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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 Perhaps the formula has become outdated, or perhaps the songs just haven’t held up as well.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.