gothic approach to black metal. By the end of the decade, a symphonic metal variant of gothic metal had been developed by Tristania and Within Temptation.

In the 21st century, gothic metal has moved towards the mainstream in Europe, particularly in Finland where groups such as The 69 Eyes, Entwine, HIM, Lullacry, Poisonblack and Sentenced have released hit singles or chart-topping albums. In the US, however, only a few bands such as Lacuna Coil, Evanescence have found commercial success.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_metal

Sub-genre collaborators (shared with Symphonic Metal):
  • DippoMagoo


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Neither Moth nor Rust
EP
HANGING GARDEN
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HANGING GARDEN Neither Moth nor Rust

EP · 2022 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
I was surprised to see a new Hanging Garden’s album popping up in the list of promos, given that the Finnish melodic doomsters have released their 7th full-length album Skeleton Lake only a few months ago. I really liked that album, so I did not hesitate to give a spin to this new opus, an EP titled Neither Moth Nor Rust. It contains six tracks for a total duration just above 25 minutes. Music-wise, it feels a lot like an appendix to Skeleton Lake, albeit with more freedom to explore sonic spaces that were perhaps left somewhat in the background in the full-length release. As such, the new EP makes for an interesting complement to the Finns’ 2021 album, although one that would probably mostly appeal to fans of the band rather than newcomers.

EPs often give artists freedom to explore more diverse and adventurous landscapes that may be instead sacrificed in full-length releases, where sonic coherence is often a priority. Neither Moth Nor Rust is no exception in this sense, and finds Hanging Garden gently experimenting with new influences, while at the same time retaining their identity as melodic doom/death band. The title-track branches out towards sonorities that remind me of Amorphis in the late 1990s, rich in folk and psychedelic undertones and with big, ear-worming melodies at the heart of the song. The interplay between growls, male cleans, and female cleans is very entertaining, each vocal style adding its own different shade to the composition. The next two tracks are even more interesting. “The Last Dance” is based on huge dynamics, swinging majestically between pop-tinged verses with tastefully autotuned vocals, an ultra-heavy and dissonant bridge with double-tracked growls, and a melancholic chorus where Riikka Hatakka’s subdued vocals truly shine. “And Leave All Love Behind” opens with gentle piano arpeggios and acoustic guitars, before developing into a quasi-ambient tune that again draws on folk and psychedelia as its core influences.

The second-half of the EP is somewhat less interesting. “The Raven Portrait” is a short piano interlude, while “On the Shore of Eternity” is perhaps the most conventional track on the EP in the sense that is closest to the material from Skeleton Lake, with marked doom / dark metal influences that may delight fans of bands like Katatonia or Anathema. The EP closes with “Field of Reed”, which is actually the biggest surprise here. The song is a remake of the homonymous track from the band’s 2021 LP, completely rearranged as electronic pop, with beats, keyboards and samples dominating over the rest of the instrumentation. It’s not a terribly successful experiment, in my opinion, partly because the song relies on somewhat weak melodies that do not really have the strength to transform it in an electro-pop hit single. Moreover, in 2022 this type of remakes come as no surprise to metal fans, as goth/doom metal bands have engaged in electro-pop experimentation since the late 1990s. As such “Field of Reed” does not really seem to add much, neither to the band’s catalogue nor to the genre as a whole.

Despite the slightly weaker second half, Neither Moth Nor Rust is an interesting EP that fans of the band may want to grab (the physical CD is limited to 200 copies, so hurry up if you are interested in this release). Although there is no revolution in the band’s sound here, the EP brings to the fore influences that may have been slightly buried on the recent LP, which is always interesting to hear. In fact, I would have liked Hanging Garden to spend more time developing these influences across more songs, ideally in the context of a more organic, full-length release. But perhaps this is what EPs’ main function actually is: leaving you wanting to hear more from the band and curious to see what they will do on their next full-length album. And this cannot possibly be a bad thing, can it?

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

MOONSPELL Hermitage

Album · 2021 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Blessed be the Top Albums of the Year lists! Preparing mine for The Metal Observer forced me to look back at a bunch of 2021 albums that I had overlooked at the time they were initially released. Among them there is Hermitage, Moonspell’s 12th full-length studio album (I am not counting Under Satanae that contains re-recordings of the band’s early material). In the 1990s, the Portuguese goth metallers were one of my favourite metal bands, but I somehow lost touch with their obscure art at some point during the late 2000s. Hermitage, however, gloriously reminded me why I was so in love with Moonspell during my teens: it is a superb album, dark and elegant, full of variety and class, that builds on the band’s classic sound but also ventures in new directions, subtly merging together gothic metal, extreme metal and modern progressive rock.

