TRISTANIA — World of Glass (review)

TRISTANIA — World of Glass album cover Album · 2001 · Gothic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
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!
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Tupan wrote:
28 days ago
I've listened to this years ago. I don't remember much except for Tender Trip on Earth, which is an amazing song

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