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Once in a while I like to dive into a more melodic facet of black metal that would conincide mostly with the Swedish Black Metal scene (Dissection anyone?) but I happened to stumble upon a peculiar band while I was researching something regarding my history lessons. As you all know from the description, Siebenbürgen is the german name for Transylvania which roughly translates to '7 cities', name which coincides with the 7 main settlements of the former saxon minority in current day Romania. The 7 saxon cities were Bistritz (Bistrita), Hermmansted (Sibiu - where I live currently), Sächsisch Regen (Reghin), Kronstadt (Brasov), Mediasch (Medias) and Schässburg (Sighisoara).
Now, many of you may know that a part of Romania is also home of the rather fictional character Dracula. In other words, much of the vampire myth has its origins here from a figure called Vlad Tepes (the son of Vlad Dracul) only difference is that Tepes was not the ruler of Transylvania but of a southern Kingdom, Wallachia. What better name for a band that wishes to expand the horizons of black metal within vampyric fictional themes? You could not hit the mark better with a different name.
What makes Siebenbürgen better than other melodic black metal bands? Only the theme they debate? The theme is just the appetizer for what you're going to find on this album. While still active, Siebenbürgen had the misfortune of not becoming as influential or relevant to the movement as other Swedish or Norwegian Black Metal bands did. Reasons are various. Maybe the lack of promotion, maybe the lack of touring, the lack of coverage or the lack of interest. But certainly not the luck of musicianship.
Stylisticaly speaking, this band somehow fits more with the non-Scandinavian scene. It ain't as rough and raw as the other melodic black metal bands from Sweden (Dissection) but rather more theatric like Cradle of Filth or mid-era Theatres des Vampires. Quality wise, with this album they can always give CoF a run for their money, even if you put this record on the same scale with their sophomore and third albums. Same like CoF and Theatres des Vampires, there is a gothic atmosphere that manages to stick around throughout the entire record but luckily, they did not dig deeper in this direction as their career expanded (like TdV did in mid 2000s).
The well thought usage of the beauty and the beast vocal/lyrical concept is what sets the bar between Siebenbürgen and all the other black metal bands. Sure, CoF used it, TdV used it as well, but not as skillfuly, creatively and inspiring as these Swedes did. To top it all, Kicki Höijertz is not your average female semi-operatic vocalist. She is a crucial factor in definig the direction and especially the grim, haunting atmosphere present throught this entire record. First and foremost, her vocal usage is crucial because this band, unlike the other two I mentioned does rarely use keyboards/synths, which is a plus from the performance/song-writing perspective as you avoid being lumped together with the saturated and average symphonic black metal scene. For every average band (doesn't necessarily mean they can't put up a decent offering), the keyboard is what creates that grim atmosphere present in many symphonic black metal bands (you name them). But here the atmosphere is created by the female vocalist with her own skills while the music is not keyboard driven, but guitar driven.
Secondly, her spoken parts are sublte and gives you a sense of innocence and sensibility ('Thy Sister Thee Crimson Wed'), but she can also be a little more aggressive when the mood demands it ('Animal (Fuck Like A Beast))'. But for the most part, the male harsh vocals dominates this record in an authoritarian way. Marcus Ehlin is not your Dani Filth. He does not have such a varied vocal spectrum, his speciality being some screams here and there and the usual shrieked-bordering-death-grunts vocal performance. This does not mean it does not fit the style of the band, but it does get kind of tiresome from time to time on songs like 'Opacitas (Queen of the Dark)' as an example. Alas, he also offer hell of a performance on 'Storms' and 'Majesties Infernal', a song where Kicki Höijertz sounds for the most part like a mythological wicked fairy (Romanian ancient folklore).
Other notable moments you can find in songs like 'As of Sin' which begins with some brutal background drumming gimmick that basicaly sets the mood and atmosphere of the second half of the album and the lengthy follow-up 'Levande Begravd' (roughly translated as Living Burial) a song sang in Swedish, a reminder of the two previous albums. On both albums, Kicki Höijertz manages to make the same perfect performance.
Delictum is the kind of album that would sound really lifeless, boring and dry if not for the female counterpart. The male harsh vocals do not offer anything new from the standard black metal harsh vocals, while the instrumentation may hold on its own for the simple fact that it is slightly catchier compare to other meloblack albums. If anything, the usage of the ethereal female vocals on this album makes it not seem generic. Kicki Höijertz is not the sorrowful type like lets say Lisa Johansson (ex-Draconian), her voice is the light that shines among a blight atmosphere, she is like the light at the end of the tunnel, literaly.
The lyrics used on this album are written in the old Shakespear~ean english and mostly focuses on dark romanticism, tales about vampires, anti-christianity and it even ventures into lesbian relationships ('Thy Sister Thee Crimson Wed'). Songs are all pretty long, none of them shorter than 6 minutes (except for the bonus cover track and excluding the intro). The band also nailed it in terms of production quality, choosing the middle line between cheesy top-notch clean production and the low-fi black metal-ish production quality. As such, the sound present on this record feels like the band played in a cave with a lot of echoes in the background.
