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Sort of a minor, flawed gothic classic - 83%

sushiman, November 19th, 2009

...hence my first noticing this album. Profoundemonium was Trail of Tears' second album, and a personal favourite of mine as it was the first I discovered by them. In terms of ingenuity and intensity it falls a little short of A New Dimension of Might and Bloodstained Endurance, but it shows the band playing with a lot more confidence and deliberateness than before. While the two Paulsen-fronted albums would see the band expressing fury and anger, Profoundemonium is based on methodically created atmospheres and frequent sorrowful moments. And also some fury and anger.

The album's main drawback is its female singer. Although Michaelsen's voice is well-trained, and her range relatively good, the pompous soprano she chooses is far too high-brow and feels alien to the music it is set to. Where Liv Kristine's soothing vocals were ideal for Olde English poetry, and Anneke van Giersbergen enjoys a continued and varied career thanks to her organic-sounding and unpretentious style, Michaelsen fails to connect with the aggression she is confronted with by the rest of the music. Contrast is one thing, but there should be some cohesion between vocalization and instrumentation.

The band themselves seem almost to be progressing past Michaelsen, however, with sophisticated song structures allowing leaps from gradual, building drum rolls into chugging guitars set to wailing keyboards. The increased care taken with songwriting is clear, and creates a smoother, more engaging set of songs. The elements of the previous album remain, but are integrated with far more attention to coherence and proportion. Instead of simply switching pace, Jonathan Perez builds his drum signatures into one another, while Runar Hansen complements Terje Heiseldal's guttural rhythm guitars with accomplished, memorable leads.

Something the band has always benefited from is Ronny Thorsen's voice. Unlike the habit of many harsh vocalists in gothic metal, he avoids sounding like a stereotypical cookie monster, or someone taking a painful dump. Ronny is death metal to the bone, letting loose deep, throaty barks. Against the shredding guitars, rushing piano riffs and skittering drum patterns of 'In Frustration's Web', his tortured bays of 'I'll be waiting' are more emotional and striking than any of the operatic meandering elsewhere.

The album is powerful in its own right, but also portentous. Among the album's most significant moments is 'Fragile Emotional Disorder.' Not only is Ronny sounding more demonic and vehement than ever before alongside the chugging guitars and pounding, rolling drums, but the track introduces Green Carnation's Kjetil Nordhus to Trail of Tears. Over the following three albums Nordhus would become a central part of the band's sound, with his smoky, articulate tenor providing the balance to Ronny's growls that Michaelsen never did, and even at this early stage the appropriateness of Nordhus to Trail of Tears' music over Michaelsen is obvious. The blueprint for A New Dimension of Might, and the most creative period in the band's career was set with this song.

The black metal influences in the band's sound haven't dissipated; 'Release at Last' is the best example of a Trail of Tears song that seems to have absorbed some of that Norwegian iciness, with the chorus featuring full-throttle blastbeats and, again, a striking harsh vocal performance. 'Image of Hope' is a little less imaginative, relying too much on catchiness in the earlier part of the song before being redeemed somewhat by a mighty second half. The closer 'The Haunted' features a tense clean break and a rousing build to its climax, and is another track which features a more interesting second half than first half.

There are moments when everything comes together. 'Disappointment's True Face' is the Goldilocks' third bowl of porridge of the album: juuuust right. Ronny's sneering lyrics ("you destroy the honour/ you destroy the essence once known as pride"), the menacing, throbbing guitars, the devastating chorus, the tumbling drums, even Michaelsen drops the opera shtick and emits some ethnic sounding chants during the song's climax, before a tastefully restrained performance in the break. This seven-and-a-half minute tale of coldhearted bitterness is among the band's crowning achievements, and should be mandatory listening, regardless of musical taste or opinion on gothic metal.

The album is afflicted with a few flaws. Namely, Michaelsen's self-indulgent vocals and clear disinterest in the rest of the music, and the need to make space for her in the songwriting causes a couple of songs to drag. Still, it represents Trail of Tears becoming truly potent for the first time, and proving that gothic metal could rip your face off as well as pure black metal, despite the keyboards and girly bits. Due to the proliferation of gothic metal bands emerging from Norway about a decade ago, Profoundemonium never had the exposure it deserved. Neither did it seem to gain the status of a cult classic, which is a shame as it far surpasses the majority of gothic metal available at its time of release or now, despite its drawbacks. Endeavour to hear it.