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Tristania's back - and they brought their awesome! - 83%

joncheetham88, August 27th, 2010

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"