lukretion

Daniele
MMA Special Collaborator · Prog Metal Team
Registered 5 months ago · Last visit 3 days ago

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52 reviews/ratings
SOEN - Imperial Progressive Metal | review permalink
EVERGREY - In Search of Truth Progressive Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Velvet Darkness They Fear Gothic Metal | review permalink
MOTORPSYCHO - The All is One Non-Metal | review permalink
TRANSATLANTIC - The Absolute Universe - The Breath of Life Metal Related | review permalink
IOTUNN - Access All Worlds Progressive Metal | review permalink
BALANCE OF POWER - Perfect Balance Heavy Metal | review permalink
SILENTIUM - Infinita Plango Vulnera Gothic Metal | review permalink
TRISTANIA - World of Glass Gothic Metal | review permalink
THE SINS OF THY BELOVED - Lake of Sorrow Gothic Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Last Curtain Call Gothic Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Assembly Non-Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Aégis Gothic Metal | review permalink
TRANSATLANTIC - Bridge Across Forever Metal Related | review permalink
THERION - Leviathan Symphonic Metal | review permalink
TRANSATLANTIC - The Absolute Universe - Forevermore Metal Related | review permalink
SILENTIUM - SI. VM E.T A. V. VM Gothic Metal | review permalink
STORMWIND - Reflections Neoclassical metal | review permalink
ROYAL HUNT - The Mission Progressive Metal | review permalink
ROYAL HUNT - The Watchers Progressive Metal | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Gothic Metal 18 3.19
2 Progressive Metal 7 3.57
3 Power Metal 6 3.00
4 Non-Metal 5 3.20
5 Metal Related 5 3.50
6 Neoclassical metal 3 3.00
7 Hard Rock 3 2.83
8 Symphonic Metal 2 3.00
9 Heavy Metal 1 4.00
10 Death 'n' Roll 1 2.50
11 Glam Metal 1 2.00

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NEAL MORSE Neal Morse

Album · 1999 · Non-Metal
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Neal Morse’s first couple of solo albums are a different beast compared to his day-job band Spock’s Beard as well as to the prog tour-de-forces he will release later in his solo career. His self-titled solo debut album, released in 1999, is a lighter, piano-based affair that properly delves in progressive rock territory only in his final composition, the 4-part mini-epic “A Whole Nother Trip”. The rest of the album is built around simple pop-rock singer-songwriter tunes with lean and uncomplicated structures, big choruses and an instrumentation that often simply relies on acoustic guitars and piano. Nevertheless, Morse’s signature melodies and songwriting style are still there, so that a fairly accurate description of the album would be to say that it sounds a lot like the more straightforward and poppy episodes that one can find here and there on Spock Beard’s albums.

The eight songs of the album flow away pleasantly, although there is no masterpiece in sight throughout its 55+ minutes. One would think that the nearly 24 minutes of “A Whole Nother Trip” represents the centrepiece of the record. This may have been the intention, but the song is just a pale version of the prog epics that Morse is more than capable of writing. The piece lacks somewhat cohesion, as its four movements pull the song in too many different directions without providing enough musical glue to keep them all together. Moreover, not all movements are equally inspired, with the second one “Mr. Upside Down” resulting particularly bland and without a strong melodic punch. This is a general problem for other songs on the album as well: tracks like “Lost Cause” and “That Which Doesn’t Kill Me” are somewhat weak melodically, which is surprising given that Morse is usually a highly skilled composer of melodies. Things are better on the uptempo pop-rocker “Nowhere Fast” and the emotional ballad “Landslide”. Another remarkable moment is the gently acoustic piece “Emma”, which leaves a mark on the listener’s psyche thanks to its heart-breaking story of childhood love.

Morse’s performance on the album is as strong and skilled as one would expect it to be. He takes care of vocals and all instruments except drums, which are played by his Spock’s Beard bandmate Nick D’Virgilio on all tracks but the opener. The musicianship is therefore sublime. The sound production is also excellent, which is impressive seeing how a lot of the music was recorded by Morse in his home studio.

Despite its undeniable qualities, the biggest limit of this record is probably its ambivalence. The album is half-pop, half-prog, but its prog elements are somewhat dumbed-down and its pop appeal is diminished by melodies that are not catchy and immediate enough. I wish Morse had gone more decidedly in either of these directions, either full–scale pop-rock singer-songwriter (as he will do in his sophomore solo release It’s Not Too Late) or full-blown prog extravaganza (as he will do in the rest of his solo career, minus the worship albums). As it is, this album is too humdrum to appeal to progressive audiences and probably too intricate to be enjoyed as a simple singer-songwriter affair.

