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Macbeth's last good album - 80%

Lasombra1750, June 4th, 2013

Vanitas is the second album of the Italian gothic metal band. I had very high expectations for this album since their previous effort, Romantic Tragedy's Crescendo, was one of the best metal albums I had ever listened. At first, I was disappointed because of the changes in the band's sound and the lack of the juvenile appeal and heart that RTC had. It took me many listens to fully appreciate the strengths of this album, which is actually quite good.

Let's talk about the strengths of this album, shall we? One of the things I liked the most about this album was the vast improvement made in the instrumental performance of the band, especially the guitars. This improvement allowed the band to go for a more complex and technical songwriting. This is seen in most of the songs of this work, which have some interesting tempo changes and mix melodic black metal, symphonic gothic metal and classical influences, achieving a majestic and thick sound. Some of the most interesting songs musically speaking are: "Lady Lily White" with its melodic black metal metal verses and its slow outro featuring a beautiful guitar lead that fades into a sad orchestral arrangement. "El Diablo y la Luna" in its full length, since its anime music inspired intro and its rockish rhythms until its beautiful acoustic guitar outro; for me, this is the best Macbeth's song. "Pure Treasure", with its calm piano melody and emotive guitar solos; in fact this song reminds me a lot of Guns N' Roses' "Estranged" due to their similar structures.

Another asset of this album are the male vocals, which are a huge improvement from the ones found in the first album. Unlike Vittorio, who was a pretty limited vocalist, Andreas is quite versatile and has actual vocal skills. There are two styles of male vocals that can be found in this album: black metal high-pitched screams and weepy low tenor/baritone clean vocals. Both styles sound really good and Andreas has no trouble changing between them, but the harsh screams are the better one. In summary, this was a change for good.

The lyrics in this album are really good, they are very poetic and romantic, and a big improvement from the ones found in RTC. Most of the lyrics tell a story and are pretty varied in their content. "Lady Lily White" is a song about a woman who comitted suicide by jumping from the top of a tower because her lover died during a holy war. "Fables" is a metaphor about deception. "Aloisa" tells the legend of a statue who brings love to sad ladies. "El Diablo y la Luna" is a song about platonic love and the infatuation that the narrator feels towards the most beautiful woman he has ever met; easily the most passionate song that Macbeth has ever written. "Pure Treasure" talks about finding the most beautiful thing in the world, it could be love, peace or the fulfillment of our deepest hopes and dreams; this song has many interpretations for such a short text and that makes the lyrics for this song quite brilliant.

However, this work has two crippling weaknesses: the female vocals and the rather bad last part of the album. The female vocals, which were excellent in the first album, are quite terrible in this one. Morena sounds pretty nervous and green in this album, fortunately she will improve in the following albums, but her performance in this one is horrible. While she has a more powerful and mature voice than Cristina, she sings with no passion and heart, and sounds quite sterile due to her overproduced, reverbed and artificially enhanced vocals. Potential good songs such as "Aloisa", "Romanzo Nero" and "Haeresis Dea" are affected by her bad vocals and sound cheesy. A pity, since these three songs have good instrumental work.

The second weakness of this album is the bad last part of the album. While songs like the repetitive and overlong "Crepuscularia" and the acoustic guitar ballad "Aloisa" are quite weak, they are pretty good and listenable compared to the last three songs of the album: "Romanzo Nero", "Haeresis Dea" and "Hall of the Scarlets". "Romanzo Nero" has actually a pretty good instrumental work, with the eerie orchestra arrangement and weepy male vocals, but before the song speeds up, the cheesy female vocals rape the song with a laughable sound effect that sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks, a pity, since the following part of the song is quite good with its Iron Maiden inspired guitar riffs. "Haeresis Dea" has pretty good lyrics that talk about the abuses of the Holy Inquisition and is actually a quite nice song with some interesting male/female vocals theatrics representing a witch hunt trial and a nice guitar solo at the end, but it has the trouble of being dragged down by repetition, the bad female vocals and it is trapped between the two worst songs of the album. "Hall of the Scarlets" was just pointless to say the least. This album would have been much better if it had finished with "Green Orchestra (Sonata for Leaves and Trees)", which is one of the best songs of the album.

On balance, this is the last good album that Macbeth released and while it isn't as stellar as Romantic Tragedy's Crescendo, it is still a pretty decent album for what it is. Fortunately, its pros overweight its cons and it is a pretty funny album to listen from time to time. While not as quintessential and a must have as the first album, it is still a highly reccomendable one.

Highlights: "Lady Lily White", "Fables", "El Diablo y la Luna", "Pure Treasure" and "Green Orchestra (Sonata for Leaves and Trees)".

The classing gothic formula perfected - 80%

PrincipleOfEVIL, March 21st, 2013

Macbeth's 'Vanitas' is one of the masterpieces of gothic metal. It has all a proper gothic metal album needs, with a twist, so to say. Even its shortcomings become its strenghts, even though they are few, but they are what makes this album unique and strong among other masterpieces of the genre (like early Theatre of Tragedy or Tristania). What Macbeth became today isn't really important. It became stereotyped for quality gothic bands to turn into abominations more or less (and even though Macbeth isn't a 'proper abomination', it's still pretty far from its former splendour).

