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Successful to a point - 73%

FOrbIDen, October 30th, 2019
Written based on this version: 1994, CD, Century Media Records (Limited edition, Digipak)

Okay, so I bought this EP used for a dollar as part of an ongoing effort to take more risks with the music that I choose to listen to. Tiamat is a Swedish band that people often bring up as one of the greats of nineties death-doom/gothic metal. Yet, everytime I've listened to them, they've never really held my attention for very long. I don't know what it was, but something about Tiamat always put me off. So when I found this release for sale I bought it only knowing that it was an EP, which meant it was a low time investment. And considering its bargain bin price, a low economic investment, as well. What I did not know (because I didn't pay all that much attention to the tracklisting) was that this release is almost entirely comprised of edited, remixed, and abridged versions of songs released on their fourth album Wildhoney (more on this later).

So, I guess for my purposes, buying Gaia was a success. It effectively made me interested in pursuing Tiamat's music when I never had any before. Though having a similar sound to other early death-doom bands (the "Peaceville Three", and The Gathering, among others), Tiamat's sound in 1994 was far more outwardly gothic. The slow and melancholic trudge of death-doom remains intact, as does the drier guitar tone that I've come to associate with the genre, but now everything is overlaid with warm and resonant keyboard tones that make this EP absolutely ethereal and otherworldly -- especially because the keyboards don't actually lead any of the songs. The melodies are either supplied by main guitar riffs or guitar harmonies that have little to no distortion on them (save for "The Ar", which has some nicely incorporated female backing vocals to handle the melody). The thick keyboard sounds of strings and choirs are purely adornment and accentuation of preexisting lead parts. Though I don't love the lead vocals on this release (most of the time, they're throaty false cord growls that don't have quite enough distortion for my tastes, or in the case of the title track, talk-whispers that attempt to convey a kind of sage wisdom, but only succeed at making the lead vocalist sound like a twat), when all the pieces come together, the music is so deftly crafted that it more than makes up for (what I consider to be) the weakest element. And the music that Tiamat presents here is just as emotionally potent as it is technically strong, leading you on as it unfolds into its dips and peaks with ease.

That being said, the fact that the songs on this EP are about half as long as they should be detracts heavily from the listening experience, because it shows. And this is why I have to wonder why this release even exists. For one, I doubt fans of Wildhoney would care to purchase incomplete versions of songs they've already heard and probably have in their collections, even if Gaia does have a rather nice cover of the Pink Floyd instrumental "When You're In", every other song on this EP already exists in a fuller form. That leaves only one other group of people as target demographic: those that are newcomers to the band who want a short introduction to the band's catalog, like me. However, I can't really imagine this being a very successful marketing tactic as someone going into a record store in 1994 to buy a new copy of this would probably be more careful with their money and actually check what the tracklist was. I bought mine for anything from a fifth to a seventh of market price, any more and I would've left it where it was. The only people I can imagine paying sales price on something like this is the real hardcore, ride or die fans. But since I don't know the kinds of numbers Tiamat was pulling on the market, I can't actually know if that was a significant number or not.

So my overall thoughts on Gaia are mixed. For one, the actual musical content is really strong, which means that I need to actually investigate this band further -- especially the album where most of these songs come from. The material on this release did a lot to propel the gothic metal sound forward from it's death-doom roots which is something that I appreciate as a fan of the genre. But as a piece of media it offers almost nothing new to Tiamat's discography and is unbearably redundant. And it is at this point that it stops being a success of musical merit and only functions as filler in the collections of the hardcore Tiamat fans, and as a Century Media cash grab (it was reissued last year, after all).

Trite. - 75%

ForNaught, May 19th, 2009

Tiamat’s Gaia EP is most definitely a curio that belongs strictly in the domain of the collector. Following on the heels of the seminal Wildhoney, this represents a fairly trivial addition to the body of work surrounding that incredible release. It presents only two new tracks, one of which is a remix, in addition to four alternate versions of songs from Wildhoney.

These four edited songs are simply the versions that were used in the album’s two videos, a radio edit of The AR, and a “remixed longform version” of Visionaire. The latter is slightly longer than the album version, but the mix is not sufficient to give it its own character or present it as a separate entity from the album version in any way. The other three are all shorter than the album versions—a trimmed intro here, a slightly less meandering outro or bridge section there—but ultimately, none of them stand out from the original versions. They are certainly a little more concise, but the slightly bloated and meandering nature of Wildhoney is an important aspect of its character. In any case, they do not sound hugely different, and actually require careful listening to identify the changes, with the exception of the title track which has been basically halved in length and is much more obviously different, and less absorbing.

As to the so-called “new” material—the first offering is a remix of The AR. It is interesting, for sure, but still not hugely notable. The song has been effectively deconstructed, so that it sounds very different to the original piece. The metal guitars and indeed vocals are gone entirely; overall it sounds akin to a more involved exploration of the ever-so-slightly industrial sounding middle section of the song. The same pulsing almost-percussion, droning synths, and distant shrieking sounds are in place. The sparse guitar chords, Johan’s little speech, and some subtle choir-like keyboards are in place towards the end of the piece also. It’s quite neat for what it is, but ultimately not something that I’m drawn into listening to often. All of the same positive aspects are supplied just as well by the original version of The AR, and in a less abstract manner besides.

The other new track is called When You’re In. This is a cover version of a less-known Pink Floyd song. It takes the form of an instrumental jam, focussed around a handful of riffs. I do like this one a lot, it has to be said—it really feels like a loose, lazy band session, rather than the fairly meticulous and detail-obsessive styles showcased on Wildhoney and A Deeper Kind of Slumber. It has a rather relaxed atmosphere, and the combination of Pink Floyd riffs and Tiamat’s style at the time works very well indeed. This is no coincidence, I suspect. This song is certainly the one most worth exploring of this release’s new pair.

So, if only one song is actually worth going to any effort to hear, why have I given this a relatively high rating? Well, the fact is inescapable that the music is generally very good. The four Wildhoney songs bring nothing new to the table, but they are still great pieces of music. If you’ve hear the full-length then you know what they’re about. Slightly harsh vocals, wonderfully soaring keyboard melodies, and some reasonably simple but very effective guitar riffs swirl and combine to form four great songs. Some almost tribal and quite captivating drumming complements these, particularly on Whatever That Hurts. Stylistically, these are all metal—indeed, they are the four most metal tracks on the fairly experimental Wildhoney. However it is metal tinged with progressive and experimental influences. The blend is not that extreme, but it’s quite beautiful and very interesting. The title track, particularly, is simply superb. Regrettably much of that piece’s very memorable guitar lead work has been omitted from this version.

However, simply due to the edited and broken-up nature of this release, it simply cannot compete with Wildhoney. Although having the four metal tracks in one place with all of the interludes and softer songs cut may appeal to a sub-set of listeners, it must be said that a key virtue of Wildhoney is the way that the album as a whole is constructed, with the songs all flowing into one another and forming a cohesive whole. This doesn’t happen, and once stripped of context, the individual pieces each lose a certain element of their majesty and impact.

Fortunately, the content of this release is now available without having to buy it separately—I have the version included in the Ark of the Covenant box set, which maintains it as a separate release, but it is also available as bonus tracks on re-releases of Wildhoney. I suspect that many listeners will effectively ignore these additional songs; I would direct these people towards When You’re In only. Separate purchase of this release is not recommended.