Symphonic Black Metal

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Symphonic Black Metal incorporates symphonic or orchestral elements as a backdrop for a number of other black metal sounds (such as atmospheric or melodic black metal), while also being a distinct genre in its own right.

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EMPEROR Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk Album Cover Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk
EMPEROR
4.45 | 61 ratings
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EMPEROR In the Nightside Eclipse Album Cover In the Nightside Eclipse
EMPEROR
4.38 | 66 ratings
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CHTHONIC Seediq Bale Album Cover Seediq Bale
CHTHONIC
4.48 | 10 ratings
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AQUILUS Griseus Album Cover Griseus
AQUILUS
4.39 | 11 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Lunar Poetry Album Cover Lunar Poetry
NOKTURNAL MORTUM
4.33 | 13 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH Dusk and Her Embrace Album Cover Dusk and Her Embrace
CRADLE OF FILTH
4.20 | 37 ratings
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MASTER'S HAMMER The Jilemnice Occultist Album Cover The Jilemnice Occultist
MASTER'S HAMMER
4.45 | 7 ratings
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DIMMU BORGIR Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia Album Cover Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
DIMMU BORGIR
4.07 | 33 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN This Is No Fairytale Album Cover This Is No Fairytale
CARACH ANGREN
4.15 | 11 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN Where The Corpses Sink Forever Album Cover Where The Corpses Sink Forever
CARACH ANGREN
4.07 | 20 ratings
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SAMAEL Passage Album Cover Passage
SAMAEL
4.08 | 17 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein Album Cover V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein
CRADLE OF FILTH
4.07 | 17 ratings
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symphonic black metal Music Reviews

CRADLE OF FILTH V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein

EP · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
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lukretion
V Empire is the second studio release by British extreme goth metallers Cradle of Filth. Released in 1996, it is an EP that was recorded to set the band free of their contractual obligations with their record label Cacophonous Records (the band will soon sign a deal with Music For Nations to release their second, and immensely successful, full-length Dusk … and Her Embrace). Given this background story, one may expect V Empire to be a sub-par, throwaway release, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. V Empire is actually an excellent record, much superior to the band’s debut album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh, and at times capable of competing with the impending heavyweight Dusk … and Her Embrace.

Relative to the band’s debut full-length, Cradle of Filth sport a new line-up on this record, with guitarist Stuart Anstis and keyboard player Damien Gregori joining drummer Nicholas Barker, bassist Robin Graves and singer Dani Filth after the demise of half of the band following the debut record (a second guitarist, some Jared Demeter, is mentioned in the CD booklet, but it turns out this was just to give the impression that the band still had two guitar players, when in fact Anstis recorded all guitar parts on the record). This is the same line-up that will record Dusk … and Her Embrace and indeed the sound of the album is closer to Dusk than to the debut. The gothic and melodic elements find more space on this album and so do the female vocals that here are not just used in the form of recitations but also to sing melodies. The brutality and aggression are toned down a notch. The guitar work is more melodic and closer to classic heavy metal than to black metal. Nicholas Barker’s drumming, although always furious and hyperactive, is more nuanced, using fills and breaks and a more varied and less relentless approach. Dani’s vocals have also improved. His performance is more varied and sophisticated and his voice does not sound so strained and tentative as on the debut.

The songwriting and production also show clear signs of improvement. The production is cleaner and more nuanced. The drum sound is vastly improved compared to the debut, and one can now hear all the subtleties in Barker’s playing that were totally lost on the previous record. The guitar tone is also quite good, powerful but not too harsh. Perhaps the EP sounds a bit too loud, but this is a minor issue. The songwriting approach is still complex and multi-layered as on the debut, but Cradle of Filth have now learned to streamline their compositions to make them more accessible and memorable. This is particularly the case on “Queen of Winter, Throned”, by far the best track of the EP and one of the greatest songs ever written by the band. The use of a catchy and melodic chorus that is repeated a handful of times is a useful signpost that greatly helps the listener to orientate among the whirlwind of tempo changes and alternations between fast and furious segments and melodic episodes. The track lasts more than 10 minutes, but the music is so adventurous and smoothly composed that time flies by as one listens to it.