I have to confess that, when I gave Hermitage its first spin, it wasn’t instant love. The album sounded slick and classy, but also hazy, understated and difficult to grasp. None of the melodies or arrangements stood out. The album flowed away pleasantly, but I felt there weren’t enough moments that really grabbed my attention and pulled me in. Curiously, the same had happened to me with another Moonspell’s album, released exactly twenty years ago: 2001’s Darkness and Hope. I remember it took me many spins to fully appreciate that album, pretty much for the same reasons I initially struggled to connect with Hermitage: the melodies felt too subtle and elusive and the atmospheres too understated, to the point that the album seemingly lacked a strong character and identity. It was only after a half-dozen listens that Darkness and Hope finally opened up to me and I could fully appreciate its delicate and obscure beauty, for which I still consider it today one of the best albums by the Portuguese combo. Mindful of that experience, I decided to persevere and kept playing Hermitage until the album finally clicked with me. And, boy, I am so glad that I did.

Hermitage is an album that only a band as classy, talented and experienced as Moonspell could have written. “Mature” is probably the word I am looking for. The record oozes sophistication and aplomb as it takes the listener to a dazzling journey through different shades of dark rock anchored in the band’s classic gothic sound, but modernized with a multitude of different influences, from modern progressive/alternative rock, to psychedelia, to jazz and electronic music. All these influences are blended together with disarming simplicity, relying on minimalistic arrangements and a warm, stripped-down sound that exalts the essence of each song.

The album’s first five tracks are extraordinary, in this respect. They each explore a distinct sonic niche without failing to retain strong cohesiveness and consistency. “The Greater Good” flirts with the dark alt/prog metal of bands like Soen and Anathema, with muscular grooves and hypnotic guitar riffs, while retaining a strong gothic allure that explodes in the surprisingly heavy finale. “Common Prayers” shifts weight towards more traditional gothic rock atmospheres, while “All or Nothing” is a delicate slowburner that lulls its way through groovy drum patterns, bluesy guitar riffs and a gorgeously Floydian solo, conjuring up visions of smoky jazz clubs after midnight. Meanwhile, the almost punkish title-track brings to the fore the band’s black metal roots, and “Entitlement” harks back to the tasteful experiments with electronica that Moonspell also attempted previously in their discography (for instance, their 1998’s Sin/Pecado album).

The second half of the album is perhaps a tad less spectacular. It contains two slightly lacklustre instrumentals (though the cold piano arpeggio of “City Quitter” provides a spellbinding album finale) and a song, “Apophthegmata”, that builds on an interesting atmosphere but ultimately does not develop into much more. However, we are also treated with what is probably the best track of the LP, “The Hermit Saints”. Pretty much like the album opener, this song takes Moonspell’s classic gothic sound and reimagines it through the lens of modern alt/prog rock: Ricardo Amorim’s bouncy guitars frantically buzz their riffs over a tapestry of groovy basslines, majestic organs and shifting drum patterns (new drummer Hugo Ribeiro deserves a shout-out here for a stellar performance, perfectly balanced between muscularity and coloration), while Fernando Ribeiro switches back and forth between a deep, velvety croon and his abrasive semi-growls, creating an intoxicating final mix. The album also closes strongly with “Without Rule”, probably he Hermitage’s most surprising song, with its lysergic vibes that hark back to early Pink Floyd and 1970s psychedelia.

Hermitage is so rich and diverse, and yet at the same time so refined and restrained, that it takes time and patience to properly take in all of the album’s different shades and contours. A superficial listen may even confuse its subtlety and elegance for demureness or lack of character. Jaime Gomez Arellano’s sober and natural production adds to this false first impression, as the detailed production work only fully blossoms on repeated listens, as one learns to appreciate the exquisite balance in the mix between the different instruments and the overall sonic clarity.

