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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TRISTANIA World of Glass

Album · 2001 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Released in 2001, World of Glass is the third full-length album of symphonic gothic metal band Tristania. The band went through a small but significant line-up shakeup just before the recording of the album, when singer, guitarist and main songwriter Morten Veland separated from the band due to personal and musical differences. Although many feared his departure would have potentially earth-shattering consequences for the band, the new album does not show any signs of strain or weakness from the band, as we will see shortly. However, Morten’s departure did leave Tristania without someone able to perform extreme vocals, which led the band to enlist the help of Trial of Tears’ growler Ronny Thorsen, who appears as a guest musician on this record. The rest of the line-up is unchanged relative to the band’s earlier albums, with Vibeke Stene providing soprano-like vocals, keyboardist Einar Moen and guitarist Anders H. Hidle taking charge of most of the songwriting, and drummer Kenneth Olsson and bassist Rune Østerhus forming a steady and groovy rhythm section. Guest singers Østen Bergøy and Jan Kenneth Barkved contribute clean vocals and Pete Johansen (The Sins of Thy Beloved) adds his unmistakable violin flourishes.

What is not unchanged, though, is the band’s musical direction. Tristania have never been afraid to experiment and push the boundaries of the symphonic gothic metal genre already in the early years of their career, but this album is perhaps the band’s first significant point of departure from the genre’s typical sound. This takes the form of an injection of multiple disparate influences, from industrial metal, to electronica, to the liquid, vaguely Floydian gothic rock of bands like Tiamat. There are also hints of avant-garde metal, bringing to mind the likes of Arcturus and Ulver. These multitude of influences are all weaved into the band’s trademark brand of “beauty and the beast” gothic metal that plays on dramatic shade-and-light contrasts, enhanced by the alternation between operatic female vocals and male vocals (both blackened growls and clean gothic croon) and by the inclusion of symphonic elements through the use of keyboards, string instruments, and choirs. It makes for a varied and exciting ride, as the listener is never quite sure where the album is taking them next.

The quality of the compositions is high throughout. There is complexity and depth in Tristania’s music, well beyond the simple verse-chorus structure one can find in many albums of lesser bands in the genre. Most songs exceed the 6-minute mark, and go through a number of twists and turns on their journey. Yet, Tristania have a great ear for catchy melodies and manage to insert at least one or two memorable hooks in nearly each song. This makes the music easy to like and assimilate. I consider the combination of complexity and accessibility one of the hallmarks of great music, and World of Glass certainly excels in this domain.

The album is a treasure trove of interesting and exciting musical ideas. The alien-sounding vocal melodies that appear on the chorus of “Hatred Grows” never fail to leave me blissfully open-mouthed. Subtle electronic arrangements give songs like “Lost” and “Selling Out” a very modern feel, halfway between Samael, Therion and Arcturus, while towards the end of “Crushed Dreams” Tristania experiment with a surprising combination of techno groove and operatic choir. “Tender Trip on Earth” is a gorgeous gothic anthem, featuring a great clean vocal performance by Østen Bergøy. Meanwhile, “Deadlocked” dances between Vibeke’s beautiful vocal melodies, free-form violin soloing, and a hallucinated avant-garde male choir. But it is on “Wormwood” that the album perhaps reaches its highest point. This is a complex track moving back and forth between elegant Carmina Burana-like choirs, emotional violin solos, blackened sections with some great deep growls by Ronny Thorsen, and Vibeke’s stunning clean singing.

Vibeke’s performance on this album is nothing short of amazing. Among the many soprano-like vocalists that populated the line-ups of many gothic/romantic bands, Vibeke stands out as one of the most expressive and talented singers. She is able to perfectly modulate her voice to fit the various moods of the song, from ethereal operatic vocals, to Kate Bush-like dramatic upper register singing (“The Shining Path”), to warm mid-range vocals (“Deadlocked”). The rest of the band is no less impressive. The contribution of keyboardist Einar Moen deserves special praise, though. His arrangements are always so tasteful and interesting as he juggles with everything his instrument can play, from futuristic out-of-space sounds, to trippy programmed loops, to 70s-infused swathes of Hammond (“Tender Trip on Earth”). Truly captivating stuff!

If there is one thing that I find slightly unfortunate about this album is the production. Listening to World of Glass in 2021, it is clear that the album has not aged as well as it could have given the quality and forward-thinking nature of the music, and the reason is that it suffers from a slightly dated and subpar production. The thin drums and tinny guitars, in particular, make the album feels somewhat plasticky. As I listen to it, I keep wishing for more sonic depth and more power.