Let us go first with the strengths. As the name of the band implies, the music draws heavily influence from Shakespeare. Every song on the album can be compared to a theatre play, all with its own story, but all tied together by a common theme or inspiration. In that regard, the music on this album is similar to that of the first album (which is a gem in its own right), but this time, the gothic and theatric factor has been heavily multiplied, and like the album's name suggests is grandiloquent, dramatic and ostentatious. They symphonic element is now more prominent and far more majestic, the lyrics are far more evocative and poetic, and the vocal department is much more elaborate. I remember listening this album years ago, in my 'formative', yet I still know this album by heart and can always sing along. The songs are more memorable and catchy than on the debut.

Let's dissect the songs. '13 November' is a quick introduction with church organ that sets the mood and transitions seamlessly into the first song: Crepuscularia(Agony in red Minor). This song begins with aforementied organ and quickly introduces Macbeth's dramatic style. Voices alternate and sing these very expressive lyrics, which picture perfectly the colours of a sunset.

'Like a rose in bloom among the clouds
A precious ruby flaring on celestial canvas
Vermilion magma
Carpet of fire, incandescent petals

Drowsy sun lies down in a blood red sea
A scarlet shroud in front of me
Igneous flag
Rusty water lilies float on wine

Twilight is nothing but a blazing red dream
A burning fresco work of art in magenta
Duskier moth shall looms out of crimson winds
To hang with black the sky'

The voices are: one growling, one clean male and a clean non-operatic female voice. The growling voice is pretty strong, brutal and agressive, black metal oriented, but remains not overly original; the clean male voice is very specific, a lower tenor, but with a dramatic, lamenting tone, perfect for this kind of music; and finally the female voice, which is techically rather weak, but goes well with the other two. Her tone is very nasal, her italian accent is prominent, which gives a peculiar charm to the delivery. Her voice is drenched in reverb, which creates and entrancing effect. I guess her voice is an acquired taste, but in the overall picture, it is crucial in this albums music, meaning that with another vocalist the atmosphere would be lost.

The second song 'Lady Lily White' continues with drama, but this time, instead of contemplation, the lyrics tell a proper story. The song is about a maiden waiting for her beloved to return from war and all three voices tell it marvelously, all of three playing their respective parts as the maiden, the narrator and the beloved. The song builds up aggressively and towards the end, after a female scream, which introduces the tragic ending, slows down and Morena starts a recitative part in Italian. The tone of her voice changes and the apathetic, monotonous enunciation builds the perfect theatric denouement here.

The next song is one of the weakest, but is nonetheless good. Its weakness is that it's a pretty much standard fare gothic song with a prominent organ and very little drama, like the aforementioned song have.

The next song is 'Aloisa'. This song is like a calm before the storm. Sung fully by Morena with a childlike, sweet tone it tells of the sad story of a statue. It is also fully acoustic, played by a luthe-like instrument and is reminsicent of renaissance music. The reverb given to Morena's voice gives it a taste of sweet melancholy, combined with whispers and singing.

The storm is probably the most intense song on the album: El diablo y la luna. This song is fast in all its duration and features great guitarwork all through. Keyboards alternate between ambience in the leads and piano in verses. The theatric approach of the vocalist works wonders here to tell the story of an irresistible seductress ('...Fiend angelical was Venus dethroned'), building to the explosion of passion of the chorus. Yet there is still a surprise, after a nice guitar solo, the song closes with yet anothe solo, but with the bass.

The next song, 'Pure Treasure' is mostly atmospheric, yet it feels pretty much drawn out and artificially prolonged. Still, its ambient and soft nature comes as pleasant to introduce the next song, 'Green Orchestra (Sonata for Leaves & Trees) '. This song is comparable to the first song (Crepuscularia), but is more lively compared to the dramatic feel and seriousness of the first. It is mostly idyllic and evocative of dryads and other natural spirits palyfully dancing.

The last two songs are much stronger than the previous two. Romanzo Nero is sung fully in italian and as its name implies, it's about a black romance. Pure gothic storytelling. Male recitative over baroque instrumentation and with a fantastic crescendo at the end. Haeresis Dea is describing an auto-da-fe and as with all stronger songs on the album features heavy interplay between all three voices. The album closes with 'Hall of the Scarlets', which is pretty expendable, as its purpose of epilogue isn't strong enough. It consists of ambient keyboards and some spoken vocals, but they aren't engaging enough.

As a conclusion, the strenghts of this album outweigh its weaknesses. The specific vocal work needs some getting used to, but grows on the listener fast, the Fantastic lyrics are very good poetry per se and the atnosphere is unmistakably gothic, darkly romantic and dramatic. The few weaker songs are still interesting and when listening the whole album in one sitting work well, but don't stand too well on their own. Highly recommended to anyone into the metal field. And surely already well known and likely praised among the lovers of the genre.