|Musical Style: Orchestral Goth Metal||Produced By: Rowan London & Samantha Escarbe|
|Record Label: Massacre||Country Of Origin: Australia|
|Year Released: 2007||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 7||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 52:12|
Australia’s Virgin Black has been around since the mid-nineties, introducing its unique brand of “orchestral Goth metal” on the self-financed and self-titled demo it put out in 1995 in addition to the three song EP, Trance, it released three years later. The bands two full length recordings that followed, Sombre Romantic from 2001 and the hauntingly entitled 2003 effort Elegant… And Dying, were both critically acclaimed pieces showcasing a Gothic and doom-like sound combining clean, tenor male vocals with the occasional death metal-like growl. After sitting on the sidelines the better part of the past three years, Virgin Black returns in 2007 with its latest offering, Requiem – Mezzo Forte. Actually, the album is part of the “Requiem” trilogy (with Mezzo-Forte, ironically, being the second of the three but the first released) that also includes the classical influenced Requiem Pianissimo, part one, and the third of the series, Requiem – Fortissimo, a heavier doom-influenced outing that still maintains the bands classical sensibilities.
So how does Requiem – Mezzo Forte measure up when compared to Virgin Black’s back catalog? Quite well, as a matter of fact. Nevertheless, if you were expecting the band to deliver an offering akin to Sombre Romantic or Elegant… And Dying you might be, well, a bit disappointed in that there are differences here. Do not get me wrong, Virgin Black does not stray from the somber Goth influenced sounds of its past efforts- they simply approach things from a different standpoint. First, Requiem – Mezzo Forte is not quite as heavy as SR and EAD, but in no way is that a bad thing because Virgin Black places added emphasis on classical instrumentation. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, it must be noted, participated in the recording of the album. Second, Virgin Black, in turn, places less emphasis on extreme vocals (something which comes as a welcome relief). Third, you will find a plentiful amount of soprano – at times operatic – female vocals (contributed by Susan Johnson) imbuing the project as well, an effect which enhances without becoming a detracting factor.
The best advice I might give anyone prior to listening to Requiem – Mezzo Forte for the first time would be to drop the idea that metal is only based upon the heaviness of the guitar. Without a doubt there is an ample amount of guitar here (just not as pronounced as on SR and EAD), but the band proves masterful in mixing the metal elements of its sound with the previously noted classical instrumentation and operatic female vocals- two things which are not always associated with the metal genre. The fact Virgin Black pulls this off flawlessly only serves to enhance the substance of the recording and will certainly help place it among the finer releases of the year. The best thing to do (again, if want my advice) would be to approach things with an open mind and in the end you will be pleasantly surprised.
Founding member Rowan London brings his clean, classic tenor lead vocal style to the project, occasionally mixing in an extreme element to his delivery (such as on “Domine”, the albums heaviest track, and the shadowy “In Death”). Samantha Escarbe, who co-founded the group with Rowan, adds to the more portent aspects of Virgin Black’s sound with here driving and at times biting guitar riffs. It is as a soloist, however, that Samantha truly shines. With a style of playing that comes across as poignant if not moving, she best exhibits her abilities throughout the extensive instrumental section gracing the incredible “Midnight’s Hymn”. Grayh (a fitting name for a member of a Goth band) fills in on bass and rounds out the rhythm section with Dino Cielo.
Virgin Black describes the theme of Requiem – Mezzo Forte as revolving around the “dichotomy of tragedy and hope”. It is worth pointing out, nonetheless, that a requiem is written as a funeral mass; in other words, a piece of music written for the repose of the souls of the dead. With that in mind, Virgin Black paints a picture of its lyrical themes as “the smallest home amidst the deepest darkness”.
That deepest darkness in question can be found on “Requiem Kyrie”:
Cover me with darkness
And paint me like death
I drown in remembrance
Sorrow ever awaits on joy
The same theme is upheld on “In Death”:
O misery you live
I have been struck and am suffering
O misery you live
You take bread from hands
And on “Midnight’s Hymn” as well:
To my head I raise a wreath of white flowers
And cry unhappiness
But where is that “smallest hope” the band was talking about? Is there any hope offered here at all? I cannot help but think it is found on “…And I Am Suffering”:
My God be upheld in our distress
My cries fill the air, my cries fill the air
The fangs of suffering tear my bosom
And refuse to release their hold
And also “Lacrimosa (I Am Blind With Weeping)”:
Lord be upheld in our distress
The hour of judgement is at hand…
Talk about capturing the spirit and heart of the Psalmist! I find it difficult to imagine what someone must first go through to write lyrics such as these. Irregardless, it is good to hear an artist approach the trials, struggles and unhappiness of life in such an honest and forthright manner- all the while offering elements of hope at the same time.