To conclude, Siebenbürgen was a rather short lived band, though they managed to stick around for 15 years and release 6 records. However, out of all their discography, Delictum stands as their main highlight as they will not be able to reproduce the same kind of feeling on their later offerings. This record makes a portret of a band with highly creative musicians in their prime time and with a great sense of team work. For a tr00 black metal fan, this might be labeled as the pop version of black metal as it is more melodic even than well established meloblack acts, but this is what is attractive about Siebenbürgen, the fact that they can pull out a great performance and great quality albums while pleasing the ear with something more than sheer brutality. I recommend listening this album as a whole as it flows naturaly. There are songs that stick out and others that have more value in a 'whole experience' manner, but generally, it is much better as a whole than divided in sections.
P.S. The bonus track is probably one of the best covers I ever heard in a long time, probably even topping the original too!
The one song that really makes this album for me comes very close to its finish: the ninth, entitled 'A Dream of Scarlet Nights', where all of the elements that Siebenburgen offer you here for your delight and titillation come together in an original way and actually succeed in constructing a memorable song. Now this is directly based on a couple of mysterious guitar melodies in this song unlike any of the other riffs on this album: transcendent riffs, you could say, where the band outdid themselves and wrenched something from inside that normally wouldn't have come to the light. I congratulate them on that. This one song throws just about every single trick they have up their sleeves into the ring and lets you sort it out. I prefer the darker first half of the song, but that's just me... the guitar feedback swelling, oscillating, etc. for a moment at the end is also nice.
For the most part, however, because of the production (clean, sparkling, with just enough power - maybe not enough bass, but that's a matter of taste) and a few other minor matters, these songs tend to blend together very easily in one's mind. Siebenburgen may have planned it this way, I am not sure. Because I don't have the lyrics I can't really tell if the songs are linked by a series of themes. So how do I describe the music? Well, I seem to remember people describing this group as 'vicious' not so long ago - maybe I have them confused with some other musicians - and as this is actually the first Siebenburgen (I just like typing that name) album I've heard, I can't exactly tell if that was true and now isn't or if the reviewers I listened to were completely mistaken. I could never describe this band as vicious, or even 'mildly violent'. For a black metal band (someone should really start questioning these random categorizations) this collective is a rather sedate, relaxed bunch. They focus for the most part on trebly, rapid melodies that never become too complex or rhythmically difficult to follow, punctuated by a capable drummer (who might just be a machine - it gets harder and harder for me to tell the difference) who pounds his snare efficiently and adds the occasional odd fill when the breaks call for it. On top of this there is the usual scarred-throat male vocalist rasping, groaning, and choking in the foreground while over all of this floats a pseudo-angelic female voice twirling and flying in and out of the listening space, either offering harmonies to back up the guitars or a contrasting melody to give the song motifs added depth. After a while, if you are used to this sort of thing (it runs rampant on the Napalm label) her voice will probably get a little tedious... it did for me. The entrance to the third song, 'Storms', is done very well, however, as it reminds me of the choruses in Debussy's 'Nocturnes'. Chilling, in a way.
Did I mention keyboards? Yes, there are keyboards.
If I had to guess I would say this band enjoys listening to old-school metal more than anything else, as this has elements of what is now called 'power metal', and when I say 'old-school', I mean: Iron Maiden. There is a certain trilling vibration in the guitar melodies here that just screams 'Maiden' to me... I could be completely wrong about this, though.
For those of you who are into the 'new wave' of Dimmu-ish black metal bands, i.e. Mactatus, newer Borknagar, etc. then I would definitely recommend this to you as it will no doubt satisfy your hunger. For those of you who are searching for something harder, you might want to listen to it first... this is well-played, well-orchestrated, well-produced, but unfortunately, not all that original.
I discovered Siebenbürgen by hazard, as it is the case with most good things. Siebenbürgen is one of those bands whose name evokes their music perfectly. What would you think when you hear such a name? Vampires! That's right! Siebenbürgen is one of the best vampiric metal bands, paying bloody hommages with every album.
