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Ground Zero and Groundbreaking - 93%

Gothic_Metalhead, July 11th, 2019
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Massacre Records

If you think about gothic metal, one of the most common characteristics musically is the inclusion of beauty and the beast. A vocal technique which includes a soft operatic soprano female singer, and combined with a male vocalist guttural growls. Of course, the band that gets the credit for this revolutionary technique during the mid-1990s is Norway's Theatre of Tragedy. Theatre of Tragedy is far from being the first female fronted gothic metal band (look at The Third and the Mortal) nor were the first to ever do the technique (hear Songs from Early-The Gathering and Early-Paradise Lost) they were just the first band to do the technique in an entire album. You can argue that albums like “Velvet Darkness They Fear” and “Aegis” are the more influential albums in Theatre of Tragedy's discography, but the bands self-titled debut album was the true ground zero for what would become an overused technique in gothic metal. Theatre of Tragedy's debut is full of dark beauty, elegant atmosphere, sophisticated themes, and a bold message about how important it is to make a sensitive album.

"Theatre of Tragedy" is an album showcasing the band at their rawest and heaviest. The album's production is raw and may not be superior to Theatre of Tragedy's later albums, but the production gives them an advantage. It does give the piano/keyboard more darkness, and it adds noticeable reverb throughout the album. However, the production of the album is able to make it sound gritty and darker for a female fronting band at that time. I personally loved the guitar approach of the album because of how haunting it sounds. The drumming on this album is also really good too because of its slow doom style. It also has some overly dramatic music (which makes Theatre of Tragedy's music great) and most of it comes from its piano parts. The majority of the album's piano parts are full of classical inspirations and show a lot of sadness as well. Once you get to "...A Distance There Is..." it not only is incredibly sad, but is one of the best examples of classically trained gothic metal piano. The music of this album may be over dramatic, but "Theatre of Tragedy" is still a dark and sad album to listen to, and still a great choice for those wanting inspirations to play piano in metal.

"Theatre of Tragedy" is known for being the first album to feature the beauty and the beast vocals in full that would be synonymous within gothic metal. Concerning Liv Kristine's performance her voice is soft, but soothing. The passion is shown through her voice especially in "...A Distance There Is..." which adds more sadness to the song. As for Raymond Rohonyi's performance I say its pretty good. Though the production of the album does hinder his growling they still show that dark extreme passion as well. The vocals that Kristine and Rohonyl provided throughout album has a great level of dynamic especially with there later albums. Kristine gives that soft, passionate sound while Raymond's voice is the extreme, macho sound that the album really needs.

Theatre of Tragedy's debut album and even with "Velvet Darkness They Fear" also has unique lyrics. The majority of the lyrics are done in Early Modern English fashion to show more drama to their music. The lyrics make sound as if it was taken place in the medieval period.

"Swooning emotions smite my bosom -
I have in aptness depriev'd thy eyrie
Oh! - but ne'er alas;
Fro many another a lass -
Lodge here fore'ermore.
Dodge thither sable of yore!"

To be honest I'm not sure what to make of Early Modern English lyrics, but it does make this and the next Theatre of Tragedy album more unique than any other gothic metal band. The band is using what is considered a dead form of English and made into music for metal music. It's very difficult to write stuff like that as well as sing the way the English was said and showed Theatre of Tragedy talent as songwriters and as lyricist.

Theatre of Tragedy's debut album is the album that I consider to be the better album. Despite having raw production compared to "Velvet Darkness They Fear" this album is still the band's heaviest and brought a lot of unique elements into their music that has not been done afterwards. Theatre of Tragedy along with The Gathering ignited a new wave of gothic metal bands to involve more women into metal music. Most bands tried to do the beauty and the beast approach some are good, but some are bad. Women in metal and gothic metal in general are indebted to Theatre of Tragedy because they were the band that most want to mimic for years to come.

Gonna be controversial and say this is better... - 90%

PorcupineOfDoom, December 19th, 2014

Well, after some deathcore that forces you to do mental gymnastics, sometimes you just need to tone things down a bit. So I've come back to Theatre of Tragedy to listen to some more of their stuff. I enjoyed their album Velvet Darkness They Fear, so I was hoping that this wouldn't disappoint. Since gothic metal seems to be something I'm listening to more and more often, I was thinking that this score could be higher than the last rating I gave them.