The other tracks included in the EP are two short semi-instrumentals pieces, a re-recording of “The Forest Whispers My Name” from the debut, and two new compositions, “Nocturnal Supermacy” and “The Rape and Ruin of Angels”. All tracks are enjoyable, albeit none reaches the level of quality of “Queen of Winter, Throned”. “Nocturnal Supermacy” is probably the song that gets closer to it. It’s a slightly more aggressive piece, similar to some of the material that had appeared on the debut, but it has some great, memorable moments and a good level of energy. “The Forest Whispers My Name” was a good, but slightly chaotic track on the debut. The new version improves it, especially since the playing is tighter and the vocals are better. “The Rape and Ruin of Angels” starts with the most furious and fastest episode of the EP before plunging into a moody mid-tempo, only to accelerate then again. It feels like this is a track written using the same template of “Queen of Winter, Throned”, albeit less successfully.

Overall, V Empire is a strong sophomore recording, showing that the band is on a clear upward trajectory. Indeed, in the same year when this EP came out, Cradle of Filth will release what many consider their crowning achievement, the LP Dusk … and Her Embrace. V Empire is not at that level, but it does come close especially in its best tracks. It is not by chance, after all, that a song like “Queen of Winter, Throned” will become a staple of Cradle’s live concerts for years to come: it is that bloody good! In sum, give this EP a chance and don’t be discouraged by the fact that it was released as an escamotage to fulfill the contractual obligations with Cacophonous. Highly recommended!

CRADLE OF FILTH Dusk and Her Embrace

Album · 1996 · Symphonic Black Metal
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lukretion
Released in 1996, Dusk … and Her Embrace is an album that had an enormous impact on the impressionable psyche of the then-16 year old me. Having largely ignored most of the Scandinavian black metal scene at that time, Dusk was one of the heaviest, most extreme and exciting things that I had ever listened to back then. The combination of furious aggression, profanity, sensual gothic undertones, and dark, sinister atmosphere was simply impossible to resist and I found myself literally obsessing over this album, which I must have listened to hundreds of times in those years. Fast forward 25 years, and here I am, still enjoying Dusk … and Her Embrace almost as much as I did back in 1996. This is not something that happens to me with every album that I used to adore back in my teens. Some of those records turn out fairly disappointing when I listen to them today with my 41 year old ears. But Dusk’s enjoyment has not at all diminished with time, and I like to believe that this is because the record truly possesses the rare qualities of a timeless classic.

The album has a curious backstory. Most of its material (except the opener instrumental Humana Inspired to Nightmare and Malice Through the Looking Glass) was initially recorded by the same line-up that had written Cradle of Filth’s debut album The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. That line-up, however, split in two in the midst of the album’s recordings: Paul Allender (guitar), Benjamin Ryan (keyboards) and Paul Ryan (guitar) left the band to form The Blood Divine, while Nicholas Barker (drums), Robin Graves (bass) and Dani Filth (vocals) continued under the Cradle of Filth’s banner. The original recordings of Dusk were therefore scrapped (they will see the light of day only in 2016 when the band will release them as Dusk and Her Embrace - The Original Sin), as the band took time to regroup and change recording label (from Cacophonous to Music For Nations). Cradle of Filth eventually found the right substitutes in guitarist Stuart Anstis and keyboard player Damien Gregori and the 5-pieced Cradle of Filth headed to D.E.P. International Studios in Birmingham to re-arrange and re-record the tracks of Dusk … and Her Embrace (Gian Pyres is listed in the CD booklet as second guitarist, but apparently all guitar parts were actually recorded by Anstis).

