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Tristania is one of those bands that I’ve always shared in common with my Gothic female friends (I have an aversion for the female Goth look, although I myself don’t really look the part). It is easy to hold long conversations about their music because it is lyrically deep and structurally complex. Although their lyrical subjects deal with the cliché images of a witch longing within an autumn blighted forest or a person deep in the grips of despair, the words used and the vocal delivery is quite unique, and would come to be plagiarized by many other subsequent metal outfits.
There are essentially 2 stars to this divine tragedy that take prominence in its several acts, the principle hero being Morten Veland, and his female counterpart and tantalizing beauty Vibeke Stene. The interplay of their voices is essentially a play on the Beauty and the Beast scenario, contrasting harsh yet intelligible grunts with an angelic and operatic soprano range. The music that surrounds these two voices is heavily atmospheric, drawing heavy influences from Progressive rock outfits as well as the original metal pioneers Black Sabbath. The songs tend to be quite long, mix together simple themes and counter-themes, and build a rather dense texture out of a variety of sounds and ambiences.
This release is essentially a new edition compilation of Tristania’s 2 EPs “Midwintertears” and “Angina”. Unfortunately the original releases of these EPs have become difficult to track down, but suffice to say, the overall production of these 2 collections of songs is vastly improved from their earlier incarnations. The difference is especially notable on “Angina”, where the dimensions of the songs are much clearer and the individual parts can be scrutinized much easier. As these 2 EPs are radically different from each other, it is necessary to deal with them as separate entities.
The Midwintertears EP is a beautiful collection of slower and more sorrowful songs, highlighting a lot of strength in the melodic department. The instrumental prelude “Sirene” has a charming acoustic guitar intro with a folk feel to it, followed by a rather powerfully orchestrated section of keyboard and piano dominated music. “Midwintertears” is a slow and heavy song dominated by a few simple riffs and Veland’s beast-like voice, though Vibeke does make an appearance during a charming piano interlude at about the halfway point of the song. Each section is given a lot of time to develop, resulting in a quasi-ballad metal track timing in at over 8 minutes. Although obviously not a radio-friendly track, it is definitely great music for those times when you wish to be alone with your thoughts.
“Pale Enchantress” is a bit more up tempo, but still falls within a more atmospheric doom mold, and has plenty of keyboard sounds to complement the minimalist guitar riffs. The piano presence on this one is also heavily increased, though the duration of the song is a bit shorter and the structure is a bit simpler. We don’t hear Vibeke on this one until 5 minutes into the song, and once again her role seems to be more of as a support singer. “Cease to Exist” is my pick for the best track out of the first EP as it highlights the two aspects of Tristania that make them truly unique; their keyboard work and Vibeke Stene. The vocal roles have been switched here as Veland is now playing support in the background while Vibeke’s solemn whispers and angelic notes paint a truly vivid landscape. Ironically this track is the only one from this EP that didn’t make it onto the majority of the releases of the first LP, and by itself makes picking up this release worth it.
The Angina EP is quite different from its predecessor, both in terms of production and style. The vocal duties between Veland and Vibeke are more evenly split, the texture now includes a large collection of backing choirs and solo violin work, and the tempo is a lot faster. “Angina” is a fit of sheer brilliance that is highly comparable to Veland’s current work with Sirenia, featuring a more riff driven approach to their brand of Gothic Metal, yet still making room for a lot of other sounds. Pete Johansen, who is well known for his work with other Gothic Metal outfits such as The Sins of thy Beloved, really puts together a melodic yet technical display on here as well. “Opus Relinque” is another fast one featuring a lot of harsh vocals and some more quality work by Johansen, in addition to some interesting quasi-techno sounds. “Saturnine” is a sort of compositional afterthought featuring a lot of keyboards and sound effects, as well as some backing choral work.
If you like the slow and dark quality of Doom and the keyboard steeped textures of symphonic metal, the first half of this will album will definitely please as it carries some similarities with the slower sounds of early Theater of Tragedy and The Sins of Thy Beloved, while the 2nd half is more a point of interest for fans of Sirenia and more up tempo music. I like them both equally and proudly recommend it as essentially listening for metal heads out there that like quality music and don’t mind long winded songs.