As such, Hermitage is most definitely a grower, albeit one that thoroughly deserves your time investment. When the album finally opens up, it is deeply intoxicating with its obscure romantic atmosphere. The quality of Hermitage that I probably appreciate the most is how fresh, modern and exciting the record sounds while at the same time retaining Moonspell’s classic sonic identity. This stands in defiance to Fernando Ribeiro’s own words in promo interviews, where the singer questions whether the band’s time may be coming to an end. If anything, Hermitage shows that Moonspell are still a fresh and very relevant voice in today’s metal, nearly 25 years since they have moved their first steps in the scene. This is a massive achievement for the Portuguese band, and one that not many of their peers can claim to have fulfilled.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

TRISTANIA Midwinter Tears

Boxset / Compilation · 2005 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Midwinter Tears is a compilation of three different Tristania’s early releases that was put together by Napalm Records in 2005. The three albums are Tristania’s first demo, dating back to 1997, the single Angina from 1999 and the video Widow's Tour also from 1999. Needless to say, this is good value for money as some of these releases are quite hard to find nowadays.

The demo Tristania (that also goes by the alternate title Midwinter Tears) is comprised of four songs. Two of these were re-recorded for Tristania’ first full-length album Widow’s Weeds. These are “Midwinter Tears” and the beautiful “Pale Enchantress”. The differences relative to the full-length album aren’t massive, bar the inferior production which is a tad too muddy and dirty for my taste. These songs give nevertheless a great overview of how talented Tristania were from the very onset of their career. The late 1990s saw many bands purveying the “beauty and the beast” formula that Theatre of Tragedy had contributed to popularize a few years earlier. Many of these bands will not stand the test of time and have gone down in metal history as pale imitators of the leaders in the genre. Tristania instead are widely considered one of the best bands in this style of music, and the 1997 demo clearly shows why. Their special blend of doom/death/gothic metal is highly melodic, yet heavy and with the right amount of teeth. The contrast between heavily distorted guitars and symphonic arrangements is enthralling and so is the juxtaposition between Morten Veland’s harsh growls and Vibeke Stene’s operatic clean vocals, which are very expressive and full of pathos. “Pale Enchantress” is a great example of this, as it will also be one of the best tracks of the full-length album.

The other two songs on the demo are part of Widow’s Weeds and may therefore be more interesting to fans. One is a short and fairly interlocutory symphonic prelude that opens the demo with some moody ambiance but does little else to excite the earbuds. “Cease to Exist”, the last song of the demo, is more interesting. It is a moody and atmospheric piece where Vibeke takes the spotlight with a histrionic performance, mixing whispered spoken words and operatic vocals. The structure of the song is slightly meandering and probably the song is too long for its own sake. It is clearly inferior to the two tracks that made it on the full-length debut, but it is nevertheless interesting as it foreshadows the more gothic and atmospheric sound that Tristania will develop later on in their career.

The single Angina is comprised of three tracks, two taken from Tristania’s sophomore album Beyond the Veil. The improvement in terms of sound and style is massive and the two songs included here, “Angina” and an edited version of “Opus Relinque” are witness to this. Both show how Tristania quickly managed to carve their own niche in the beauty and the beast genre, by mixing influences from gothic rock and black metal, as well as from the more traditional doom/death sound. “Angina” well deserves its status as single as it is one of the best tracks from Beyond the Veil. It contains a very striking and memorable melody on the chorus (sung by Vibeke) that creates a mighty contrast with the song’s melodic black metal influences and Morten’s powerful growls. “Opus Relinque” is another great track that on the full-length album develops in a progressive metal monster of over 6 minutes. The edited version included here cuts down the running time by about a minute, reducing somewhat the strong impact the track has on me when I listen it in full. It remains nevertheless a great song, with particularly rich dynamics and contrasts between the black/death metal parts and intermezzos where nearly all instruments disappear, making room for some haunting choir singing. The remaining song, “Saturnine”, is a short outro with some eerie electronica, spoken vocal and symphonic keyboards that show once again the forward-thinking nature of this great band.

The second disc of this compilation is a DVD containing the video recording of a live show from the Widow’s Weeds tour. The live show was recorded in Oberwart, Austria. The video and sound quality are decent enough for their time, but are not exactly transcendental. Tristania was still at the beginning of their career back then and so the budget for such a live recording was probably not very large. The place where they played was also pretty small and the six band members are crammed on the stage with not much room for any type of action that would allow them to increase their scenic presence. The result is a fairly flat performance in terms of visual impact. Sonically, however, the band is on top form and the playing is very strong. The selection of tracks from Widow’s Weeds is also good, with “My Lost Lenore” and “Pale Enchantress” clear highlights.

