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I'll try not to be too subjective with this one. Count me amongst the meager few that considered Tristania inert once Morten Veland left for then-greener pastures. The two near-classics Sirenia pumped out in short order only served to accentuate Tristania's status as a collective afterthought during the period in question. Veland's glory disappeared however, starting with Nine Destinies and a Downfall, and after giving him a fair shake (three strikes and he's out!) I return to Tristania akin to a childhood friend seeking to reminisce of better days. So across The Rubicon I go, this time with newcomer Mariangela Demurtas as my guide.
I feel it important to clarify that while Vibeke Stene's departure left Tristania licking it's wounds, the announcement of Italian import Demurtas as her replacement was certainly unexpected in more ways than one. Does she have a nice voice? She is alright, but I don't necessarily agree with the way she is utilized on much of Rubicon. She could be a decent front woman in a more mainstream act, but her talents are inordinately stressed with the demands of a lot of the material here. Mary has the tendency to lose control of her upper register at times, and she boasts a very unusual and distractingly thick accent. It certainly doesn't help when she is called upon to deliver bizarre, atonal melodies like on the verses of "Year of the Rat" and "Patriot Games." She certainly evokes a tense atmosphere once layered with Nordhus' husky tenor, but it isn't as dark or despondent as I would like. The stripped-down, less symphonic constitution of Rubicon only serves to accentuate her shortcomings. Yes, Mary is incredibly pleasant to look at, but otherwise she fails to capitalize on the (admittedly meager) hand she is dealt here.
Let's not lose all hope just yet, as Rubicon flips a few of the right switches when it feels like giving a damn. "Protection" opens with a decent, bobbing powerchord and has a relatively sticky chorus. In fact, Anders has a rather distinctive riffing style that serves Tristania well and ends up constituting an unusually large allocation of the sound partially due to the meager symphonic element. It would be shallow for me to throw Tristania to the wolves for subduing the keyboards on principle alone, but if Rubicon lacks one vital component, it is atmosphere. The normally reliable Moen is relegated to simply standing in the background of promo shots and other than a few piano runs during "Year of the Rat," there isn't a whole lot to see on the symphonic end.
While Rubicon really irked me on first blush, I would be lying if I said that it hasn't grown on me a fair bit. The aforementioned "Protection" should make the "Best of Tristania" list - if one should ever arise. "Exile" is also a pretty solid tune, as is the bonus track "The Emerald Piper." In these tracks I can sort of see what Tristania was going for with Rubicon, but it is still a hard sell to fans of both ends of the spectrum it gracelessly occupies. Here we have an album by a symphonic / Gothic metal band that lacks both the expected austere atmosphere and any real degree of orchestration. Through these deficiencies Rubicon might satisfy a very narrow demographic, but I can't help but feel that it embodies a raw deal on the whole. While I can't necessarily call this any worse than Sirenia's output around this period, do I feel any satisfaction from Rubicon at all? Maybe a little, but more like disappointment with a touch of confusion, to be honest.
Honestly, like a lot of people, I hated "Rubicon" mainly because it had a new singer, who, according to a video introducing her, had a rather awful voice, and it had a lot of bad reviews. I obviously hadn't made the effort to listen to the whole album. Now, I've heard more songs, and you might think I'm going to say I like it now that I've made the effort to listen or something like that. Sorry, but no.
This album has more than a few problems. First, it's not very new or original. It is basically the same sound as "Illumination", the album that preceded it. A somewhat soft and melancholic sound with a low male voice, quiet female vocals and a few growls here and there, some rather boring songs as well as some pretty good ones. Except that "Illumination" was better. I couldn't name many songs on "Rubicon" that I would enjoy separately and would mention in the same phrase as my favorite songs of all times, or that particularly stand out. I kind of like "Patriotic games", but I wouldn't say it's my new musical revelation. While on "Illumination", there was one of my favorite Tristania songs, some rather enjoyable tracks and some duller but still tolerable songs. But, oh, this is another album, and with a new line-up, so it's not fair to compare it to the previous ones, right ? The problem is that Rubi sounds too similar to Illu to avoid the comparison. It's not right to give us the same album twice, especially from a band like Tristania who had always managed to have a different sound on each album and yet always come up with something good, at least until Morten Veland and Vibeke Stene left... Though, I'll give them that, "Rubicon" is heavier than "Illumination".