Other than that, World of Glass is a pretty awesome album. If gothic metal is your poison of choice, you simply must give this album a spin. It encapsulates everything there is to like about the genre, from the excellent combination of male/female vocals, to the alternation between gently acoustic parts and heavy, hard-hitting sections, to tasteful symphonic arrangements. It also offers more than one breath of fresh air, by subtly incorporating a wide range of influences, from electronica, to industrial metal, to avant-garde metal. The end result is a varied and exciting record that takes the right amount of creative risk to sound different, while staying true to the band’s roots. Highly recommended!

SILENTIUM SI. VM E.T A. V. VM

EP · 2001 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
After releasing their second full-length album Altum, Silentium hit again the shelves with this EP, SI.VM E.T A.V.VM (Silentium Est Aurum, “silence is golden” in Latin). It contains four tracks, for just a little over 20 minutes of music. All tracks are cut out of the same recording sessions at Studio Watercastle where Altum was recorded. Two of the tracks are previously unreleased, while the other two are re-arranged and re-recorded versions of songs that had first appeared on the band’s first two demo tapes (“Grieving Beauty” appeared on the 1996 demo Illacrimõ and “Lament” on the 1998 demo Caméne Misera).

Stylistically, the EP sits halfway between the classically influenced doom/gothic metal of Silentium’s 1999 debut LP (Infinita Plango Vulnera) and the leaner symphonic gothic metal of their sophomore record, Altum. The two previously unreleased tracks lean more towards the sonic style of Altum. “Apart” is a nice, catchy gothic piece that plays on the alternation between male croon, female soprano vocals and grim but melodic blackened growls. Silentium have always impressed me for their lush and classy symphonic arrangements and “Apart” offers another great example of the band’s great ear for writing classically influenced metal music. The orchestral breakdown half through the song, where organ and violin are left alone to play against each other, is both surprising and exhilarating, and adds a new, exciting dimension to an otherwise fairly ordinary song. The other new song “I Bleed for…” is less impressive. It’s another blackened gothic piece that is however somewhat lacking in the vocal department, with singer Matti Aikio battling unsuccessfully against the bland and weak melodies he is given to sing. The arrangements are also not quite as smooth as in other tracks, the song’s different sections not flowing very well into one another.

The two re-recorded songs are instead more similar in style to the material we find on the band’s debut LP, Infinita Plango Vulnera. These are the tracks that I like the most. The level of sophistication in the instrumental arrangements is breath-taking. Take the beginning of “Grieving Beauty”: a sombre clean guitar arpeggio starts the song, and is quickly accompanied by a delicate piano arpeggio and Tiina Lehvonen’s wordless soprano singing. The rest of the band joins soon afterwards, the violin and the lead guitar introducing beautiful counterpoint melodies that will form the main classical theme of the song. It’s the best instrumental passage of the whole album and shows the great songwriting and arranging ability of this Finnish ensemble. It’s just a pity that, vocally, the song is a bit weak, with Matti Aikio struggling again to find a strong melody to sing. Things get definitely better on “Lament”, probably the best track on the EP. The instrumental beginning of the song is again stunning, the violin and the lead guitar perfectly laid over a beautiful melancholic arpeggio. Tiina Lehvonen takes the lead on this song, with a good, catchy melody both in the verse and the chorus. Matti Aikio contributes blackened growls that play nicely against Tina’s ethereal soprano-like vocals, in perfect beauty-and-the-beast style. The second half of the song introduces multiple instrumental breaks, adding complexity and substance to an already magnificent song.

All in all, this is a very pleasant EP, nicely bridging Silentium’s early classical/baroque doom sound with the slightly more commercial symphonic gothic style the band pursued in the rest of their discography. As I am a big fan of the band’s debut album Infinita Plango Vulnera, I am quite fond of this EP that, in at least half of its compositions, harks back to the heavily classically influenced doom of the debut LP. I may even prefer this to Altum, which I find perhaps a tad too convoluted and difficult to get into. Either way, whether you are a fan of Silentium’s early or late sound, this little record will not disappoint.

[Also published on metal-archives.com]

SILENTIUM Infinita Plango Vulnera

Album · 1999 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
This debut album of Finnish ensemble Silentium is a thing of beauty. The band emerged in the symphonic doom/gothic arena in the second half of the 1990s and, after a couple of self-released demos, signed a record deal with Spikefarm, the then new-born subsidiary of Finnish label Spinefarm. At the time they recorded this album, Silentium were comprised of seven musicians, two guitarists, two singers (female and male, the latter also playing bass), a drummer, a keyboard player, and a violinist. Released in 1999, Infinita Plango Vulnera is the band’s debut full-length album and is also the first record to ever be released on Spikefarm.