The record is superbly balanced between black metal fury and gothic romance, aggression and atmosphere, melody and speed. Each single track is meticulously structured to give equal emphasis to the two sides of the band’s sound. Songs that start slow suddenly change gear and plunge into accelerations of uncompromising ferocity (“”Heaven Torn Asunder”, “A Gothic Romance”). Viceversa, the songs that commence at breakneck speed eventually open up into emotional mid-tempos and memorable melodies (“Haunted Shores”). The flow between the different sections and tempos is masterfully arranged. This constitutes a massive improvement over Cradle of Filth’s previous compositions, where the band often failed to find the right connection between the different segments of their songs.

The improved songwriting comes together with a huge step-up in individual performances. Dani Filth’s voice is miles better than on the debut album, exploring a full gamut of styles and vocal techniques, from deep baritone spoken-word vocals, to enraged snarls, to ear-piercing shrieks. His performance is technically astonishing as well as emotionally charged, and really elevates the album’s material to a whole new level. Nicholas Barker’s drumming is phenomenal as always, and it is greatly exalted by the smooth and clean production. Speaking of production, this is probably one of the best sounding Cradle of Filth’s album ever recorded. Producer Kit Woolven (Thin Lizzy, Anathema, Cathedral) strikes a fantastic balance between rawness and detail, letting each instrument fully come through in the recordings (even Robin Graves’ bass, which on other records often ended up buried behind the bass drum). Stuart Anstis’ guitars have a fantastic tone, thick and wet and, together with Damien Gregori’s richly symphonic keyboard arrangements, contribute to the record’s lush and velvety feel that suits perfectly the gothic overtones of the album. Anstis’ guitar work also deserves huge praise per se. His melodic twin leads and counterpoints are fantastic: simple, tasteful and extremely effective in giving the music extra depth and texture.

Song after song, Dusk is an unstoppable collection of extreme metal masterpieces. Among these, the three tracks in the middle of the record really stand out for me. “Funeral in Caprathia” is one of the most iconic and best songs ever written by Cradle of Filth. From its epic beginning to its languid ending, the song is a treasure trove of great musical moments that do not simply amaze from a technical viewpoint, but are also capable of stirring up emotions and excite. The track is followed by another fantastic song, the gothic masterpiece “A Gothic Romance”, where Stuart Anstis’ guitar is particularly impressive. “Malice Through the Looking Glass” completes the exceptional trio. This is one of the newer songs that was not recorded with the old line-up. The track builds on a poignant mid-tempo and is instrumentally richer compared to the rest of the album material. Cleverly placed in the middle of the album, this gives the listener some respite from Dani’s hyperactive vocal lines, which can at times feel a little overbearing. I also want to mention “Beauty Slept in Sodom”, which is another slightly unusual track that feels different from the rest of the material. The music is doomy, dissonant and almost hallucinated, giving the song a vaguely experimental and progressive feel.

In summary, Dusk … and Her Embrace is an exceptionally strong album. Packed with incredibly well written and balanced material, and gifted by a strong production, the album goes from strength to strength across its 9 songs. There is no filler or weak spot here, everything sounds fresh, captivating and exciting. It received a fantastic response when it was released back in 1996, which projected the band to the top of the extreme metal movement, making them one of the best known acts in the genre. Deservedly so, I would add, since this is arguably the best album that Cradle of Filth have recorded to date and indeed one of the best records in the whole extreme metal scene.

CRADLE OF FILTH From the Cradle to Enslave E.P.

EP · 1999 · Symphonic Black Metal
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lukretion
Written and recorded between Cruelty and the Beast and Midian and released in 1999, From the Cradle to Enslaved is a transitional EP that finds Cradle of Filth with an incomplete line-up (Nicholas Barker had left the band and had not yet been replaced by a new full-time drummer) and, generally, going through a sort of inspiration drought, which is also reflected in the content of this record. The EP is comprised of two new songs, two covers, a techno (!) remix of one of the two new songs, and a re-recording of “Funeral in Carpathia” from their 1996 LP Dusk … and Her Embrace.