Overall, if you are a fan of the band, Midwinter Tears is a worthy addition to your Tristania’s collection. It has historical value as it gathers together recordings from the band’s early days that are hard to come by today. The quality of the recordings and video are not always amazing, but these are the late 1990s and Tristania were just beginning their career, so some rough edges in the production are to be expected. But taken as a documentary of the band’s beginnings, this is a very solid and valuable release.

SWAN CHRISTY One with the Swan

Album · 1998 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Swan Christy are one of prog metal’s best kept secrets. The Greek band never managed to accumulate any real success in the 1990s/2000s when they were most active in the metal scene. This is a true pity because they released three great metal albums in those years (1998’s One with the Swan, 1999’s Today Died Yesterday and 2001’s Black Is the White Color), before turning to experimental/jazz music and eventually changing name to signal their distancing from their early metal days. One remarkable thing about these three albums is how diverse and different from one another they are. The debut album that I review here in detail is a magical combination between opera, classical music, prog metal and gothic metal. The sophomore album is more squarely rooted in prog/power metal, while Black Is the White Color is a strange hotchpotch of electro-goth, alternative metal and prog. That’s covering quite a lot of ground!

The debut LP, One with the Swan, is a concept album telling a story that sounds a lot like a revised version of Faust, re-imagined in a Game of Thrones setting. Musically, the 13 songs of the album are written in the style of prog/power metal, but with added classical instrumentation and operatic vocals (provided by guest soprano singer Natalie Rassoulis, who also sang with SepticFlesh). In line with the concept nature of the album, the music is very theatrical and the album does feel a lot like a small-scale metal opera. The violin and the piano are very prominent instruments, often providing the foundations of the songs. The guitars act as counterpoint, with a raw, low-toned sound that creates a nice contrast with the delicate classical instrumentation. Meanwhile, Kostas Makris’ vocals add yet another layer to Swan Christy’s music. His voice is dark, low and dramatic, and gives a gothic vibe to the songs, reminding me at times of Moonspell, which is why Swan Christy are sometimes classified as a symphonic gothic metal band. Personally, I think the label is somewhat misleading because it is often used to refer to the “beauty and the beast” style that was in vogue in those years. Swan Christy’s music could not be further removed from that trend, though, and sits much more firmly in progressive metal ground.

The album is comprised of 13 songs, but most songs are very short, rarely exceeding the 3 minutes, and the whole record clocks in at only 45 minutes. The songs act as small vignettes, each telling a piece of the concept story. The album may feel slightly fragmented at first, but this does not detract from the listening experience, especially if one listens to it with the spirit of sitting through a rock/metal musical.

The music is fairly original. There are some references to other contemporaneous prog/power metal giants like Savatage and Rough Silk, but these are not overly transparent. The playing is first-class, all musicians are really proficient and this is definitely one of the positive aspects of the album. Kostas’ vocals are perhaps slightly tentative on this release. He will improve on later albums, but here his voice does not come across as completely polished and in control. The most negative aspect of the album, however, is the sound production, which is rather primitive. It is quite obvious that this album was recorded on a low budget: the guitar sound is very raw and unpolished, the instruments are not always well balanced in the mix (the voice is at times barely audible), and the overall sound is muddy and muffled. The ambition, scope and quality of the music on this album would have deserved a much better sound production.

Nevertheless, One with the Swan is an excellent record that should definitely appeal to fans of progressive rock/metal. There are a lot of ideas on this record that push the album at the boundaries of the prog metal that was being played in the mid 1990s. As such, the record has a fairly unique and original feel that elevates it above much of the competition. Of course, being this a debut, there are still many rough edges, not least in the way the music is recorded and produced. But One with the Swan is a minor prog metal gem and I promise you won’t regret giving it a spin.

SWAN CHRISTY Today Died Yesterday

Album · 1999 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Hailing from Greece, Swan Christy are a criminally underrated and unknown prog metal band that in the late 90s / early 00s released a stream of very interesting and diverse records. Today Died Yesterday is their second LP and was released in 1999 with an expanded line-up compared to their 1998’s debut album, One with the Swan. Swan Christy’s masterminds Iraklis Yalantzides (keyboards) and Kostas Makris (vocals) are accompanied here by Grigoris Vasilopoulos (guitars), Dimitris Georgiou (guitars), and Giorgos Kalaintzoglou (drums), as well as by a score of guest musicians that include Nikos Nikoloudias on bass, a trio of classical instrumentalists (violin, violoncello and oboe), a soprano (Rena Strouliou), and vocalists Spiros Antoniou (SepticFlesh), Ferdy Doernberg (Rough Silk) and Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ).

