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There are depressing albums, and then there are depressing albums. I mean, sure, you could listen to a band like Theatre of Tragedy or perhaps Insomnium and come to the conclusion that it's fairly depressing stuff, and you would be right. But of course, 'depressing' is a relative term, and while the aforementioned bands may be depressing by themselves, if you compare them to, say Funeral's Tragedies, the intense, profound misery and hopelessness that pervades it would make them appear to be uplifitng, or at least trivial in their level of melancholy and despair. I won't say Tragedies is the most depressing album ever recorded, since others within the funeral doom genre, other albums by Funeral themselves, and other albums completely devoid of metal can also be pretty fucking hopeless, but let's just say that if I were to grade an album on a scale of 1 to 100 where 1 is "puppies and sunshine" and 100 is "I want to fucking kill myself now," this would fall somewhere in the 95-98 range. Now, to be completely fair, most funeral doom could be described as falling somewhere near that range, so what is particularly special about Tragedies? Well, it's certainly unusual for funeral doom, which is most likely due to the fact that they weren't writing music that they were trying to make fall into any category called "funeral doom" when they were making this album; it was released in 1995, 2/5 of which was released in a demo a year earlier, a time when the term "funeral doom" didn't exist. Sure, bands like Thergothon, Skepticism and Esoteric were starting to go in a vaguely similar direction, the combination of which would eventually lead to a collective sound known as "funeral doom," but at this point it was just a few doom bands experimenting with darker, slower directions. However, while I wouldn't argue too much about classifying Tragedies as funeral doom, it's much different from what those other early groups were doing, and really very different from almost all funeral doom thereafter. The heavy use of clean female vocals, frequent acoustic passages (which have a general classically-inspired feel to them) and less pronounced death metal influence (there is a death metal influence, it's just not as prevalent as in the majority of funeral doom bands I've heard) make it fairly unique and quite interesting, and also explain why it's one of the only funeral doom albums I've ever been terribly interested in.
So enough with the comparisons to other bands and styles; what does this album sound like, specifically, other than being extremely depressing? Well, the album opens with one of the acoustic passages I mentioned, which is incredibly mournful and hopeless in nature, as if one was trying to cope with watching everyone they loved be killed right in front of them. In fact, the tone here reminds me of nothing more than of the film Antichrist, although I heard the album before I saw that film. The film opens with a piece from Handel's Rinaldo which is also quite mournful in sound and accompanies two parents as their infant child dies, a scene which wouldn't be at all out of place with this album. The contrast between the clean female vocals and harsh growls is quite effective, as well; Toril Snyen's nearly angelic sounding dirge could be a dead loved one calling from beyond the grave, or perhaps the performer of an actual dirge at a loved one's funeral (ding-dong goes the theme bell!), but either way it provides a perfect comparison to the utterly joyless, primal bellows of Einar Fredriksen. Something about the jutxaposition makes it more poignant; perhaps as though the exchange were a reminder of the exchange to one's life before and after a devastating loss. It's clear the album is just about depression in general; that wouldn't be enough to capture the profound sorrow presented here. No, this is distinctly and definitely a sudden, complete loss of everything, a transition from okay to suicidal within an excruciatingly brief period. The almost painfully slow pace, the two vocalists, and the incredibly low pitch of the slightly-death-inspired doom riffs make this atmosphere utterly unmistakable as well as unwavering. Plenty of doom albums try to create an atmosphere that suggests loss or despair; the thing that makes this album so great is its masterful execution of that atmosphere. Not for one moment do I ever feel pulled out of the scenario, despite the fact that it's nearly an hour in length and spans only five songs.
The acoustic sections offer the same contrast as the two vocalists; a sudden relief from the emotionally dead sound of the guttural bellows and the extremely low, hopeless guitars. It shifts the feelings from shut down and numb from everything, completely apathetic, to a restoration of emotional openness - just for a moment - which brings forth the utter and immitigable pain and sadness which the numbness attempts to hide. It works beautifully, portraying the cycle someone would be likely to actually experience after a deep loss - if you've ever experienced that, the shifting between completely emotionally dead and moments of irrevocable, infinitely excruciating emotional agony and mourning is incredibly represented by this album. The level of emotional insight necessary to create such a perfect atmosphere is unimaginable, although I suspect that perhaps the primary songwriter(s) were experiencing loss of this level at the time of the writing; certainly more than one member was very depressed, as guitarist Christian Loos and guttural vocalist/bassist Einar Fredriksen have both taken their own lives since the release of this album (RIP). I'm not saying the brilliance of this album makes their deaths okay, but it does perhaps explain how they were able to have such profound insight into the intense hopelessness and misery the album conjures. I very much appreciate the fact that, if nothing else, the misery they were feeling culminated in such a fantastic work of art, and those that later died left an incredible legacy with it. May any who feel similarly take this album as a way to find someone who deeply understands their feelings, and perhaps use it to better understand themselves so that they are not victim to the same thing. And may the members who live on be proud of themselves and their bandmates.