Of all their albums, this one is the most appealling and catchy, the one where vampiric qualities bloom the most prominently. What separates this band from other masters of the vampiric metal genre (namely Cradle of Filth and Theatres Des Vampires) are the following qualities - classical heavy metal riffs, dominating and beautiful dual guitars, sweeping melodies with many soli and harmonies, powerful, but not black metal drumming-which means scant, almost non-existent blast beats, little to no keys and symphonic arrangements - nobbut straightforward rocking pure melodic black metal... And Siebenbürgens trademark vocals. Marcus Ehlin has a recognizable and unique voice. He sounds truly grim and evil, like a vampire should; his vocals being a snarl, or a rasp, lower, but not as a death metal growl, and he never screams like Dani Filth. This ''lack'' of range is compensated by the heartfelt delivery. Female vocals are done by Kicki Höijertz, whose voice is a light, ethereal and frail soprano, never sounding weak, but always expressive. Often both vocalists trade vocal duties, in the ''Beauty and the Beast'' fashion. Worth mentioning are the beautiful and poetic lyrics, written in shakespearian english, concentrated around dark romanticism, without satanic references, which would ruin the atmosphere the music creates. All songs create an unique poetic, darkly romantic atmosphere, bringing sensual and lustful images to mind, laced with grim and menacing undertones. Songs are all lenghty (the shortest is 5 min long) and have complex structures, never falling into verse-chorus structures, which removes any possibility of boredom; the album is 70 min long, but once it ends, it will seem it was too short. Repeated listens will reveal some unnoticed layer, and this album will never cease to please and amaze. Also, the production here is not too clear, and not sounding synthetic, which enhances further the vampiric vibe. It is a cavernous and resonant, similar to the production on ''Dusk... And Her Embrace''.
This album is a mandatory listen to every vampiric metal lover, as it defines the genre. It has no filler and every song is good and different from each other. My personal favourite is''Thy Sister Thee Crimson Wed''. a lesbian vampiric story. It is true that this band is full of cliches, but, the whole vampiric metal genre is a cliched one. Know that Siebenbürgen are the masters of the genre and this album is on par with COF vampiric era, a true epitome of vampiric metal.
Siebenbürgen’s third effort, Delictum, is an album consisting of 70 minutes of black metal with a heavy gothic influence. This album represents the middle of Siebenbürgen’s career and really marks the transition from their grimmer first two albums to their much more gothic last two works. I actually consider their band name to be a stroke of luck since Siebenbürgen is German for…the Romanian region of Transilvania. I noticed that and well…now I’m reviewing this excellent piece of gothic black metal that I own along with their first, second and last albums.
The gothic themes here are based on two things. First of all, there are a lot of female vocals on Delictum, just as there are a lot of female vocals on all of Siebenbürgen’s albums. The lady performing these vocals here is Kicki Höijertz, who replaced Lovisa Hallstedt, their female vocalist from the first two albums. These vocals are just as well done here as on the other albums, but seem to take more place compared to the rest of the music than on the last albums, marking Siebenbürgen’s evolution from their grim black metal debut to their mostly gothic metal later efforts.
The other aspect that makes this album sound very gothic is the entire lyrical content. Not just here but on the band’s other works as well. The band’s name of Siebenbürgen (Transilvania) is very well chosen for their preferred lyrical theme, which is vampirism.
They tell tales of vampires from a very medieval point of view, with a large religious aspect also taken into consideration. This dark religious part, while evoking images of crypts and somber mausoleums, doesn’t focus on any negative aspects of religion, especially Christianity, and this in turn makes the band lose a lot of credibility as black metal. They seem to use Christianity relatively neutrally despite the focus on death and dark imagery.
Another aspect of this album’s writing being different to the previous two is the replacement of Swedish lyrics for English ones on all but one of the songs. While this makes the lyrics understandable to me except on the 10-minute-long Levande Begravd, the English lyrics make this sound much less like black metal and more like gothic metal.
This pattern of one song in Swedish and the rest in English that’s been started here will continue on the band’s next two full-length releases.
The feel of this album is one of a deathly depression, like you’re listening to some gravedigger’s hymn. It’s the perfect album to listen to while taking part in activities such as exploring dungeons, either in real life or through the screen of one’s computer (Diablo, anyone?).
The production here’s quite good, not deathly raw/grim like some black metal (including their earlier releases) nor extremely polished in a professional studio for months. It’s just there…which actually suits the music very well. The instruments are very well heard individually and work together to create an excellent result from beginning to end. Drumming is somewhat simplistic but nowhere near what many other black metal releases feature. Usage of double-bass is powerful throughout the album, and the work of the three guitarists really suits the atmosphere, even if it’s not overly spectacular.
Highlights on this album wound include the opening “Majesties Infernal” (The self-title track is actually just a one minute intro), the following “Storms” as well as the fifth track, “As Of Sin”. While these are the ones that really stand out, all the tracks are exceptional in their quality, and even the previously mentioned self-titled intro is very well suited to this album. I find this album to represent an excellent part in a very talented band’s career, showing powerful elements both from the beginning and end of their career.
Only slight flaws here would be the slightly indifferent attitude towards Christianity which is somewhat unfit for any black metal band. While not absolutely essential for black metal fans, this is a very enjoyable mix of black and gothic metal in a much more convincing way than a much more well-known British band that tries doing the same thing but just looks immature doing it. Not that that makes them necessarily bad…