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True goth metal returns! - 95%

Darkstar_5, March 31st, 2011

Once upon a time during the mid to late 90's, a new metal sub-genre was born. Gothic metal. Inspired and spinning out of the doom/death style, there were a handful of talented bands that decided to take that style and morph it into an even darker yet more mellow form. The focus was more on atmosphere, and many of these newer bands were pushing boundaries and using some bold new ideas for "metal" music. Experimenting with female vocals, adding layers of keyboards, violins, and other instruments that were rarely used in metal at the time were being incorporated and exectued in new ways to create a darkened and oftentimes "medieval" type of feel to their music. Theatre Of Tragedy, Tristania, and The Sins Of Thy Beloved were some of the more recognizable names that birthed this style. Their early material still remains untouchable, and are quintessential albums when it comes to this style of metal.

Something happened along the way though. More specifically during when the 2000's rolled around. These bands changed. The whole style slowly changed. Bands were still being labeled as "goth metal", but it was so much different than what is was. The darkened atmospheres, the gloomy, melancholic feelings, the medieval and romantic lyrics, and much of what made these early bands so unique at the time seemed to have become a rarity. They became replaced with a more commercial and accesible sound, a more poppy and light-hearted feel, and an increased focus on the female vocalist (moreso her looks). Bands like Lacuna Coil, Within Temptaion, HIM, Nightwish, Epica, Leaves' Eyes and their countless clones seemed to have taken over this little niche in metal. Goth metal became more popular, but at such a great cost to what it once was, and what it still should be.

Enter 2011, and Ava Inferi's new release Onyx. For those that don't know by now, Ava Inferi is the band/project of Rune Eriksen (Mayhem), that decided to create a gothic/doom band with female vocalist Carmen Susana Simoes. Their first 3 albums focused a little more on the "doom" side of things, and featured slightly heavier and technical arrangements, and a more symphonic/operatic appraoch. Don't get me wrong though, they're all still great albums, and worth checking out! Onyx, however, caught me by surprise, and in my opinion, is a step in the right direction and big improvement for the band. They decided to make a more "gothic" album (though still retaining some doom elements). But what makes this album a near masterpiece is it manages to create a lot of those same feelings I had when I first heard Theatre Of Tragedy's 'Velvet Darkness', Tristania's 'Beyond The Veil' or 3rd And The Mortal's 'Tears Laid In Earth', and you can file this album right next to the ones mentioned. Not to say it copies any of these bands, because it certainly doesn't. But it does re-visit that early goth metal style and creates that sort of "lost" album that you figured should have been released during the mid-90's time frame, yet is really such a breath of fresh air to get something like this again in today's times.

This is dark, cold, gothic metal the way it is meant to be. Carmen's vocals are at her best on this release, and this, people, is how female vocals should be utilized on an album like this. She's not trying to sound like Madonna here, and her vocals aren't forcefully overused. They're operatic when they have to be, and are more subdued and melancholic at other times. Rune does some singing also, and there's some good interplay between the two. The mixing, arrangements, and production couldn't be better. There's a dark and haunting atmosphere that makes its presense known right from the get go, and it stays that way until the end. You won't find any ballads, poppy songs, or uplifting segments along the way. Most of the songs are mid-tempo and keep a steady flow, and I must say that every song on this album is really well done.

As you can gather from what I mentioned already, fans that miss the early goth metal sound should definitely check this out. Although it might not be the most original album around (that's what keeps it from being a perfect hundred) I for one am glad that Ava Inferi decided to put the "gothic" back in metal, and make an album in this style again. They did a damn good job doing it, and hopefully their follow up doesn't stray too much from this style, because really, I can't think of any current bands that play this type of style anymore, or play it this well. All hail the new kings of goth metal!!