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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PARADISE LOST Obsidian Album Cover Obsidian
PARADISE LOST
4.61 | 19 ratings
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PARADISE LOST Draconian Times Album Cover Draconian Times
PARADISE LOST
4.33 | 49 ratings
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THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Velvet Darkness They Fear Album Cover Velvet Darkness They Fear
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY
4.29 | 28 ratings
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PARADISE LOST Icon Album Cover Icon
PARADISE LOST
4.22 | 44 ratings
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PARADISE LOST Tragic Idol Album Cover Tragic Idol
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4.23 | 24 ratings
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MOONSPELL Wolfheart Album Cover Wolfheart
MOONSPELL
4.20 | 25 ratings
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THE GATHERING Mandylion Album Cover Mandylion
THE GATHERING
4.16 | 37 ratings
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TYPE O NEGATIVE October Rust Album Cover October Rust
TYPE O NEGATIVE
4.13 | 33 ratings
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MOONSPELL Irreligious Album Cover Irreligious
MOONSPELL
4.14 | 23 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH Cruelty and the Beast Album Cover Cruelty and the Beast
CRADLE OF FILTH
4.11 | 33 ratings
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TIAMAT Wildhoney Album Cover Wildhoney
TIAMAT
4.09 | 36 ratings
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PARADISE LOST Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us Album Cover Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us
PARADISE LOST
4.12 | 22 ratings
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gothic metal Music Reviews

PARADISE LOST Symbol of Life

Album · 2002 · Gothic Metal
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UMUR
"Symbol of Life" is the 9th full-length studio album by UK goth/doom metal act Paradise Lost. The album was released through GUN Records (Europe) and Koch Records (USA) in October 2002. Paradise Lost started out in the late 80s/early 90s as a doom/death metal act with a dark and rather brutal sound, but soon added gothic atmopsheres and melancholic lead guitar melodies to their sound. After a couple of more albums Paradise Lost focused even more on the gothic element of their sound but also began to use keyboards more extensively, culminating in the electronic oriented heavy rock album "Host" from 1999. At that point Paradise Lost had shed almost every heavy metal element from their sound, and while "Believe in Nothing (2001)" brought back a more guitar driven sound, it wasn´t the most hard edged gothic metal album either.

On "Symbol of Life", Paradise Lost is back doing what they do best. And that´s to write and play gothic/doom metal. They haven´t shed the keyboards or the occasional use of electronics, but the heavy doom laden riffs and rhythms are back, and lead vocalist Nick Holmes also sounds more commanding on this release than he did on the last couple of releases.

The album opens with the heavy "Isolate" and continues with one of the album highlights in "Erased". The latter features additional female vocals by Joanna Stevens, who perfectly compliments the low register male vocals by Holmes. Other highlights include "Pray Nightfall", the title track, and "Mystify". "Symbol of Life" also features a couple of slightly faster and (relatively) more aggressive tracks in "Self-Obsessed" and "Channel for the Pain", which provide the album with some dynamics and variation. The limited edition of the album features two bonus tracks, which are both worth a mention. The first is a cover of "Xavier" by Dead Can Dance, and the second is a cover of "Small Town Boy" by Bronski Beat. Especially the former is quite the brilliant cover. The latter mentioned is also great, but as "Small Town Boy" was already covered by Depressive Age a couple of years prior (on their 1996 album "Electric Scum"), it feels a bit more redundant here.

Paradise Lost enlisted producer Rhys Fulber (Fear Factory, Nailbomb, Front Line Assembly) to work on "Symbol of Life" and he is more or less the perfect fit for the band´s gothic/doom metal style with keyboards and electronics. Fulber has created a heavy, clear, and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly. So upon conclusion "Symbol of Life" is a slight return to form for Paradise Lost after a couple of more questionable releases. It´s not a perfect album, and it does feature a couple of unremarkable tracks (or fillers if you like), but the best tracks and even the second best tracks are high quality material and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

THE BRONX CASKET CO. The Bronx Casket Co.

Album · 1999 · Gothic Metal
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UMUR
"The Bronx Casket Co." is the eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by US gothic metal act The Bronx Casket Co.. The album was released through Massacre Records in June 1999. The Bronx Casket Co. was formed in 1998 by Overkill bassist D.D. Verni. On this album he is accompanied by Charlie Calv (Keyboards), Tim Mallare (Drums), Myke "Spy" Hideous (Vocals), and Jack Frost (Guitars).

Verni´s vision for the project was to play a heavy gothic metal style, and that´s exactly what the listener is treated to on this debut album. If you´re familiar with Overkill´s most heavy Black Sabbath influenced riffs, then there are several of those types of riffs on this album. Lead vocalist Myke "Spy" Hideous shifts between sounding a bit like Ozzy Osbourne and a bit like Andrew Eldritch (The Sisters of Mercy). The gothic part of the music is enhanced by the use of atmospheric keyboards and the lyrics, which often touches goth related topics like vampires, immortality, and death.

