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Gothic Romanticism in Its Full Splendour - 100%

bayern, May 21st, 2018

I got the Theatre of Tragedy first two albums from a friend, and I listened to them for a couple of days but didn’t exactly spend sleepless nights with them. I found both endeavours an acceptable addition to the growing 90’s gothically beautified doom/death metal roster, but except for the not yet overused at the time “beauty & the beast” vocal duel there wasn’t much originality or musical audacity within them to keep me hooked to the guys’ (and a girl) cause indefinitely.

I bought the album reviewed here only cause I still had some spare cash after I had purchased four other cassettes (Therion’s “Vovin”, Destiny’s End’s “Breathe Deep the Dark”, The Kovenant’s “Nexus Polaris”, and Death’s “The Sound of Perseverance”) on the same day. A great day for me and for music in general with all these four being true masterpieces, each in their respective genre, that made 1998 the greatest year for metal from the 90’s, and a heralder for greater things for the whole metal circuit to come soon…

Actually, five masterpieces if we count this “Aegis” here. Arriving a year after The Gathering’s colossal “Nighttime Birds”, this album alongside said Dutch act’s magnum opus brought the perfect culmination within the doom/gothic metal circuit, to such a depleting extent that it became futile and ultimately redundant for one to continue exploring this particular niche any further. The major difference between the two is that while “Nighttime Birds” is largely carried by Anneke van Giersbergen’s extraordinary vocal bravado (arguably the finest individual vocal performance in the annals of metal), on the album here it’s easier to acknowledge every musician’s contribution as Liv Kristine’s lyrical, soothing croons are a part of the whole rather than an upfront representation.

And this should by all means be the case as this opus is a 50-min long uninterrupted musical bliss, from the first to the last note, a spell-bindingly homogenous slab of beauty that almost single-handedly elevated the whole doom/gothic metal field to loftier, romantic dimensions where there was no necessity in any aggressive, bumpy death metal-ish dissipations anymore as the deeply established meditative idyll simply didn’t need them. In this train of thought the approach has been invariably changed compared to the preceding “Velvet Darkness They Fear” as aggression under either vocal or musical form here is out of the question. The “beast” is by all means present if not even occupying more space than before, but this time he merely emits placating clean semi-declamatory croons, perfectly fitting into the levelled, anti-climactic at times musical delivery. Mentioning the latter, doom isn’t featured in its primal antediluvian form anywhere, either, as this is more of a doom-peppered gothic metal opus, the transition greatly helped by the increased presence of the keyboards.

The fans will be only too well aware of the modified soundscapes once the opening “Cassandra” hits, a grand introspective gothic melancholia with a few bumpier rhythms along the way and the subdued male clean vocal presence that quietly leads the proceedings; just when you start wondering whether Liv Kristine is going to show up at all here, comes an extraordinary brief appearance from the diva to provide the poignant chorus. Her participation later is way more prominent, of course, but the vocal duties are strictly shared between the two sides Kristine taking over on the more elegiac, also more lyrical material like the angelic “Angelique”, and especially the supreme ode to enlightenment and illumination “Siren”, one of the greatest compositions of the 90’s and not only, an inimitable blend of heavy guitars and ethereal keyboards that alone certifies the perfect score given here. What’s truly amazing is that almost every other composition has been created with the same genius’ mindset to the point that the latter number can’t even be considered the absolute highlight, not in the presence of gems like the ethereal keyboard-infused symphony “Venus” Kristine giving a shattering Grammy-winning performance supported by the only more death metal-fixated male assistance; the gorgeous stomping intimidator “Aeode”, the only overtly doom metal-dominated piece here; the more energetic, but deeply emotional gothic metal roller-coasters “Lorelei” and “Poppaea” that acts like Lacuna Coil and Dreams of Sanity wouldn’t be able to produce even if their lives depended on it; and last but not least the grand closure “Bacchante”, an eccentric psychedelic blend of serene balladic etudes and macabre doomy guitars with the word “Celebration” serving as the supposed chorus, a very fitting choice having in mind what unforgettable celebration for all things great in music this whole album is…

Listening to this opus for over the 100th time at the moment, I try to figure what has made it such an indelible part of my life as a music/metal fan, and what would be the reason why I would listen to it another 100 times or more in the years to come… This introvert romantic, openly poignant at times, stuff shouldn’t be sticking with me, someone who has been bred and raised on “atrocities” like thrash, death and the likes… It still beats me as I can’t find a logical justification to that; could be the still audible ties to the good old doom, the one that I also love with all the passion I can muster… I don’t know, and I don’t care really anymore as all those great things exist out there just like that, for us to accept them without questioning, and just be grateful that they’re there and make life the wonderful mystery that it’s supposed to be thus making one treading through its annoyances and obstacles with those notes/sounds in his/her head, the ones that locate the soul somewhere within us and move it towards loftier dimensions where all musical genres merge and become one all-embracing whole, with angelic sopranos co-existing peacefully with brooding “beasts”, both submitting their differences for the greater good.