I find that the growls are done better for the most part on this record, but I can't fathom why. The lyrics are equally difficult to pronounce properly, and I can't really think of what else it could be that makes them better. For one reason or another though they are, and I find that I like them a lot more this time around. Liv's cleans also seem to be even better than on the following album. The two different styles mix together well and it feels like they're just meant to go together. God knows how they were meant to cope when Liv left the band.

The guitars are heavier on this record than the followup as well, and there's a clear emphasis on the death/doom that goes with the gothic metal. I actually like it a lot, and personally I think that's the way they should have stuck to playing. The keyboard in the background can create the melodies, the guitars should be focused on creating a dark foundation for the rest of the band. The drumming is still fairly unspectacular, but he has to keep pace with the slow songs.

I like the feel of this album better than Velvet Darkness They Fear. For some reason it just clicks far better. It isn't a onetime only thing, because right across the board the songs seem better. The one exception would be Der Tanz Der Schatten on the other record, as that one simply outclasses everything else the band have to offer. My personal favourite song on Theatre of Tragedy is Hollow-Heartèd, Heart-Departèd, but surprisingly the vocal-only ...a Distance There Is... which lasts for nine minutes comes a close second. It's just done so well that I can't manage to dislike it. Liv really has a very captivating voice.

The one thing that worries me is that this album is so much better than the one that came afterwards. That's pretty much a certain sign that they were heading downhill before they had even begun their long career. Apparently they changed their style for Aégis, and maybe they needed to do so because they were on a spiraling path. Or perhaps that's just me being my usual self and they changed for another reason. Whatever the case, I prefer this album to the one that followed it, and I think it's a shame that they reduced their death/doom influences which really made the music.

Beauty and the beastie - 80%

Liquid_Braino, September 28th, 2012

One of the forerunners of the gothic metal scene, and certainly one of the first to employ the "Beauty and the Beast" effect, Theatre Of Tragedy's debut full length takes the blueprint laid down by the likes of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride and adds a few extra layers of 'darkwave' atmosphere, most notably with the presence of Liv Kristine, but also with a stronger permeation of keyboards, principally an organic piano sound. The results may not be revelatory, but with its emphasis on atmosphere and a heavy brooding production adding a cavernous quality to the doom-ladden riffs, this album remains one of the classics in the development of gothic metal as a definitive genre.

Sullen riffs open this album with plodding tempos, yet never repeat themselves to aggravating levels. There's a healthy amount of ideas and shifts in aggression popping up within each of the tracks, except the instrumental "Monotone" which takes a particularly cool note pattern and rolls with it. Guitars interweave melodies when not slugging away at morose chord progressions, and the keyboardist appears reasonably busy throughout, avoiding lush symphonics and going for an older, more traditional presence. The flow for these tunes range from a dirge-like crawl to medium-paced stomps, and the echo on the drums adds a necessary foreboding aura, particularly during "Sweet Art Thou", in which the snare's resonance is powerful and almost otherworldly thanks to the generous reverb.

Vocally is where things get interesting, and what was back then a novel approach to reciting the lyrics. Raymond's un-amused growl has depth and carries enough of that morbid slovenly feeling to blend well with the melancholy melodies. As a complete counterpoint, youngster Liv offers ghostly female wisps that linger in the air like a cold vapor cloud. I'll be honest, her voice works fine as a direct foil to the growling, but without those growls, this would be one chore of an album to put up with since her one-dimensional and somewhat amateurish delivery eventually would furrow the brow and annoy the living shit out of me. At times it is effective though, circumventing pop convention for Elizabeth Frazer worship that adds to the mellower moments such as "...a Distance There Is...", a lengthy song bluntly on the goth side of the gothic metal spectrum. In general, together the two singers generally compliment each other decently, except during the few occasions when they sing together in unison, sounding like some sort of deranged parody of a duet that I picture avant garde acts like The Residents thinking "We need to try that!"

