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"leave me fuck to you." - 68%

FOrbIDen, June 24th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2002, CD, Blackend

I wouldn't consider myself a fan of Theatres des Vampires. Sure, I liked the band's 2016 effort Candyland well enough, but every other attempt to get into this band has proven unfruitful. So, how and why did I get a hold of Suicide Vampire, the band's fourth studio album? Well that's simple: I found it used at one of my local record stores and thought "why not?" After listening to it a few times I don't regret my purchase or want my money back. There are some gems here, but oh boy do we have some problem areas.

Theatres des Vampires is an Italian band formed in 1994 that began their career playing melodic black metal before ultimately changing their style in the mid-2000s to gothic metal with large amounts of Blutengel-esque electro-goth elements. Suicide Vampire being released in 2002 is square in the middle of this transition, and is an awkward album that tries to blend elements of both styles but not in any way that is cohesive or serves the songwriting -- this album feels like an identity crisis more than anything.

In isolation, most of the parts work but the final result is produced and mixed in a way that only detracts from the experience. The guitar work is evenly split between the aggressive high gain black metal riffing that defined their earlier work, and a slower even-toned plod that is more aligned with gothic metal acts of the time, with some smooth leads to add some catchiness. The keyboard melodies are pretty cool and add that dark vampiric atmosphere that the band strives for, but they can be overbearing. They're usually set to a blunt faux organ that leaves very little room for nuance or finesse and cover up other instruments -- most notably the drums, which are serviceable but are then rendered thin by the production. For all of those bass fans out there, I have good news. The bass is upfront in the mix which gives the music a lot of body, but it has such a round and warm tone that it feels bubbly. I would hope that on a site like this I don't have to explain that black metal should not be bubbly.

The vocals are their own mess. For the most part the harsh vocals are breathy high-pitched black metal fare, totally acceptable. That is until they're layered with more vocal tracks, whispered tracks, spoken vocals, and clean male vocals to the point where it all sounds muddled. Then there's the backing female vocals supplied by Justine Consuelo and current lead vocalist Sonya Scarlet. There are times when the inclusion of these two ladies (and by extension all guest choir members) enhances the listening experience by contrasting both their clear tones with the harsh vocals, and natural textures with the synthetic keyboards. But when used as just background noise, they become distracting and contribute to the jumbled mess that is this album. And you know what? I don't even blame the backing vocalists for this -- something tells me that there wasn't all that much arranging of vocal harmonies on the side of the songwriters.

For this album's short comings, I do blame one specific person: then-band leader, lead songwriter, and mixer, Lord Vampyr. Everything that I've heard from him has been horribly kitschy, cheesy, and just plain hackneyed. Listening to Suicide Vampire reminded me of something that film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review for 2000's Battlefield Earth, "the director...has learned from better films that directors sometimes tilt their cameras, but he has not learned why." I bring this up because it's clear that Lord Vampyr is trying to channel both Cradle of Filth and Tristania to come to this gothic black metal conclusion, but he hasn't figured why those bands' albums work without making it a cartoonish, downgraded copy of both. And on top of that he also shows a lack of understanding of what could make his own gimmick interesting. People don't like vampire literature (especially Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, which he obviously lifts inspiration from) because they're dark figures that drink blood and are totally down with murder (especially not in our modern age). But lyrically, that's what we get.

I don't want to say that he's completely inept, he has his moments: The title track is really strong, and regardless of how cheesy "La danse macabre du vampire" is, it is undeniably catchy and an interesting deviation from the rest of the album. But it's no surprise to me that the best song on the album is one that Lord Vampyr had nothing to do with (at least in the songwriting). "Tenebra Dentro" is just a really good gothic black metal song that uses all the same elements of the rest of the album but in a way that is actually effective and builds to something.

So, listening to this album over the last week since I bought it, I will admit that it has kind of grown on me. I hold to my gripes, there's a lot wrong with Theatres des Vampires' Suicide Vampire, but the listening experience has become a lot more enjoyable. Taking all of this into account, this record is objectively pretty bad, and I cannot in good faith give this album a higher score. But if there are fans of symphonic/gothic black metal that want to pop a bottle of red wine and enjoy the cheese, tread lightly, but this record could be for you.