TRANSATLANTIC Bridge Across Forever

Album · 2001 · Metal Related
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Transatlantic are the dream team of modern progressive rock. Comprised of Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Roine Stolt (guitars, vocals) and Pete Trewavas (bass, vocals), the project brings together some of the best musicians from the best bands (Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, The Flower Kings and Marillion, respectively) of the contemporary prog rock and metal scenes. Supergroups are not always a recipe for success, but in this case the class, expertise and artistic integrity of the four musicians involved is guarantee of quality and genuine musical value. Bridge Across Forever is perhaps not perfect and shows one or two rough edges, but it is nevertheless a great album, far superior to ninety-percent of the prog rock that was released around the same time.

The music “formula” that underlies the album is straightforward: full-blown prog rock extravaganza. This is music that harks back to the golden days of progressive rock and the work of bands like Yes and Genesis, albeit revisited in contemporary fashion and bringing in the metallic bite of prog metal. It can be described as a cross between Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings, with a slightly more metallic undertone relative to these two bands. The Marillion and Dream Theater influences are instead much less pronounced. The emphasis is on long-form compositions with multiple sections, extended instrumental run-throughs and recurring themes that tie together the different parts of the song and give the listener a reference point to hold on to as they navigate the sprawling compositions. The playing is highly-technical and virtuosic – it could not be otherwise given the calibre of the four musicians involved in the project -, but it never loses sight of melody and accessibility. Whether you are into extended guitar solos, flamboyant keyboard parts, spectacular bass grooves or six-armed drum extravaganza, Bridge Across Forever has it all and it’s guaranteed that you can spend hours dissecting the monstrous performances of the Morse, Portnoy, Stolt and Trewavas.

The vocal department is also strong. A difference between this album and its predecessor, Transatlantic’s debut record SMPTe, is that on this one Morse, Portnoy, Stolt and Trewavas share duties behind the mic. This was a more or less conscious attempt at making Transatlantic sound like a Neal Morse’s solo project, after the debut album, where Morse had a leading role in the vocal parts, had been criticized for its excessive similarity with Morse’s and Spock’s Beard’s output. The alternation between four voices is interesting and freshens things up, although Morse does remain the most accomplished vocalist of the four, followed with some distance by Stolt.

The album is comprised of four songs for a total duration exceeding 70 minutes. Two tracks, the opener “Duel with the Devil” and closer “Stranger in Your Soul” are approximately 26 minutes each, “Suite Charlotte Pike” clocks at 14+ minutes, and the title-track is only a mere 5:33 minute long. “Duel with the Devil” and “Stranger in Your Soul” are the two “prog epics” of the album, where Transatlantic pour all of their creativity and skills and then some more. The two pieces share some common musical themes (the strings section that opens both tracks) and a similarly complex structure, with multiple parts that feed into one another, alternating between furious musical workouts and more atmospheric and mellower sections. Although both songs are great fun to listen to, “Duel with the Devil” is the one where Transatlantic truly reach near-perfection, thanks to a beautiful melodic theme (the chorus “Motherless Children…”) that recurs throughout the song in multiple arrangements (including a sublime choral arrangements near the end), and a balanced structure that does not abuse with too many digressions but is firmly grounded around its central melodic idea. “Stranger in Your Soul” is instead slightly less satisfactory and shows some of the pitfalls of long-form songwriting. It opens strongly with some of the most exhilarating musical passages of the album (“Pt I: Sleeping Wide Awake” and the heavily metallic “Part II: Hanging in the Balance”), but it loses steam afterwards (the dull section “Pt III: Lost and Found pt 2”) and then gets tangled into a messy conclusion, with a faux finale (the orchestral crescendo at the end of “Pt IV: Awakening the Stranger”) and a repetition of quiet/loud sections that goes on for too long.

The other two tracks of the album are less spectacular, but nevertheless enjoyable. The title-track, a simple piece for piano and vocals beautifully sung by Neal Morse, is especially endearing. “Suite Charlotte Pike” is a sort of “glorified blues jam”, where Transatlantic showcase their love for The Beatles and 1960/70s pop rock. It’s fun to listen to, but it lacks the depth and musical nuance of the two epics, which makes its 14+ minutes perhaps a tad unwarranted.

Overall, Bridge Across Forever is a strong album that will surely not disappoint prog rock/metal aficionados. It has everything that the genre is known for: tight musicianship, sprawling compositions, clever songwriting and sophisticated arrangements. Most importantly, it packs four songs that strike a great balance between melodic accessibility and musical complexity, making this a record that is both instantly enjoyable and with great replay value.

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Theatre of Tragedy

Album · 1995 · Gothic Metal
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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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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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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.

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lukretion wrote:
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Thank you! :-)
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