As one of the initial harbingers of gothic doom before the floodgates of female-fronted corset obsessed metal acts opened wide, this debut remains one of the more listenable ones due to the dynamics of the spacious production, baroque lyrics, off-setting vocal approaches and some pretty well written doom riffs. If Liv had a bit more skill at this entry point in her long career, or at least varied her tone a bit once in a while during the recording, this album would hold up even better in comparison to major efforts by better developed later acts appropriating aspects of this sound to their own similar visions. Theatre Of Tragedy themselves would soon evolve into a less underground-anchored band by streamlining their style and eventually ditching the growls, but in this case they stick close to their death/doom roots, flirting with the notion of evolving into a more goth-oriented band thanks to what seemed to be a growing interest by them and other acts towards the 4AD ethereal class of gothic derived music. As a product of its time, Theatre Of Tragedy's self-titled effort is still a worthy enough benchmark for a style they contributed immensely in developing.

Onward To The Recycle Bin! (Part X) - 65%

OzzyApu, September 17th, 2009

As a forlorn doom album, this isn’t all too bad. It can get a tad sluggish, since nothing eventful really takes place (or any real build-up), but the gloomy tone adds a fine touch to the raw (but polished) production. I’ll go on record right now by saying that I absolutely (without a doubt) fucking hate Liv Kristine and her vocals; I always have and I always will. Yes, they’re soprano vocals, but they’re so annoying with their Barbie doll high-pitch, completely detracting from the listening experience. I can’t think of one instance where / when I’d like them, except maybe if I was getting paid. Regardless they sound so fake, processed, and polished that it goes against everything that the bludgeoning doom metal being played stands for. Raymond’s vocals are wicked death grunts with little echo but a ton of tormented passion in them. They’re beastly (hence beauty and the beast style vocals), and keep this album on its feet everytime Kristine butchers it with her role.

As doom metal, the album can be pretty blazing when it comes to the riffs and bleak mood. It’s a dark album in this respect, but the gothic elements add a more traditionally depressing atmosphere and theme to feed from. The Old English, the classical instruments (keys, strings, acoustics), and the vibe all reflects that of older times, making for an almost medieval experience. These emotions are revealed most in “…A Distance There Is…” but they’re scattered in lesser amounts elsewhere on the album. They aren’t cheesy at all, and go very well with the rough collage of woeful riffs and demonic roars.

Bass support does paint a glossier picture on things with its addition to the music, following the riffs in their wake. Their grumbles thrive off of what pounds from the guitars, so the whole thing is very pumped. Drumming oddly feels very secondary – the bass gets lumped with the guitars, the keys intermingle with the two different vocal styles (both acting against eachother instead of together), but sometimes doesn’t get in on the fun. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, and the sound of them feels distinctively ‘80s (with their echo and all). The bass drum is pretty quiet, but otherwise that’s really all the bad coming out of them.

From what I’ve heard, this is not even close to a masterpiece as some people make it out to be. Sure, it helped usher in the use of two different vocal styles acting off each other, but only one of them is actually worth anything. I’ll happily take later Theatre Of Tragedy – you know, the one with both vocals actually being good…

Who Am I To Argue? - 100%

Sue, January 29th, 2008

There are already two 100% reviews, so I may have little to add but damnit, this thing deserves another 100%. The only things I ever heard against it can be defused as follows: 1- the production quality is too low. This is from Norway, deal with it. 2- there's a 9 minute all vocal song in the middle of it. It's beautifull and this is gothic metal, not grindcore.

I have not heard any gothic metal album made before this. I have never heard of the melodies of baroque opera infused into a metal album, not even by Celtic Frost before this. I have never heard an operatic female vocalist used at the front of heavy metal before this- Only in backgrounds did the choruses and silky voices manifest until this amazing, perfect and absolutely original work that in my view, invented real gothic metal.

Except for the beautiful vocal track and ending appropriately titled instrumental, each song is identical in style tone and outset: They are each made to intertwine melody with brutality, metal with opera, gothic depression with supergothic superdepression. Like their countrymen, Theatre of Tragedy are not afraid to make the dark parts really damn dark. They will hurt the idiot Evanesence fan who tries to claim them. But they will also repel the die hard metalhead who has no place for true melodic classical music. That is not to say Holst or Wagner, anyone who knows metal knows them, but Bach and Pachelbel. Mussorgsky and Grieg have their say in the riffs and moods that permeate the lightest frolics of phrase and darkest deepest assaults of raw distorted guitar.

As it founded the field, there is little to compare it to. It sounds like the predecessor of Tristania and Theatre's later works should- the early versions of the concepts that would grow so popular in the next millenium are all here, and often at their best. Here are growls and opera, riffs and pianos, and beauty- pure unrefined gothic beauty.