Speaking of Morten and Vibeke's departures, the vocals are another problem I have with this album. Thankfully, Mariangela Demurtas doesn't do these weird, annoying awkward squeals she did on the video "Tristania introduces new singer Mary Demurtas" or whatever it was called, but she's not any better. Some might say she has a versatile voice. To me, it sounds more like she has no idea what she's doing and just makes whatever noise her vocal chords allow her to do. There even are some weird squeals on the chorus of "Patriotic games" ! The male vocals (both cleans and growls) are pretty good, but they had the absurd idea to make the guy and the girl sing together on a few choruses, and it's not pretty. When trying to make her "powerful voice", Mary doesn't sound good and completely covers the male voice. I'll just say I'm not a fan of her voice. Though the vocals are really at their worst on "Protection" and "Amnesia", our 2 ballads... Mary sounds, well, just as vocally poor as usual, and for some reason, the male vocalist used on "Amnesia" just yelps his lines like a rhinoceros. Are rhinoceroses renowned for their singing talent ? No... And let's not forget the trying-to-get-something-out-of-my-throat growls on "Protection", used randomly, to show that we're still metal !
At the end of the day, it's a rather unoriginal and unremarkable album, with two really awful songs and not very good vocalists. While it's not horrible at every minute, it's far from being really good. If this was a band's debut, I'd have no reason to care about this band. For a Tristania album, it's unacceptable.
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate... Yes, forget everything you knew about Tristania before listening to this album. The new Tristania is here and as I feel relieved because the album has ended, I decide to write this review, to warn everyone foolish enough from listening to this album.
So, Vibeke Stene has left the band. Kjetil is not in it anymore and Veland has his own band. What have we here? Ah, the new album by Tristania. Wait! Tristania? They (used to) play true gothic metal, I am so thrilled to hear their latest piece of work and hear how they incorporated Mariangela into the band. I regret this decision now. As I told you at the beginning of the review, forget everything you knew about this band. I am surely not someone who is close-minded, nor someone who is mad about Vibeke Stene. No. I am all for experimentation, improvement, changes and evolution. Sadly, this album has nothing of this. Beside that, I am a very objective person. And in this review I shall be objective... I already hear naysayers claim ''It's Mariangela's fault!'', but they would be wrong, unless she composed this album. I don't know even where to start...
So, this is not gothic metal. There is 0% gothic influence here, despite all the elements involved: female vocals, harsh vocals, violins, keys, or whatever else you may associate with it. Furthermore, there is the sad truth that there is also 0% metal inflence on this album. No, this is a gothic rock album with a dominant punk influence, both in the vocal department, as well in the compositions. The only ''gothic'' elements found here are the somewhat ''dark'' lyrics, that have an edge to them and are well-written. Nor the gothic rock nor the punk influence are a bad thing per se. What makes this album so bad is the totally uninspired songwriting. There is no atmosphere, no flow nor any beauty behind this mess. I urge you to listen to the whole album and remember anything from it. I am sure you cannot, since there is nothing memorable about it. Guitars don't even play riffs, but some random notes, drums maintain the same flat rhythm that dulls everything, without any drive or power, it's like an introduction or break that never picks up into the song, nor the keys nor the violin do anything to alleviate the torture any casual listener endures. And we arrive at the vocals. If the above-mentioned instrumentation didn't make ring a bell in your mind, this will. Remember the wonderful vocals of Osten Bergoy and how they use to add an extra dimension to the whole music? This is gone. But, wait, he's still in the band. Yes, he is. Sadly. He's not even singing. Most of the time, he's reciting the lyrics over some guitar noise, and often it resembles rapping and makes me think of nu-metal and metalcore. Disgusting. Not that he had an outstanding singing talent, but the way his vocals were incorporated into the whole was pleasant to the ear. Now, it's not. Secondly, we have Mariangela Demurtas. I am not a Vibeke fanboy, let me repeat again, but I think her departure hurt this band to the point that messeems they shall never heal. It is obvious that Mariangela is not Vibeke, but it is also obvious that she is a capable singer and with her more aggressive style, which they could utilize to a much more effective extent, they wrote instead bland lines that no one would want remember and that require no skill to execute. There is no chemistry in the interplay of Mary and Osten, because, first, there's no interplay between them and the vocal lines are bland, unmemorable and devoid of any energy. True, in the chorus of ''Protection'', we see Mary belting the lyrics with conviction, but the overall conclusion is nobbut bitterness. She also shows that she can sing in a more ethereal and feminine way, but neither this vocal style is used, beside some scant and barely heard lines. She also can sing in a classical way, but this style was not used neither. We can hear some powerless harsh vocals as well, which appear at seemingly random places. And we have some ''thrash' styled male vocals as well, that are the most decent sounding (meaning least ear-shattering) of all of them, but appear for too short sequences, which makes them practically useless. We were witnesses of marvelous interplay of vocalists on previous releases, as well with their singing in unison. This album's dominant vocal style is all the vocalists singing together, but this was a bad decision. Were they all gone deaf or what? You cannot distinguish voices one from another in such passages, and as already said, the lines they sing are bland, mostly featuring a proto-melody that is usually recited or rapped by Osten, with Mary and co ''supporting'' him in the background. Their voices do not go well together and the final effect is an ear-shattering cacophony.