(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives:
Although Tristesse was something more of a demo, I still think it's one of the most influential funeral doom metal releases. Now, there's Tragedies, a much more filling album than its 40 minute older brother. So, obviously, there's going to be some amount of expectations of this album. Five songs this time around; let us begin this melancholic journey.
The opener, "Taarene", starts off with acoustic guitars. Nothing out of the ordinary since the first album. After it ends and the funeral doom begins, we see the first major difference: female vocals. I definitely thought that Funeral had a gothic appeal in Tristesse with the way they layered the clean and harsh vocals, but they just take it to the next level now. There are some harsh vocals in this album, but they take more of a secondary role. Looking at the instrumental aspect, Funeral have improved on their production slightly. With the melodic sounding guitars going along with the female vocals, the album is made more sorrowful sounding. We have a guitar solo around the six minute mark of this opening song, and I'm glad they didn't throw those away. I'm also pleased to see a break in the song with only acoustic guitar and the female vocals.
"Under Ebony Shades" begins with both the acoustic guitar and the female vocals. This time, the vocals are singing a bunch of "nah-nah-nah"s before returning to actual lyrics when the funeral doom begins. There are some harsh vocals here too; and at one interesting point, they're actually layered with the female vocals. All the correct elements in the first song are in this song too. Beautiful sad atmosphere, female vocals, and a nice guitar solo. I'm glad this one is in English though because the lyrics are so solemn yet effective:
"Emaciated by their faulter moves, they hide under the cloak of blasphemy. Desperately yearning for love, finding only misery Avount
Now I loath the presence of God, whom I had such trust in. Only to be abandoned, my hardest of times."
Anyway, next we have "Demise", a nice break from the songs exceeding twelve minutes in length; but it still is almost nine minutes long so keep your attention span from drifting. Here, the harsh vocals are given a twisted and distorted effect to them at one point as if recorded backwards or something.
The only other thing special about the remaining tracks is the violin/cello/whatever played in "Moment In Black" to further increase the already high flow on the melancholy aspect. Otherwise, pretty much everything about the songs has been already been described by me.
This is quite the step above Tristesse and yet another example of how Funeral are one of the most unique, yet under-appreciated funeral doom metal bands to exist. Their gothic flavor is a welcome way to further set them apart from their contemporaries. Yet, this may be their last funeral doom metal album as they would later go onto make some more clear cut gothic doom metal that is definitely impressive on its own. Nevertheless, Tragedies is definitely a sad trip, but one you don't want to miss.
Funeral is one of the best doom metal bands I've ever heard, and it's because they're not afraid to make changes in the music. From each album, they play something completely different. On their first release (EP?), Tristesse, they play funeral doom metal with a very beyond-the-grave feel to it in the growled/moaned male vocals and in the slow, sludgy guitars. On their demo, To Mourn is a Virtue, and their second album, In Fields of Pestilent Grief, there is much more of a gothic/doom feel, with operatic vocals, and faster, pounding guitars. This first release, Tragedies, is basically in the split middle of the change from funeral doom to gothic/doom. The combination of funeral doom with haunting, angelic female vocals was definitely a brave attempt at doing something different, and this attempt definitely worked.
Since I had only heard Tristesse prior to Tragedies, I was expecting the music to be the same type of hellish funeral doom with creepy moaned vocals. When the music started on Taarene, I was very surprised to hear female vocals, which are, doubtlessly, the most beautiful female vocals I've ever heard. Toril Snyen's heavenly singing coexists with the slow, crushing guitars perfectly, and blends wonderfully with Einar Andre Fredriksen's deep, growling vocals. And before someone can even begin to compare this to Theatre of Tragedy, they must recognize that this is very different. Toril Snyen never sings too high, or ever sounds too girly and cute, something that can be heard in Liv Kristine's vocals regularly. Also, this music is so much slower than ToT. While ToT keeps a medium pace to the music, Funeral keeps the rhythm no faster than the pace of a funeral march.