Differences that brought more or less desirable stylistic changes later with “Musique” and after it, but that wasn’t surprising with the magnum opus out of the way. Kristine left to concentrate more on the Leaves' Eyes project that she started together with her husband-to-be Alex Krull and the other atrocious… sorry, Atrocity guys, and also tried to keep her solo career floating at the same time. The others carried on for another few years before laying down the weapons, the shadow of this “Aegis” here simply too big to be dissipated by less distinguished outings. I guess some works of art are meant to last long after their creators have disappeared from the social consciousness…

Gothy stuff I find surprisingly enjoyable - 75%

caspian, September 24th, 2010

I could definitely see myself absolutely hating this as recently as a year ago, but after discovering Tears For Fears' surprising non-crappiness and developing a fondness for some early 80's MOR (Yacht Rock, you have much to answer for!!) my hatred for 80's new wave/goth/music in general has pretty much disappeared. The soaring vocal lines! The awesome bombasticness of so much of the stuff, the love of super digital sounding tones. It sure beats the hell out of the modern day Australian pop, which features whiny divas or terrible pop/folk dudes.

I can't name many in the way of influences as I'm not exactly an expert in this sort of stuff but this whole thing nails a lot of "80's music" type stuff. The gossamer-thin female vocals have a bit of an early 4AD vibe, the chorused clean guitars are straight out of the 80's, the production has those loud synths and big snare tones down, and the male vocals... Well, I'm not really sure where they're from, but those low, supremely bummed and not-really-all-melodic tones sound like a lot of gloomy dudes who want to be/be with Robert Smith or whoever. I love his real repetitive stuff in "Lorelei" (probably my favourite track in general) and yeah, for the most part he works well, making the whole thing a bit gloomier and weightier.

Admittedly metal influences here are somewhat thin on the ground; I'm not familiar with anything else these guys have done but I have a feeling that some other release was what get them accepted into the MA. There's a few variations on that "chugging in the background" type thing that Nightwish/most Eurogay bands have done, plus a bit of Katatonia thrown in, perhaps. Not really much in the way of guitar riffs, but the fairly solid keyboard layering keeps that from ever becoming too much of an issue. Plus, there's a bit of tonal variation; from chugging guitar action to vaguely post-punkish clean guitar arpeggios throughout keeps your eyelids from drooping. All in all the band understands that if you're not going to be riffing like crazy you gotta add some other things to keep the interest going; and while I can't see myself listening to this on repeat for hours on end it works for the hour or so it goes for.

This isn't amazing; I dig Lorelei and Siren but nothing here is pure gold or anything. Still, it's an enjoyable listen and seeing as I've heard sweet FA of Gothic stuff it's a relatively unique sounding thing, for me at least. Give it a listen if you're curious/bored, there's far worse things you could be doing.

Sad and Pretty and Altogether Grand - 95%

Sue, January 29th, 2008

This is a quieter kind of music than Theatre's first two works. The rough vocals are gone, replaced by a crooning gentle lullaby. Liv's sweet voice sounds much the same, but is now backed by a slower, sadder melody. And such melody- Wagner flirted with such melancholy but never let it take over as they have here: Here there is nothing hard or overtly metallic to distract you from the simple sad elegance of the songs. And they are songs, not strange works of art like Velvet Darkness and the debut- This is much more normal, often akin to rock or alternative gothic.

We begin with the long Cassandra, a poem from a teen sensibility (That's teen as in Romeo and Juliet, not teen as in the pimply things) that waits a long time to introduce it's counterpoint but does so effectively, with gentle buildup and crushing melody. The album progresses through three more tracks before it peaks with the powerfull, deep, dark Siren. This is a grand work more akin to a movie score by John Williams than Velvet Darkness. And it is followed by two more flawless tracks of subtle power, smart shifts in pace and mood, gathering themselves in sultry melody and building up to orgasmic (Poppæa) bursts of power, riffs and chords of strength and focus that quickly rest back in their puddles. The album flows so naturally it's over before you know you've passed it's depths, it is subtle compared to their early work but not so subtle that one could deride its presence: The album has a sort of effect like watching a good eprformance in a devastating movie. You feel the pain behind it. Then Bacchante ends the album with a boring track I tend to skip, but hey, it can't all be highlights.