The material are decent with some tracks standing out a bit more than others, and some tracks being slightly unremarkable, so it´s not a crazy great release, but a fairly solid one. Highlights to my ears are the album opener "Who Lives Forever" and the quite original cover of "Jump in the Fire" by Metallica. "The Bronx Casket Co." features a decent production job, and the performances are solid too (although lead vocalist Myke "Spy" Hideous doesn´t have the strongest voice or the most interesting delivery). A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

HANGING GARDEN Skeleton Lake

Album · 2021 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
Bleak and desolate, yet full of yearning and warmth – Skeleton Lake, Hanging Garden’s new album, is a rare gem of melodic doom metal that smoothly stretches its reach towards gothic and progressive influences, delivering some of the most interesting and emotionally-charged 45 minutes of music I had the pleasure to listen to this year. The band is new to me, but Skeleton Lake is already their seventh full-length in a career that spans across fourteen years. The seven-member line-up is the same as that on the band’s previous record, 2019’s Into That Good Night and comprises two guitars (main songwriter Jussi Hämäläinen and Mikko Kolari), bass (Jussi Kirves), drums (Sami Forsstén), keyboards (Nino Hynninen), and two singers, Toni and Riikka Hatakka, who swap vocal duties throughout the record.

The dualism between male (both growls and cleans) and female clean vocals is indeed one of the main strengths of the record, making for a varied and interesting vocal performance. You may think “beauty and the beast” and that that genre has been done to the death – but Hanging Garden’s approach to the male/female duets is actually quite different from that of bands like Theatre of Tragedy or Tristania, mainly because Riikka Hatakka stays clear from the ethereal, soprano-like singing that is typical of the genre. Her voice is instead much warmer and fuller, reminding me of Stefanie Duchêne (Flowing Tears, another great melodic doom/gothic act from the early 2000s) or Anathema’s Lee Douglas. Riikka’s performance is spellbinding and is perfectly complemented by Toni’s blackened growls and croony cleans – pushing the record into blackened gothic territories with songs like opener “Kuura” or the single “Winter’s Kiss”, which also features backing vocals by Jaani Peuhu (Swallow the Sun) and is probably the catchiest and most immediate song of the album.

The other strength of Skeleton Lake is its ability to strike a great balance between melody and heaviness. The sound is thick and full, with distorted guitars, keys and bass forming a formidable wall that transmits a sense of bleakness and dread to the listener. But the songs are also full of beautiful melodies, conveyed by the vocals but also by the guitar that often provides melodic lines and riffs in a style that reminds me a lot of Katatonia. Songs like “Nowhere Haven” and “Tunturi” feature those vaguely dissonant, minimally distorted melodic guitar riffs that scream “Anders Nyström”. It’s a great formula that is satisfying on multiple levels, whether you just want something to headbang to or whether you are looking for an album for quiet, dark evenings by the fireplace.

There are also a few surprises thrown in the mix – showing a desire to push boundaries that may appeal to prog metal fans. “Kuura” suddenly descends into a Floydian, spacey mid-section with filtered vocals. It’s an odd choice, but it works a charm. “When the Music Dies” explores folk territories with its gentle 3/4 tempo and dreamy melodies, while “Tunturi” features the domra, a folk string instrument similar to a lute. The song structure and arrangements are also quite varied, moving between calm acoustic sections and more frenetic heavy parts, continuously accelerating and slowing down – which makes for an interesting and never boring listening experience.

The album flows away pleasantly, with a few moments of excellence (“Kuura”, “Winter’s Kiss”, “Skeleton Lake”), albeit it loses a bit steam in the second half, where pieces like “Road of Bones” and “Field of Reeds” are melodically weaker and somewhat dull. The weaker second-half contributes to the impression I had that the album somewhat lacks a satisfying development: taken one by one, the songs are great but after the first 4/5 pieces one gets the sense that the album is “stuck on repeat”, as the subsequent songs follow a similar structure and convey similar emotions as the earlier ones. I always wish albums would take me places, but that requires a sequencing of songs that develop a full emotional arc, something I somewhat missed here. I also missed a bit more nuance in the sound production. Music so varied and articulated as the one on Skeleton Lake would have deserved a more refined production to appreciate the songs in all their subtleties.

Despite these criticisms, Skeleton Lake is a very strong album, and one of the records I enjoyed the most in this first half of 2021. The album jacket contains a “FFO” line that mentions Katatonia, Anathema, Swallow the Sun and Ulver. It’s a pretty accurate description of the influences that pervade the 9 songs of the record, especially for Katatonia and Swallow the Sun. If you are a fan of any of these bands, you should give Skeleton Lake a try – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

THEATRE OF TRAGEDY Theatre of Tragedy

Album · 1995 · Gothic Metal
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lukretion
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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lukretion
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.

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