One thing that keeps the music from ever becoming boring is that both vocalists put so much emotion behind their voices. Toril and Einar have this sincere feeling of despair to their voices that could make one think that they recorded this album after crying their eyes out. This can especially be noticed in Toril's performance on Moment in Black, which she sings alone. The way she never sings much louder than a whisper, but has so much power behind it is something that I've never heard from another singer. The guitars also have a similar power. While they don't stand out as much as the vocals, the super heavy, dark, slow guitars course through the music so crushingly, the melodies some of the saddest I've ever heard. To add to the extremely atmospheric music, there are acoustic instrumental interludes that allow the songs to alternate between slow and dark with quick and melodic.
Overall, Funeral's Tragedies is definitely the most beautiful funeral doom album I've ever heard. I'd recommend this to fans of Fallen's A Tragedy's Bitter End, Skepticism's Stormcrowfleet, Thergothon's Stream from the Heavens, and Ea Taesse's first album. The raw feeling of complete and utter misery that Funeral accomplishes makes this album something that shouldn't be missed.
For those who have never heard Funeral, or may not have heard their second output, Tragedies, I shall say this. Funeral began their artistic career superbly by putting out one of the most interesting funeral doom/death work in the genre—Tristesse. Although Tristesse is listed as a full length album, it only features three songs. In this first work they manage to keep the listener interested by playing some of the most brutal, dark, and heavy death/doom ever. But they also incorporate many folk-ish parts, done with acoustic guitars. Personally, three factors that I really like are 1) that they never use clean voice, 2) they never use a keyboard, and 3) they do not have a female voice.
As a matter of fact, I believe that these 3 elements should rarely ever be in a doom/death metal album. But while I may pass over the keyboards and clean male vocals, I really think that cute, operatic female vocals are able to ruin a good album. There are a few exceptions, though. I really love, for example, Virgin Black’s Fortissimo. But Virgin Black play a more symphonic doom/death, and so the operatic voice is fine. And yet, in Virgin Black the female vocals are not predominant.
Unfortunately, Funeral’ second work, Tragedies, features annoyingly, predominant, thin, female operatic vocals. I am not a misogynist. I just think that the genre that Funeral play, funeral doom death, requires powerful, manly grunts.
My judgment stems from the fact that funeral doom inspires the listener to imagine the deepest and darkest places, just like H.P. Lovecraft' stories. And to use an analogy, imagine you are listening to a brutal death metal album, any one you fancy. To me it would be Nile’s In Their Darkened Shrines, which is very brutal and has several slow passages. Imagine that on one of the slow passages you hear a cute, female operatic voice. I think it would be like trying to mix oil and water.
Every song featured in Tragedies, as in their first, Tristesse, is unbelievably dense and dark. The guitars are quite sludgy and produce a terrifying roar that sounds as if it were coming straight out of Hell. The drums, I believe, are perfect; for, they are well played and not as clean as one would expect them to sound in a technical death band.
Therefore, as the songs drudge along sounding like tons of metal and sludge, one expects to hear some filthy creature taking the microphone and grunting brutally low lyrics. Unfortunately though, what come out are thin, weak, cute, female vocals. And of course the cute little girl's vocals alternate with low grunting vocals. I have to say the when I played the first time I used to skip the parts where she sings. I even try to like her because it is just a great album. But one day I decided that it is useless to continue because the annoying female vocals are there.
If Funeral had decided not to include cute, female, operatic vocals, this could have definitely been one of my favorite albums. This is therefore the reason that I give this album 50% instead of 100%.
This is the greatest doom metal album ever; absolute perfection. Tragedies is the slowest kind of funeral doom with growling vocals, and crowned by the unique female vocals of Toril Snyen. Her voice is amazing, and unlike the metal "sirens" of today with their posturing and bombastic voices, full of pretension and diva attitudes.
Her voice has nothing to do with gender. She is simply one of the five souls who make up this band from Norway. With her voice she expresses the sorrow & longing of the lyrics, as the guitars create the same feeling of despair without pretension.
In short, you will never hear more emotion come out of a human's voice then on this album. I can only compare and place her voice in the same glorious league as Jónsi from Sigur Ros. During shows she would often be so moved by the music that she would weep while singing, her conviction being such.
This is metal's Adagio for Strings. Each guitar counters the other in ultra slow dirge like melodies making this the epitome of funeral doom. With drums beating like a death toll, the songs proceed with a solemn grace. The last song has timpani similar to the mighty Stormcrowfleet album by Skepticism.
Funeral's Tragedies is simply overwhelming, and the only metal release to ever bring me to tears. Tragedies is completely void of goth or stoner vibes!! It is simply pure doom, primal sorrow.