So, if you can bear to listen this album from start to finish and enjoy in it, you are either deaf, or devoid of any musical taste whatsoever. The direction Tristania is taking will surely furthermore hurt their already crumbled status, and not only because of the departure of Vibeke, nor because of Mary, since ''Illumination'' was already a very lacking album, but because of an utter lack of inspiration, vapid compositions without any purpose and the fact that they do not play metal anymore. I would surely not recommend this album to anyone, except to those that are masochistically inclined, or to those who like punk or nu-metal. But even to them, this vapid album would be a torture to go through. Forget about this album and get for example the new Sirenia. However commercionnal it is, it has good compositions and is gothic metal at least, or just listen to Widow's Weeds. I sincerely regret the 50:17 minutes I spend on listening this piece of worthlessness. Do not make the same mistake as I did.
Tristania's first album without Vibeke is the first one I would consider as disappointing. After listening to the first track, I actually stopped it and put it back on the shelf. However, I decided to try listening to it again lately, and I realised it was not half as bad as I thought it was.
Don't get me wrong, the album in general is more punk rock than metal. Even the way the tracks are structured and...well...the music overall. If I had to compare it to Tristania's past albums, this would get a figure very close to 0 or 10. However, judged on its own, it's actually not a bad album after all (though far from great). It just needs to be listened to without comparison to older Tristania.
The music, although slightly in the veins of "Illumination", is too punk rock like for me. The keyboards are very cheesy (just listen to the first few seconds of the album) and the guitar riffs are way too boring and dragging. There isn't a single song which still has the Tristania heaviness (that which thankfully "Illumination" still kept). There was clearly no effort made to "keep in touch" with the old Tristania sound. However, some violins (like those present in "Amnesia") were a nice unexpected touch.
The vocals here aren't my favourite, but I guess they're not so bad. Mary is no Vibeke, but she's not so bad. The clean male vocals are given more importance than they did in the previous album, which is not a good thing. Even though Mary's vocals aren't that good, I'd take them over the clean male vocals any time. Then, the "harsh" vocals are just silly in my opinion. One of things I hated the most is that quite a few times, the female and male vocals are heard simultaneously, which makes the album "less metal" than it already is.
Despite the cons of this album, it's still enjoyable at the end of the day. There is no song which falls below the overall level of the album. It's not the direction I hoped Tristania would take, but it's still decent for what it is. Tracks which appeal to me more than others are "Patriot Games" and "Illumination".
I can say without a doubt that Tristania is my favorite band of all time. Their debut, Widow's Weeds, is a hauntingly unique, darkly cold album. Beyond the Veil is the pinnacle of Gothic perfection. And then there is World of Glass, Ashes, and Illumination, each a powerful, extraordinary release with surprisingly little in common with it's predecessor.
Then, Tristania parts ways with its front-woman of over a decade, Vibeke Stene. And their male vocalist decides to call it quits. In addition to the singers, they lose a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer after their 2007 release. Only two original members remain. Many fans were left with little faith in Tristania.
However, Rubicon hit like a storm. It is so incredibly different from anything before it, yet somehow, it seems to fit comfortably beneath the Tristania title. It is a strong contrast to it's predecessors, in that it has a modern, more "rocking" style, as opposed to the eerie, dark, sort of medieval atmosphere of the earlier albums. It, however, does share the single unifying factor of a Tristania release: its complexity.
Tristania albums are complex; Not so much in the technicality of the music, but the idea of it. There are "layers" to the music; it isn't standard in the Gothic Metal genre. The bulk of the genre is made up of shallow, basic music that is easy to listen to. Tristania is not. It takes a few listens to understand. Rubicon is no exception to this, and although it is, upon first listen, a huge departure from their old sound, it still feels very "Tristania-esque" once the listener becomes accustomed to it.