None of the material is truly exceptional and in fact most of it is rather mediocre. The two new songs leave me fairly cold. They are written more in the style of the forthcoming LP Midian than in the majestic, romantic style of Dusk or Cruelty and the Beast. The tempos are faster, the guitar riffs thrashy and aggressive, and so is the vocal approach, while the keyboards engage in elaborated arrangements that push the music even more in symphonic territory. The drums are less in-your-face compared to the Nicholas Barker era, both on the title track (where drums are played by December Moon / The Blood Divine drummer Was Sarginson) and on “Of Dark Blood and Fucking” (where the drummer is Adrian Erlandsson from At The Gates). The latter song is probably the one that resembles the most the material that will appear on Midian, where indeed Erlandsson will play drums as full-time member of the band. While there is nothing particularly wrong with either track, they come across as somewhat run-of-the-mill, lacking strong melodies or arrangements that can make them stand out from the other dozens tracks Cradle of Filth have penned through the years. In other words, on a LP like Midian these would have been easily the weakest songs.

The cover of The Misfits’ “Death Comes Ripping” is also somewhat lackluster. It’s a short, punkish piece that is as savage as it is unremarkable. The cover of Anathema’ “Sleepless” is much better, and probably the main reason to buy this EP. The original (from The Silent Enigma) was already dark and sinister, and Cradle’s treatment accentuates even more the morose nature of the piece. It has that haunting quality that one can find, for instance, on “A Dream of Wolves in the Snow” from the band’s debut The Principle of Evil Made Flesh.

The other two tracks of the EP are alternate versions of the EP title track and “Funeral in Carpathia” from Dusk … and Her Embrace. The techno remix of the title track is a curio more than anything else. I remember that at the time it stirred quite some controversy in the specialized press and among fans, as people started fearing that also Cradle of Filth had been “infected” by the electronic malaise that was running through much of extreme metal at the time (Paradise Lost, Theatre of Tragedy). It turned out not to be the case and we can look back at this little piece as a small, extemporaneous experiment that does not add much to the Cradle’s catalogue. The new version of “Funeral in Carpathia” (with Nicholas Barker still on drums) is faster (as per the track’s subtitle “Be Quick or Be Dead), less embellished and romantic than the original. It moves the piece closer to the Midian material than the original set of songs contained in Dusk. The song is one of the best Cradle have ever written, so it is hard to dislike it, but I am afraid that in this new vest it loses a lot of its original allure, at least for me.

Overall, From the Cradle to Enslaved is a fairly disappointing EP, probably the first record in the chronology of band’s releases to feel really superfluous and unnecessary. Cradle of Filth have a strong tradition of releasing good material on EPs between full-lengths (think of V Empire), but this EP fails to deliver the goodness. I’d say this one is for fans and collectors only!

MIRRORTHRONE Gangrene

Album · 2008 · Symphonic Black Metal
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UMUR
"Gangrene" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Swiss symphonic/progressive black metal act Mirrorthrone. The album was released through Red Stream, Inc. in April 2008. It´s the successor to "Carriers of Dust" from 2006. Mirrorthrone is a one-man act featuring Vladimir Cochet on bass, drum programming, guitars, keyboards, and vocals. Cochet formed Mirrorthrone in 2000 and released the debut full-length studio album "Of Wind and Weeping" in 2003. Cochet also releases albums under the Weeping Birth and Unholy Matrimony monickers.

Stylistically the material on the 6 track, 64:42 minutes long album continue the symphonic/progressive black metal style of "Carriers of Dust (2006)". Cochet is obviously classically trained and the compositions feature an omnipresence of classical piano and keyboard parts. Not completely unlike what some of the last Emperor albums sounded like. The drums are programmed and while they do feature an artificial digital sound, the actual drum programming is well done, and the programmed drums drive the music forward with the needed power. A human drummer would have been preferable but this is decent enough and doesn´t distract too much from the overall impression of the music. The vocals vary from snarling black metal type vocals, to clean vocals, to choirs, and there is generally good variation in the vocal department.