Silentium merge together a number of influences on this album. There is a strong doom component, inspired no doubt by the British scene, My Dying Bride in particular. However, the compositions are leaner and less oppressive than the standard doom canon, in large part due to the strong baroque/classical influences that are manifest most obviously in the keyboards and violin arrangements. Moreover, the music also has noticeable blackened gothic undertones, accentuated by the use of operatic female vocals. These different influences are dosed very tastefully throughout the ten songs of the album, resulting in a fresh and original sound that sets the band apart from both the doom and the gothic scenes. If I were to draw a comparison with other bands from those years, I’d probably say German band EverEve, who were also playing a similar combination of doom, gothic and black metal, although the Finns display a stronger classical component in their music.

The album traces a bleak but captivating musical journey. The songwriting is consistently strong, striking a perfect balance between complexity and immediacy. Keyboard player Sami Boman was the main songwriter at the time and he must have had some classical music training because the baroque/classical music influences are all over the place in the band’s sophisticated arrangements. This is apparent from the frequent use of counterpoint melodies (simultaneously played by the violin, keyboards and guitars), the omnipresence of classical violin and piano lines, and the use of operatic vocals by female singer Tiina Lehvonen. Songs like “Whatever the Pain” and “With Blood Adorned” are glorious examples of the marked classical influences in Silentium’s arrangements. The latter almost feels like a blackened gothic metal take on chamber music, which may be disorienting at first, but eventually becomes nothing short of exhilarating.

Elsewhere, the classical influences are more subdued and the doom component comes more to the fore. “Redemption”, “Requiem” and “At the Dawn I Wept” are wonderful doom gems that seem taken straight out of My Dying Bride’s playbook, but further coloured with hints of blackened gothic metal. “Forever Sleep” is a more straightforward goth uptempo, while folk melodies surface on “Maiden of the Forest” and “With Blood Adorned”. Meanwhile, “Solicitude” is a languid semi-instrumental affair that opens and closes the album with an almost lounge jazz feel. Such a variety in the style of its compositions is without doubt one the main strengths of the album. It is impossible to get bored or lose focus while listening to this album as things keep changing from song to song and the music constantly takes a fresh turn with each new track.

Another strength of the album is that the musicianship is very tight. Silentium are a skillful ensemble, all band members are proficient in their instrument and capable to put their skills to the service of the song. Keyboardist Sami Boman and violinist Jani Laaksonen are omnipresent and form the backbone of the album compositions. It is a pleasure to listen to their classy arrangements and to the stylish interplay between violin and keys. The two guitarists Juha Lehtioksa Toni Lahtinen also impress with tight rhythmical patterns and pleasant leads. Meanwhile, drummer Janne Ojala and bassist Matti Aikio provide solid grooves that propel the songs forward with ease. The vocals are also good. The male singer, Matti Aikio, uses a range of different styles, from classic doom vocals (he reminds me of a cross between My Dying Bride’s Aaron Stainthorpe and Vincent Cavanagh in those early, doomy Anathema albums) to blackened rasps. Regardless of the style, he puts in a convincing performance. The female singer, Tiina Lehvonen, is used more sparingly, almost in a backing role. Her soprano-like vocals, albeit not exceptional, fit well the music and are used with taste.

The strong musicianship is exalted by the excellent sound production, courtesy of the experienced duo of Mikko Karmila (mixing) and Mika Jussila (mastering). The quality of the production compares favourably with albums produced today, more than twenty years after this album’s release. The separation between instruments is perfect and everything sounds clean and smooth. Yet, the sound retains enough grit and power to trigger a satisfying dose of headbanging when needed (“Requiem”).

Infinita Plango Vulnera is a great album that any fan of doom/gothic metal should make sure not to miss out on. The doom/gothic scene became quickly crowded in the 1990s/2000s, but with this album Silentium managed to stand out from the rest of the pack, by incorporating elegant classical influences into a musical tapestry made of mid-tempos, cavernous vocals and mournful melodies. The end result is a thing of beauty that provides a thrilling and entertaining musical journey every time I put the disc on. Highly recommended!

[Also published on metal-archives.com]

SILENTIUM Altum

Album · 2001 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
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.