And, as I'm sure people wonder, Mariangela Demurtas, the new female singer of Tristania, neither adds nor subtracts from the music. When her identity was announced, fans either loved her or hated her. Admittedly, I was one of the latter. She seemed to fit into Tristania like a zebra fits into a lion's den. However, with this new style of music, her eccentric ways seem subdued, which is for the better. She is certainly present, and where she is she does a really nice job. She even has some shining moments here and there.
While Rubicon is by no means Tristania's best, it is an honest effort that long exceeded my expectations and the expectations of thousands of die-hard fans. It is distinctly different than any of their previous releases, but still has Tristania written all over it (figuratively speaking). I would highly recommend it to any fans of the genre, and even to people who are just looking for something a little different.
"Rubicon: a limit that when exceeded, or an action that when taken, cannot be reversed; point of no return."
I think listening to the full album I've simply wasted nearly a hour of my life: Tristania has crossed the Rubicon indeed, and it would be unexpected a great album, after this very shallow release. This album is a mess, and left me very disappointed; even if I wouldn't even try to compare it with the older albums it still is awful.
"Rubicon" is just a compilation of empty and uninspired songs. It all starts with the first single, "Year of the Rat", which, sadly, displays the overall feeling of the album: mediocrity and loss of ideas. It is a generic songs, nothing well composed nor well executed, it gets even boring - and what's worse, it displays that the band is not the same band anymore. How could we pretend the same quality by a band that has no more the biggest part of its original members? It happens just when the genius is all in the same songwriter, but that's not Tristania's case.
The following songs are just like the first, there are some bearable parts and passages, but the rest is all filler and void. The "best" songs are "Illumination", which is anyway overly long and repetitive, and maybe "Amnesia" - good violin on there, but I'm not saying they are good songs. It's not just the lack of good songwriting that ruins this album, but it seems that there is a lack of effort too: the instrumental parts and the vocals are loathsome.
Let's start from the instrumental: overall, the sound of the album is quite soft, but that's not a problem. The problem is the instruments are not well played and the arrangements are those a punk-pop band would have (with the exception of the violin solo, which are one of the highest point on "Rubicon").
The guitar riffs - wait, I wouldn't even call them riffs - are just generic dull notes with no real purpose but to fill the rampant emptiness among the tracks; the keyboards are cheesy and way too unoriginal; the bass isn't even played and the drums are terrible and monotonous - the same rhythm all over the album with some nonsense fury which sometimes takes place.
It's sad to hear such arrangements from a band which always had awesome ones.
The vocals are another big problem. It's the most horrible exhibit of this album, and they're the worst Tristania has ever had (not surprisingly). It's not due to the Vibeke's departure, it's for the way they are written and sung: they are very annoying, and they get even worse if you look at the lyrics, which are saying something nonsense that no one will ever understand. You could follow more easily a baroque poem.
Mary's vocals make me nearly cry, and that's not a compliment, they're horrible. But they're not even the worst, Ktejil vocals are way worse than any other I've ever heard, even a deaf would understand they're awful; as for the other male vocals - the "wannabe harsh" growls - lack of energy and substance, like all the rest of the album.
Could it be more terrible? Yes, the way they are assembled, the choral arrangements are even worse than the instrumental ones and the vocal lines are just cheesy. You can listen to an example of ugly choral arrangements on songs like "Vulture" and "Patriot Games". An example of cheesy and uninspired ballad is "Protection", it makes really sick.
Many of the songs' choruses makes me want to skip them, but if I do I would skip 45 of the 50 minutes of the album! Throughout "Rubicon" you can listen to many types of vocals, from the badly arranged choruses to the already heard and monotonous verses, and even some even-cheesier bridge.
I really cannot understand what the hell this band was thinking while composing this album. "Rubicon" is not just a decline - it is a total failure. Not even worth a penny, nor a minute of your life wasted on it. Even the cover artwork is awful, it seems to be a fashion magazine one.
It's not Vibeke's fault, nor Morten's (we've already seen that the band could be great even without him) - so they just can't be blamed.
It's the "new" Tristania which is to blame - if you really want to call this release's band Tristania. It's to blame for the lack of effort and for the shameless way they published an album like this ruining all of their past of gothic metal pioneers. Evolution is a really good thing, but this is just involution, and I think I'm being generous giving it a 12/100, just for some of the violins.
As far as I'm concerned, "Illumination" has been the last Tristania album.
Requiescat In Pacem Tristania [1998 - 2007]
Unlike the seeming majority of Tristania's followers, Ashes and Illumination received more attention from me than any of their previous works, including the famous and formative albums with Morten Veland. I hadn't realized that not only is there a new girly in, but almost the whole bloody band is different. Rubicon could have gone very wrong, but it appears that Tristania are too mature and too intelligent to sell out their style for the sake of milking new and of course smoking hot front-siren Mariangela Demurtas the way Veland did with the last two Sirenia singers.