This is a one time swansong from a band who having made the highest peaks of gothic metal, would soon turn into some sort of industrial creature. They would eventually return part way to the beauty and power of Aegis with Storm, but for a long time this album was the end of all things beautifull in Norway, where Tristania would soon make it's mark, and where churches were so cleverly built from flammable materials.

Gothic Beauty - 97%

Shadow_Walker, November 18th, 2007

After two albums with an unpolished combination of gothic, death, and doom with depressive-aggressive style, Theatre of Tragedy made great music progression. They made “Aegis”.

This album has a uniquely melodic, ethereal sound.
The guitars sound tuneful, resounding, and provide metallic goth rock riffs. Drums give slow, hypnotic rhythm to the music.However, some heavier parts are still present in certain places.Synth beats, electronics and especially tender keyboards play very important roles for the typical dark romantic atmosphere.Clean and deep, the haunting male vocals contrast to the angelic voice of Liv Kristine in magnificent vocal parts.

The songs are like a part of a whole,part of one storyline. Each continues, complements and develops further the other. They follow the same idea but with different structures,feelings and aspects of the main plan.
All the gothic ideals are recreated in the music and you feel like you’re having a really good time in the nearby goth club.

It’s almost a perfect album - a gloomy symphony of beautiful sounds and emotions. But it’s not easy to understand with one listen.Nevertheless, once you see the beauty it will always be there.

Second Tier Gothic Metal - 74%

drewnm156, June 12th, 2007

When The Gathering released Mandylion in 1995, the metal world would change forever. While the mixing of soprano female vocals with metal was not new, (Into the Pandemonium, Gothic) The Gathering was the first band to achieve widespread acclaim by incorporating beautiful female vocals over heavy and almost doom metal riffs. Open the flood gates for Lacuna Coil, Within Temptation and a host of others to milk the format to oblivion. Now I make no representation as to which band came first and released what album when, but with their third album, Theatre of Tragedy unfortunately came across as a second tier genre jumping band. I actually remember enjoying this album more in 1999 when I picked it up. Perhaps the formula has become outdated, or perhaps the songs just haven’t held up as well.

If I were to write a song for this album, I would construct it as such. Open with clean guitar playing arpeggio minor chords. I would then add a slow palm muted riff, with a layer of light airy keyboards underneath. Drums would be slow and not at all showy. I could also weave a slow somber guitar melody over the top of all of it to color the song a bit. I would then have Liv Kristine sing haunting and beautiful melodies over the top of everything to create a catchy yet mournful song. Finally I would add a Sisters of Mercy type male vocal in certain areas to add dynamic. Heck I might even have him growl in a song or two. I would repeat this basic formula with slight changes to song structure to mix it up a bit.

My above sarcasm aside, I kind of like this album. The problem is that when the primary focus and raison d’etre of any band is the vocals, the music becomes a supporting cast member. Most riffs on this album are slow palm muted chugging, ringing power chords, clean arpeggios, and some higher register melodies all played at a very slow tempo. Therefore any song coloring is done with vocals and keyboards. Not very metal. Since the best songs on the album are in the first half of the album, even the beautiful angelic vocals cannot keep me totally interested for the entire duration.

My favorites are opener Cassandra, Lorelei (is that an up tempo intro I hear?), Angelique and Siren. I think the overall structure of Cassandra is the best on the album. It actually starts off with the male vocal and the female section doesn’t appear until over three minutes in. By doing so, it creates anticipation and excitement for when the female vocals break in. The vocal melodies found on the chorus section of Siren are my favorite on the album, and the mixture of male and female vocals on the chorus of Lorelei are also quite good.

Now although I would listen to this over a Nightwish album any day of the week, each band has a similar goal and presentation. Vocals are to be the primary attraction (in addition to the beautiful female front person in a male dominated genre) and the music should support the vocalist and then get the heck out of the way. I can put this album on every eight months or so and generally enjoy it. Unfortunately the lack of variety and inventiveness keep it from becoming anything more than average.