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Eternal Tears of Sorrow has always been a difficult band for me to properly categorize and appreciate. Their more subdued aggression and woebegone disposition isn't a common set of traits in the melodic death genre. This is further accentuated by the moodiness of their compositions, which while lukewarm from a technical standpoint, can often come alive if viewed from a certain perspective. A Virgin and a Whore is one of the band's more impressive releases, primarily due to it's somber, melancholic atmosphere alone.
Terse acoustic passages tug at listeners' heartstrings while Hiltula's twinkling synths bob and weave throughout the background, dovetailing into the spirited power metal leads and rocking discharges of powerchords. The final product is highly melodic, but not overwhelmingly so. With all of the band members save for one being Kalmah alumni, distinctions are quite easily drawn between A Virgin and a Whore and mid-era Kalmah material. Hiltula's presence alone stands head-and-shoulders above all else from a memorability standpoint. His free-form, phlegmatic keyboard solos have a really neat jam session kind of vibe to their melodious nature that coexists marvelously with his ersatz strings and striking bells.
Kylmänen's clean vocals on "The River Flows Frozen" are a nice touch, as Veteläinen's blackened snarl can grow monotonous on it's own. Normally these sort of quasi-unplugged emotional crooners come off as wholly unwelcome, but Eternal Tears of Sorrow always finds a way to keep the slower material both fresh and piping. Hiltula's piano arpeggios are simply divine, as this just might be his most impressive single-album outing of all time. He and Kokko's familiarity with each other adds an air of sophistication and experience that would otherwise be absent. As per Kokko's characteristic delivery, the leads and solos are ripe and surging. Where Eternal Tears of Sorrow and Kalmah find themselves most divided is regarding the riffs. Puolakanaho's rhythm style is restrained and doom-influenced at times, as per it's deliberate persona. The most spirited the proceedings get is on "Blood of Hatred", during which the guitars erupt into a rocking mid-paced groove alongside open note verses and the ascending note clusters during the chorus.
While the guitars can be considered an acquired taste, where A Virgin and a Whore undoubtedly begins to grow tiring is in Veteläinen's ambivalent delivery. His stale croaking has always failed to inspire on a level even approaching the rest of the individual performances. While I normally find Sankala's low-key approach on the kit boring as well, his subdued percussive aesthetics actually fit quite well on Eternal Tears of Sorrow. His style fits this band much better than Kalmah, so a wise choice on his part to switch over to this band.
While many laud A Virgin and a Whore as some sort of despondent classic, it is hardly without some duds like "Heart of Wilderness" and "Fall of Man". I have listened to this album several times over the years and found myself experiencing a wide range of senses, from boredom to enthrallment. A Virgin and a Whore's potency is almost entirely dependent on the listener's mood going in, and as such it can be a deceiving listen at times. Still one of Eternal Tears of Sorrow's best, and worth it for Hiltula's performance alone.
To be honest, writing a detailed musical description for an album like this can seem like a senseless task at first. The sound of Eternal Tears of Sorrow's A Virgin and a Whore, released back in 2001, is not that hard to describe after all: mid-paced melodic death metal with lots of keyboards and a clean production. And that's about it. At face value, this album isn't very complex or technical. Hell, the keyboards are much more busy than the guitars, and the vocals sound monotone and even a bit bored. This is all removed from your typical screamed shredfest that you might find in a band like Arsis or even EToS' mates Kalmah.
Sometimes its the simplest things that give music its power, yet these might be the hardest to pull-off. Emotion, energy, intrigue, beauty. You don't always need technical playing, poetic lyrics or an emotional vocalist to make the listener feel something. Sure, these qualities can -and do- contribute a lot to the power that music can exert, and these can more or less be consciously noticed and pointed out with ease. But qualities readily associated with intangible ideas are more complicated to add in a tasteful way, since being too explicit with imbuing music with these hard to describe "things" only sours the metaphorical mouth. Sometimes, the "feel" is just there, expressed in such apparently inconsequential things such as an artwork. Indeed, one glance at the magnificent cover artwork that graces A Virgin and a Whore is an effective hook to reel oneself into the lush wonders it inhabits.
Yes, I did previously say this as a melodic death metal album. Yet the artwork contradicts this. It says: "This is a Gothic Metal album". It reminds me more of the seminal mid-nineties Paradise Lost or even The Gathering's Mandylion than anything In Flames ever did. Their slow riffs and oppressing atmospheres, however, are nowhere to be found. The only other ingredients commonly associated to the gothic metal sound found here are male clean vocals in the album's beautiful ballad and maybe piano. No violins, no female vocals, no goth-rock beats. If you heard 1999's Chaotic Beauty with its female guest vocals and more prominent piano (and even its occasional black metal outbursts) you might be surprised at how stripped down this album sounds.
"So what does this album actually have?", you may ask. Well, it may have much more things than I might have previously suggested. As a finnish melodic death metal record, it features electric guitars and harsh vocals permeated with keyboards with a keen accuracy for catchy melodies. Thee aren't many guitar harmonies a la In Flames or Insomnium, and the riffs have more of a traditional metal vibe that makes the Accept cover featured as track 7 fit in so well, but the leads and solos that are featured are all excellent and tasteful, enough to satisfy those craving for skilled musicianship that's actually in service of the songwriting.
