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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…