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Profoundemonium, take one - 60%

sushiman, November 18th, 2009

The Norwegian gothic metal band Natt ended their demo phase by changing their name to Trail of Tears, hiring operatically-inclined singer Helena Iren Michaelsen and creating the dual-vocalist approach that would characterize their first two albums. Disclosure in Red sees the young Ronny Thorsen laying down the foundation for the band's tumultuous career. While other bands were setting female vocals to power metal or gothic-sounding doom, Trail of Tears' original siren sang to a blend of blackened death metal with romantic guitar melodies. Imagine very early Crematory with more imagination and more passionate playing, with a well-endowed, square-shouldered blonde on vocals.

Michaelsen sings with far more energy and character than she would on Profoundemonium, most apparent on the swiftly traded vocal lines from her and Ronny on 'When Silence Cries.' On 'Enigma of the Absolute' she sings with all the ambition and forcefulness she would on the second album, but without becoming overly operatic; more in the vein of her eventual replacement Catherine Paulsen. There are still moments when she disappoints; the odd mutters and sobs that punctuate her performance on 'The Day We Drowned' do nothing more than annoy.

The band itself lurches between charging riffs and slower, rhythmic patches where the guitars are indulged a little more. The guitar sound during the riffs is very trebly and will fail to initiate any headbanging, but the rhythmic verse sections of the songs provide a sturdier backdrop to Ronny's growls. A synthetic-sounding keyboard string orchestra hisses in the background most of the time, sounding a little empty but helping to bolster the still uncertain skills of the band. The best moments come when Ronny lets loose a mighty roar, backed by Michaelsen's soprano intonations, suggesting some of the moments of brilliance achieved later in the band's life when the idea of "Beauty and the Beast" began to evolve past a novelty and become a legitimate, even mundane vocal concept.

The three tracks from When Silence Cries, the only demo recorded under the name Trail of Tears, are re-recorded here, and, with the exception of the standout title track which opens the album, are notable for featuring more unusual structures than the remaining songs. 'Mournful Pigeon' in particular, aside from its frankly odd name, is extremely undeveloped: it plods along nondescriptly until a rather brilliant acoustic motif transitions into an exciting riff about two thirds through - and then stops, to make way for the equally plodding finish. Later in his career Ronny would learn the value of exploiting a good riff or melody when he happened upon one, but at this early stage he and the rest of the band seemed intent on doing too much, and ended up unable to keep up with themselves.

As Disclosure in Red finds the band in a formative period, their sound is still cementing into what it would become with the following album. 'Temptress' almost tentatively matches mournful black metal riffing with a Nightwish-style vocal solo. 'Enigma of the Absolute' features a classical sounding guitar melody towards its end, contrasting with the blastbeats of the song's middle section. The leads and solo on 'Words of the Fly' sound very much in the tradition of In Flames's The Jester Race; since Trail of Tears had their genesis in the late '90s, it would be no surprise if the swedes were an influence when recording Disclosure in Red. The guitar licks toward the end of 'Temptress', for example, are very 'Moonshield.' The ear for melody and a more guitar-oriented sound was what distinguished Trail of Tears from countrymen and contemporaries Tristania and Theatre of Tragedy.

The album has its moments, but essentially it is a prototypical version of Profoundemonium. Other than Free Fall Into Fear it is the band's weakest, but a worthy purchase for those whose imaginations were captured by the following album or who want to hear some of the '90s roots of the crowded gothic metal market we have today. It's still a lot more worth owning than about 90% of gothic stuff out there now.