The vocals follow around the rhythmic guitar riffs for the most part, as Altti Veteläinen's hoarse voice doesn't ever try to boast with prolongated screams, but to recite the lyrics with justice to both the words and the instruments that carry them. Though some could criticize his monotone delivery, I see his exercise in restraint as appropriate, since listening to the album doesn't ever make me feel like if it was missing something. When the lyrics are supposed to be venomous (as in track 4, Fall of Man) his voice exudes venom, and that's what makes him successful in my view. His bass, however, is much harder for me to hear.
The keyboards gets the share of moments as lead instrument of the album. Featuring a variety of dreamy sounds, it carries most of the melody with grace. Fans of the first three Kalmah albums might recognize Pasi Hiltula playing, and that gives us a fine, shorter description of what EToS sounds like in this album: A contemplative, stripped-down Kalmah, and this comparison is particularly felt on track 8, Blood of Hatred, with its blazing guitar soloing. The songs here are all mid-tempo affairs, yet different between each other, flowing well in the track-listing. They all could be fitted into one of three groups: Tracks 2, 4, 7 and 8 feature harder guitar riffs and a more aggressive vibe; tracks 1, 3, 6 and 9 have a more contemplative and melancholic vibe prominently lead by the keyboards; and track 5, The River Flows Frozen, which is probably the most well-known song here, is a ballad lead by acoustic guitars and (guest) clean vocals in its first third, until the electric guitars enter along Altti's harsh vocals, then calms down and proceeds to end with soulful guitar solos.
Indeed, what this album has and it has in spades, is vibe. Atmosphere. Feeling. Soul. From the cover artwork, to the keyboard sounds and the melancholic themes the lyrics explore. The soundscape that I might have previously described as basic or simple shimmers with beauty, like a grass field at midnight, bathed in dew. Stare at it and you can see reflections of stars and shades of blue, dressing the pale woman featured in the artwork, while the keyboards vibrate with longing for these images.
Was that somewhat cheesy pseudo-poetic description reading too far into the album? Yes, it is. Obviously it is. But isn't that what great art is all about? Whatever might be its technical merits, the emotional response to it is a far stronger indicator of its value. It can intrigue you and fascinate you to the point of obsession, and inspire you to do something to honour it. You may recall aural memories of its sounds while you take a walk, you may spread the word about it, make one of the so-called "fan arts" or even write it a love letter disguised as a review. It doesn't matter, if you feel positively inspired by the music, then the music has won over you. How many times has a jaded metal fan listened to a complex virtuous marvel only to not give a damn after it has ended? We all have been there. But right now, I think these wonderful songs, bitter and melancholic, sad and upbeat alike, will stay with me for years to come, and along with them, the girl in the artwork. Is she a virgin, a whore, or somehow both? Maybe that's what intrigues me the most.
Highlights: Aurora Borealis, Fall of Man, The River Flows Frozen, Aeon.
This album has a very unique sound. If the whole Gothenburg thing didn't exist, maybe (and hopefully) this kind of music would be more abundant, and Melodic Death a better respected genre.
Track # 1 "Aurora Borealis" starts with a keyboard melody, soon joined by drums & bass, and gradually by guitars and vocals. This song has only like 1 or 2 guitar riffs on it, but don't let that scare you, since it's got awesome lead guitar work followed by a very nice instrumental that also serves later as an outro.
Then on Track # 2 they make up for the lack of riffs on the first song. It's also more fast paced, and compels you into listening further.
But to describe this album without spoiling you the rest of the songs, I'll tell you it's got everything you need to have a good time. Which means great guitar leads and solos, solid riffs, a nice growl by the vocalist and very tasteful compositions.
Although it may not be a riff-fest, and keyboards might overcome some songs at times, this doesn't sound like Gothenburg at all. Actually, it takes some Gothic elements and molds them very well into the Melo Death sound.
It isn't all glory though, since it's rather inconsistent.
For example, Track # 3 doesn't have much to offer after some listens, and thus, it's a temptation for the skip button.
Also the last song fails to deliver anything new or interesting, which might reduce the album's playing time if you don't feel like listening filler songs.
And the keyboards are given more focus than they should have. Not to mention they sound like from a Nintendo game at times.
While it may not be ETOS' best album, it's still very good, and worth checking out.
This is essential if you like anything melodic, and have patience for somber keyboards and some slow tempos.
Metalheads that are just looking for something to headbang until their neck breaks might want to avoid this though.
Eternal Tears Of Sorrow. The face of melodic death metal. This is their latest release "A Virgin And A Whore". What can I say about it? It's just as great as the rest of their albums. They truly keep up their good reputation that they got after "Chaotic Beauty". ETOS has become legends on the metal scene. There is not one true metalhead that doesn't know about them. Their soft and cozy death metal is just great.
On the last album "Chaotic Beauty" we got to hear a lot of keyboards in the music. This continues on this CD. The opening track "Aurora Borealis" holds a great standard with fast and super melodic keyboards. It almost made me lose my control when I first heard it. But not all songs are filled with hysteric keyboards. The song "Blood and hatred" holds no melodic keyboards at all. It's a great song based on true guitar fondleing.
Even though ETOS has got the reputation to be cozy death metal sing along for kidz, it's not. These guys are serious and really good musicians. Unfortunately they have started their long break now. Read more about that on their homepage: http://www.eternaltears.net
But if you still want to hear death metal from this band you should try Kalmah. Three of ETOS' members are also playing in this finish melodic death metal band. And the bands sound quite alike, with 2 small diffrences:
Kalmah has a better grunter and no kayboards that plays hystericly.
One of the best death metal albums that has been released ever. Get it now!
- The Pharao 21/11 -02