The tracks are generally very long, the shortest being 6:40 minutes long and the longest being 15:02 minutes long. They are structurally pretty complex and contain many different sections, atmospheres, and changes. A few more hooks to help tell the tracks apart would have been great, but it´s hard not to be impressed by the compositional skills at display here. The black metal parts are of the more polished kind, but that part of the music is perfectly designed to work with the many classical parts. So while I find "Gangrene" a more fascinating/intriguing release than an effectful and listenable ditto, my conclusive opinion is one of being mighty impressed by what I´m listening to. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

VARUNA The Epical Trilogy of Vorlaufen I: Night Master

Album · 2007 · Symphonic Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
China in the year 2020 still has the largest population of any nation on planet Earth with an estimated 1.4 billion inhabitants. Yes! That’s billion with a B! Roughly 1/7 or so of all of humanity. However despite such a lofty mass of humans nestled into one crowded region of East Asia, China has not been the most prolific importer of some of the more extreme forms of Western music such as black metal. Sure there have been a handful of artists including Holyarrow, Vengeful Spectre, Black Kirin, Zuriaake, Be Persecuted, Black Reaper and Dopamine but in proportion to the population of the nation, this style of music is still a completely unknown concept to the masses. But of course there are always a few adventurous souls who look abroad for contemporary inspiration and this band VARUNA which originated in Xian and now resides in Beijing is one of them.

This duo that consists of Bloodfire and Deadsphere escaped the cultural baggage and looked westward for some of the darker sounds of music and settled on the melodic yet jarring elements of symphonic black metal. While VARUNA was formed as far back as the year 2000, no music was released until 2007 when the self-titled demo was released along with the band’s sole album THE EPICAL TRILOGY OF VORLAUFEN I: NIGHT MASTER which found a home on one of China’s only metal music labels Dying Art Productions. The band’s name comes from the Vedic religion where VARUNA is a god of the sky, of rain and of the celestial ocean as well as a god of law and of the underworld. Cool! As evidenced from the title, despite the Eastern religious undertones, VARUNA performs in the English language and targets an international audience with an album that one would never guess fro a second emerged from the land of Bruce Lee, Chairman Mao and Confucius . THE EPICAL TRILOGY OF VORLAUFEN I: NIGHT MASTER has a running time of 45:30 and features seven tracks, two of which are instrumental but all soaked in symphonic atmospheres accompanied by unorthodox metal styles featured with black metal elements such as raspy vocals, distorted guitar riffing and frenetic outbursts of raging metal madness. The album feels epic despite its brevity and runs the gamut of extreme metal rampaging to synth fueled almost downtempo segments. What’s not very black metal about this album is how the metal is presented. Despite the black metal clothing so to speak, the guitar riffs range from militant industrial stomps to soaring guitar parts that wouldn’t sound out of place on a neo-prog album from IQ or Arena. The keyboards are ubiquitous with none of the tracks leaving them behind yet the metal aspects while very much the emphasis of the album do drop out and let the ambient atmospheres brew up a storm before the rampage begins as heard on the opening “Intro:supreme” which feels like an soundtrack to an epic sci-fi adventure.

When the second track “Unseen World” begins it showcases the general theme of the album, namely open with an mood setting keyboard movement and then add the chugging metal riffs that sound like everything except classic second wave black metal. In fact when the vocals deviate from the raspiness, this doesn’t sound like black metal at all much of the time but once the blastbeats and traditional moments do occur then there’s little doubt that Norwegian bands like Darkthrone and Immortal weren’t primary influences. Whether China continues to adopt these extreme sounds of the Western nations or not is anybody’s guess but in the case of VARUNA, this is fairly decent example of looking elsewhere for your inspiration and doing a damned good job of pulling off an album that is engaging. While i find this album excellent, it’s on the lesser end of that excellence scale. Despite the perfect production that allows the ambient elements to really shine, some of the ambient stuff sounds a bit cheesy at times but this is rare. Still a really great album considering this came from the middle of China!

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