Honestly Demurtas, or Mary, doesn't have a speck on Vibeke. That woman's voice is absolutely splendid, even set to the sparser, more organic sounds of the last two Tristania albums she participated in. Whether you liked em or not! And also she's hotter. Mary has a "cleaner" voice, some parts such as the chorus of 'Year of the Rat' have her sounding a bit processed but during moments like 'Amnesia' she sounds very convincingly soothing and ethereal while still having an edge to her voice. She brings a ton of energy and a diverse performance, and I must say well done on her.
However, by no means does she dominate this record, as per my opening paragraph. I didn't realize Kjetil Nordhus was in until I heard him. Makes the second time a Trail of Tears vocalist has augmented a Tristania album, after Ronny Thorsen laid his trademark growls on World of Glass in 2001. His distinctive anti-hero air raid siren isn't quite as effective here as over the bombastic carnage of Trail of Tears, and he is outshone by the wonderful deep tones of Østen Bergøy, sadly now only a guest singer again. The latter steals the show as he did even on the last two albums with Vibeke, thoughtful, whisky-soaked tones resonating over the mournful atmospheres. The violins of Pete Johansen are back for the first time in nine years - he's on less tracks than usual but contributes more when he does show up. The violins add a shimmering tragic twist just the right side of tasteful.
With Ashes, possibly still my favourite by the band, Tristania ditched their elaborate choral bombast for dry, organic electric guitars and acoustic-drenched soundscapes with the emphasis on minimalism and clever songwriting rather than scale and contrast. This isn't a reinvention, but it does progress the band's sound - inevitably, with the amount of fresh talent in. It's all about mostly mid-paced, thoughtful songs that showcase the various singers.
Again, the four vocalists (if you count the occasional rasps from guitarist Anders Høyvik Hidle) and the mostly rhythmic guitars knit into a fine-tuned atmosphere. Although the album shares a certain wavering in quality with the previous two, the composition, the songwriting, is at times miles more sophisticated than probably anything Tristania have done previously. At times the experimentation is pushed too far - 'Magical Fix' for example is a double-kick paced song with some rather awful, "anthemic" singing from Kjetil and a general feeling of mismatch. It's the only really obvious bit of fluff however, despite the constant slight shifts in dynamic and mood. I was worried the whole thing would be like bonus track 'The Emerald Piper' - generic, formulaic and feeling done before. But the catchy romp of 'Year of the Rat' couldn't be further from 'Amnesia' or 'Vulture.' The atmosphere on many of the tracks trumps anything after Beyond the Veil.
"I'm armed but I'm dead, you're broken, she said."
Lots of highlights. These are the songs which make Rubicon easily number two after Ashes from the last three albums: 'Patriot Games' features cheeky distorted guitar motifs and a galloping rhythm section, and replete with Bergøy's vocals could have been from Illumination if not for the unexpectedly enjoyable shouted chorus from Demurtas and Johansen's excellent solo. 'Exile' has a grooving central riff and a booming chorus that I love, and the previously mentioned 'Amnesia' is a real highlight which combines the doomy guitars and violins of Widow's Weeds with a slow rocking chorus in the vein of Illumination. Nordhus' performance here is nothing short of brilliant. The album ends with something that might well be Tristania's best song yet. It's named for the previous album, and is an eight minute masterpiece that sets the two full-time singers' almost uplifting crooning in the calm verses to an ominous, even sneering chorus in Nordhus' most resonant voice. It builds and builds with tremolo riffs even breaking through like watery light through a ruined roof, until the Norwegian lyrics at the end. The chanted "Master, tell us what to do..." puts goosebumps on my fat arms. From the composition to the performance this is absolutely outstanding, beyond any classification of gothic or progressive, one of the finest things you'll hear this year.
I think this is one of my favourite experiences when listening to a new record - hearing a band I'd assumed would falter sound as confident and inspired as ever, even with 80% of the lineup different since even the last album let alone the height of their popularity and influence. The chinks of brilliance that shone through with tracks like 'Fate' and 'Destination Departure' on Illumination are brighter here, and though it's not perfect it's lots of fun and, if anyone is still comparing, kicks the crap out of Morten Veland's last three albums.
"Words are wasted
I know you feel the way that I feel
God loves the faithful and hates the beast
We’ve brought back justice
God bless the strong and brave and free
We’ll use the power and burst through the streets"