“Requiem, Kryie” can best be described as the most tranquil and least “metal” (in terms of heaviness but not necessarily power) of the albums seven pieces. As a matter of fact, this is the only track here in which the rhythm guitar does not make an appearance- a particular which is not necessarily a bad thing. The song actually slowly flows ahead its full length to orchestration, only picking up in pace for the occasional passage in which a cascade of drums plays a prominent role.
The serene atmosphere of “Requiem, Kyrie” carries over into the introduction to “In Death”. As the song moves past its one minute mark, the pace abruptly picks up when the rhythm guitar kicks in, the occasional death metal-like growl serving to enhance the shadowy moments that follow. Quite the contrast is put into place, nevertheless, as “In Death” advances the remainder its distance drifting between passages in which the rhythm guitar moves to a forward place in the mix and others carried by orchestration.
A blend of orchestration and piano helps create a melancholic setting during the instrumental opening to “Midnight’s Hymn”. The disconsolate environment is upheld the distance of the song, further orchestration and periodic choir-like vocal harmonies leading the way until the rhythm guitar steps forward in dominant fashion.
The doom-ish rhythm guitar at the end of “Midnight’s Hymn” continues to make its presence felt as “…and I Am Suffering” commences. Upon reaching its first verse, however, the song abruptly tapers off as the rhythm guitar fades from the mix. But the stillness proves fleeting in that the rhythm guitar returns in a trudging manner, a beautiful transition soon made to a four minute instrumental section allowing Escarbe to showcase her poignant abilities on lead guitar (the overall feeling brings to mind “Museum Of Iscariot” from Sombre Romantic). Over its final half “…and I Am Suffering” plods ahead as orchestration and the operatic vocals of Susan Johnson hold sway over the inconsolable atmosphere- it proves quite haunting as the phrase” When will my sorrows being to pale?” is constantly repeated.
“Domine” is by far the albums heaviest composition. An instrumental introduction fortified by a pounding guitar riff gets things underway, the guitar driven aggression maintained as choir-like vocal harmonies move to a preeminent place in the mix. A compelling contrast presents itself, nonetheless, as London stands in support of the vocal harmonies in question with his trademark death metal growls. An angst laden rhythm guitar imbues the backdrop as “Domine” continues to advance, London now adding to the majestic scene as he switches to a clean sounding vocal style. Ominous but powerful would be the best way to describe the songs final minutes as abundant backing vocals continually repeat the phrase “Judgement is at hand”.
The sweeping keyboards introducing “Lacrimosa (I Am Blind With Weeping)” soon give way to a hard hitting rhythm guitar. Vocal harmonies join with the rhythm guitar upon reaching the songs first and only verse, a plethora of time changes made as passages, some carried by slowly played lead guitar and others in which orchestration and vocal harmonies take a leading role, are transitioned through. A plodding rhythm guitar adds to the scene during the lengthy instrumental section that ensues. In the end, “Lacrimosa (I Am Blind With Weeping)” can best be described as the albums most haunting piece with its blend of the aesthetic and the aggressive.
“Rest Eternal”, the shortest track here at two and a half minutes, proves a fitting end to Requiem - Mezzo Forte as all the key elements to the album - operatic female vocals, lush vocal harmonies and biting rhythm guitar – stand out.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Requiem, Kryie” (7:43), “In Death” (8:00), “Midnight’s Hymn” (4:57), “…and I Am Suffering” (10:56), “Domine” (8:07), “Lacrimosa (I Am Blind With Weeping)” (10:00), “Rest Eternal” (2:30)
Rowan London – Lead Vocals (Tenor) & Piano
Samantha Escarbe - Guitars
Grayh – Bass
Drums – Dino Cielo
Susan Johnson – Lead Vocals (Soprano)