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Enrapturing Tendrils - 77%

Five_Nails, November 30th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Napalm Records

Lost in the grip of 'Widow's Weeds', Tristania finds it forward momentum driven by drum and guitar as its peripheral expansions resound from Vibeke Stene's high vocals and synth by Einar Moen. Incorporating a fulfilling chorus of seven singers as well as moments of live violin ensures that Tristania takes it sound as far as its production will allow. Economical still, the improvisational polish allowed in Tristania's first full-length still smacks of a band in its infancy while the delivery of each musician comes with the caveat that it is not yet able to attain its due. That is the main issue with 'Widow's Weeds'. The production is so utterly undeserving of the majesty provided throughout these compositions that it scarcely shows Tristania receiving its deserved recognition in spite of the growth of the band in seven new songs that expound upon the direction first founded in singles like “Pale Enchantress” and “Midwintertears”.

After a small “Preludium”, the flood gates open and an overwhelming wail escapes, crying to a chorus as Catholic as it is sacrilegious. 'Widows Weeds' takes Tristania's theatrical touches from its self-titled demo and runs right off to the opera with them. A soundscape consisting of punchy bass with sizzling guitar over the top makes up the main thrust of this album. Sopranos overwhelm the flanks as growling joins piano for what becomes a mechanical onslaught. “Evenfall” is a behemoth of a song at its start and, after shattering the wall of opposition in its front, finds its every contingent mixed up and singing of its victory over the field which it has conquered. As in Arthur Wellseley's old adage, “nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won” and Tristania, even in its gains as a group still laments the harbingers of its sonorous sorrows.

Laborious and unforgiving this opening track relentlessly drags you by taut hooked chains, like an apostate brought to divinity by inquisition, into every crash of snare as though whipping starved and weak prisoners only to the satisfaction of the tyrannical when the willful mind attempts to escape such a torturous grip. “Evenfall” shows that Tristiania's main grip is in the forward momentum of its songs. With peripheral expansions in the high vocals from Stene, the band's metal attempts elaborating fluidly between these two songwriting directions and, as each harmonious struggle passes the minutes by, will find one force will out in the cavalcade of violin, choir, and keys appearing in support of the swing.

Intermixing the hazy and disheveled demo tracks with a newly profound elaboration on the early style, this fifty-three minute set ensures an epic comes together rather than merely indulging a long cry in a corner. Bringing more audible components together including synth, easily noticed variation in the guitar, and bringing the harmony closer to the front of the mix in “Midwintertears” makes these songs pop as they examine the expanse over which this cliff-side village of desolation settles. Songs like “December Elegy”, “Angellore”, and “Wasteland's Caress” make the thumb-twiddling “Pale Enchantress” lose its luster in comparison as the former tracks move and bounce with the unkempt depression of '80s English rock bands, “Angellore” especially showing promise in its Type O Negative hints of mystery and intrigue while playing with that Anglo-Saxon style. Examples as these easily denote the steady improvement of Tristania as it fleshes out its vision, incorporating the harsher elements of modern metal with epic moments and poppy rock elements to create a band with a broad and vibrant musical panorama.

In a newly crisp and thick production this album appeals to the energy more typical of the band's later music as it leaves the hazy despondency behind in favor of a more flavorful and varied approach that is both catchy and expansive. Weighing down its guitar with more bass, making the rhythm effectively punch, and tastefully tightening the guitar's space in order to allow for its sharp notation to pierce the overall mix with a clear point rather than maim as it cuts, Tristania takes some steps toward getting its sound just right. On the instrumental front is where the band finds itself getting to its tightest moments in composition and performance. The piano sound bounces beautifully in tandem with the clip clop of double bass, creating a clear and audible bridge between the low end and the searing guitar across the top, making this lovely momentum take flight through “My Lost Lenore” as it delicately glides through the many emotional aspects of palpable grief and roiling rage that a torn heart cycles through.

A glaring omission, “Cease to Exist” is a song that was cut from the full-length, appearing in early 2000s re-issues of 'Widows Weeds' from various record companies as well as in the 'Midwintertears' compilation, released after the band's second full-length 'Beyond the Veil' and in anticipation of 'World of Glass'. The nine minute cap on the demo seems to have brought more influence than is shown in its appearance credits though, as its booming choral sound and catchier approach becomes an apparent leitmotif throughout the band's career, bringing arpeggio and ambiance in drastic harmony to the fore of such a foreboding presentation.

Lending more prominence to the soprano tendrils that wrap themselves around each verse, bringing more bass-heavy integrity to its low end, and sharpening the sound of its shrill guitar, Tristania shapes itself up to be a powerful and precise unit in 'Widows Weeds'. Though the band is still in its early stages, having yet found its most impactful notes and its most listenable production, some precious moments arise throughout the album as “Wasteland's Caress” cries across the desolate soundscape, double bass trots to twinkling keys in “Evenfall”, and the singles of yesteryear find fitting accompaniment in “December Elegy” and “Angellore” to expand the breadth of Tristania's grief and anguish, emblazoning the name Tristania in the lexicon of gothic music for years to come.