[Also published on metal-archives.com]

LACUNA COIL Unleashed Memories

Album · 2001 · Gothic Metal
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Hailing from Milan, Italy, Lacuna Coil have become one of the most significant names in the gothic/alternative metal scene. Unleashed Memories is their second full-length album. It was released in 2001 and it is where the band truly began the ascent to the gothic/atmospheric metal throne. It is a far more polished record than anything the band had released up to that point. The heaviness and rough edges that had characterized the band’s early releases have almost completely vanished, leaving room for a lighter, more refined form of gothic metal that takes inspiration in equal parts from the gothic/doom of Paradise Lost (probably one of the band’s biggest early influences) and the atmospheric rock/metal of The Gathering. The Dutch labelmates’ sound between Mandylion and Nighttime Birds is in fact the main reference point for the overall sound and feel of this album.

The strength of Unleashed Memories lies in the smoother songwriting and more sophisticated arrangements relative to the band’s previous records. The rough edges that were present on Lacuna Coil’s debut EP and LP have been ground down. The songs here rarely explode in harsh and aggressive passages as they did in the past. The distorted guitars are still there, but are no longer dominant in the mix. Bass, clean guitars, keyboards and programmed samples are given more space in the song arrangements and in the mix. These production choices gives Unleashed Memories that slick sound that was a trademark for Century Media productions at the time and make the album feel less anchored in the 1990s gothic/doom sound and more propelled in the new millennium instead. The new sound direction has both pros and cons. The advantage is that Unleashed Memories sounds smoother and more professional relative to the debut record and it is therefore better catered for the international market. The disadvantage is that the band’s sound loses a bit of the uniqueness and spontaneity that had characterized their early recordings. The differences between Lacuna Coil and the other gothic/atmospheric metal bands in the Century Media rooster became smaller and smaller, which is a pity. One gets the impression that at this point of their career the band made a conscious decision to reduce the more challenging (but unique) aspects of their sound in order to seek wider commercial appeal, even if this came at the cost of making slightly less interesting music.

Another subtle difference relative to previous albums is that the instrumental arrangements seem to have been more purposely written to support the vocals rather than to stand as fully accomplished musical pieces of their own. Again, there are pros and cons. The new songs flow better and feel smoother, making the vocal melodies more effective. On the other hand, instrumentally there is not much going on in the songs and not a lot of variation across tracks, which makes the listening experience somewhat sedated and unexciting. But then again Lacuna Coil have never been the greatest instrumentalists so the decision to focus on the impressive vocal talents of singer Cristina Scabbia was probably the right one for the band.

By 2001, the alternation between male and female vocals was nothing really surprising or new in the metal arena, as a few dozens symphonic gothic bands had now adopted the so-called “Beauty and the Beast” style. Lacuna Coil always stood out in the female-fronted symphonic gothic scene due to Cristina Scabbia’s unique timbre and vocal approach. Instead of resorting to operatic vocals as many of her contemporaries, Cristina relies on a warm and full timbre that at times reminds me of Dolores O'Riordan from The Cranberries. Of course, when the song needs it, she does not hesitate to soar and make full use of her upper range, which she is fully in control of. Overall, she offers a complex and rounded performance that is undoubtedly the main highlight of the album. Her male counterpart, Andrea Ferro, also puts in a good performance, much more assured compared to the early albums. His vocal talents are limited, especially compared to Cristina’s, and so Andrea relies on passion and expressiveness to make up for it. His vocal lines have character, both when he adopts his trademark shouted style (not too different from Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes vocal style) and when he uses his clean gothic croon. Most importantly, in many songs, both Cristina and Andrea are given strong melodies to sing, making tracks like “Heir of a Dying Day”, “Purify”, “Senzafine”, “When a Dead Man Walks” and “Cold Heritage” particularly enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the vocal melodies are less inspired and the songs become immediately less interesting. This is not an uncommon feature of Lacuna Coil’s albums, where the quality of tracks is often inconstant, alternating between strong memorable pieces and more pedestrian ones that feel like faded-out versions of the former. Tracks like “To Live Is to Hide” and “Distant Suns” are particularly unspectacular and can be arguably considered as fillers. But it’s the whole second half of the album that feels generally weaker and less inspired. It is a pity because the presence of these lesser tracks spoil the listening experience somewhat. Boredom inevitably sets in as the album plods towards its unglamorous conclusion, offsetting the pleasant experience of strong tracks like “Heir of a Dying Day”, “Purify” and what is probably the best song of the album, “Senzafine”, made even more interesting by the lyrics in Italian.

Despite this alternation of highs and lows, Unleashed Memories is nevertheless a good album. If on previous records Lacuna Coil gave the impression of still being in the process of figuring out the precise coordinates of their sound, on this album the band feel mature and completely in control of their music. They also feel ready for bigger success, their slick modern sound having nothing to envy to other established bands in the international metal arena.

[Also published on metal-archives.com]

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