The rich and diverse line-up is reflected in the music on the LP, which covers a lot of ground between classically-inspired symphonic metal (in the vein of Rage), prog/power metal (Dream Theater, Rough Silk, Savatage), and a touch of gothic/dark metal. The Savatage and Rough Silk influences are particularly prominent on this record, where the piano and violin play a role as important as the guitar in weaving the texture of the songs. Meanwhile, Kostas’ vocals are often theatrical and dramatic, featuring the occasional canon like Jon Oliva’s band often did (after all, what can we expect from a band whose very first demo was titled “Christopher Oliva Lives Forever”?!).

The album flows away very pleasantly across its 8 tracks, all of which are high quality, with a good balance between melodic accessibility and technical complexity. All musicians involved are highly proficient instrumentalists, so the playing is often very technical and classy, with some good solos. The arrangements are also very good, layered and complex without being overburdened. Kostas’ vocals are pleasant too. He has improved a lot compared to the debut, where his performance was somewhat tentative. Kostas has a distinctive timbre, quite dark and smooth. His low tone gives the music a quasi-gothic feel that explains why Swan Christy are sometimes classified under the “symphonic gothic metal” umbrella. Make no mistake, though, this album is quintessential prog metal, pretty much in the same field as the more prominent bands mentioned above (Dream Theater, Rough Silk, Savatage, Rage).

Alas, here probably also lies the main limit of this record. While Swan Christy’s debut album was quite original, exploring new ground at the border between opera, classical music and metal, Today Died Yesterday is much more obvious about its influences and at times the music sounds a tad too close to that of the bands that inspired the Greek combo. The influence of Rough Silk is particularly prominent, especially in the combination between low-tuned rhythmic guitar, piano and vocals that are sometimes melodic and other times rougher (listen to the opening bars of “No More Everything” for the most Mephisto-inspired moment of the record). One can feel that with this album Swan Christy were trying to broaden their audience and appeal to the prog metal crowd, leaving somewhat behind the operatic and gothic influences that had made the debut album so peculiar. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but Today Died Yesterday sounds somewhat less special and unique compared to the band’s previous album, or to the next one.

There are nevertheless plenty of interesting moments on Today Died Yesterday. “Here Comes ... I” surprises with a refrain that sounds almost grunge, while the rest of the song is pure prog metal deluge, including a breath-takingly technical guitar solo. A strange combination that may be jarring at first, but quickly becomes irresistible upon repeated listening. “Night Flower” is instead the song that gets closer to the sound of the debut album, with Rena Strouliou’s operatic vocals and Kostas’ croon beautifully layered over a classical background, for what is perhaps the most inspired and magical moment of the whole record. The classical influences are also evident on “One Foot in the Grave”, a gentle interlude that starts with cello, violin and oboe, giving the music very strong Rage vibes, before a dramatic chorus with polyphonic voices brings to mind some of Savatage’s best moments. The opener title-track “Today Died Yesterday” is another interesting piece, packing some jazz/fusion influences as well as delicate electronic effects. Meanwhile, album closer “The Benefactor” is the obligatory “prog metal epic”, with a duration exceeding 8 minutes and a complex, multi-part structure that includes vocals by guest singers Spiros Antoniou (SepticFlesh), Ferdy Doernberg (Rough Silk) and Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ). Despite its ambition, however, this song is only partly successful as it lacks a proper climax to resolve all the tension and momentum that is built throughout its 8 minutes.

In summary, there is a lot to chew on in this record, but Swan Christy always manage to strike a good balance between complexity and immediacy so that the album has both instant impact on the listener and strong potential for repeated listens. The album lacks somewhat in originality and fans of bands like Savatage, Rage and Rough Silk will easily recognize the influence these bands had on Swan Christy’s sound. This prevents me to score this album higher, but I nevertheless recommend it heartedly to any prog metal fan, because the playing is sublime and the compositions are pure gold if you are into symphonic prog/power metal.

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