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Unique and brilliant - 90%

OllieS, February 14th, 2010

Gothic Metal. Sounds pretty abstract, doesn’t it? With Melodic Death Metal you can pretty much guess it’s Death Metal with melody included. But what on earth is Gothic Metal? The answer to that, is simply, Metal which has that beautiful dark atmosphere defined as ‘gothic’, something which pervades this album’s entire being. I once read someone saying something along the lines of ‘Widow’s Weeds was the first and last Gothic metal album ever, and miles better than all the boring rip-offs it spawned’ – I think that sums up the album’s importance to the genre pretty well. What's surprising about this album is there was never a Gothic music period – Tristania managed to pretty much create a genre by themselves on Widow’s Weeds; an incredible achievement.

The album’s main theme, which all the music and lyrics are based off, is the dark side of love. The sadness, the longing, the pain – you know it. Despite it being negative, because the album is based around love it is exceptionally beautiful; because love is so important in our lives the album is a very powerful listen. Besides from these more primitive emotions that form the album’s foundation, there are more complex, secondary emotions present, such as enlightenment (‘Angellore’), mystery (‘Pale Enchantress’), desperation (‘Wasteland’s Caress’) and relief (‘Evenfall’). These add more depth and of course meaning to the music at hand.

The songwriting on Widow’s Weeds feels incredibly natural, seeming to simply follow the emotional aspect of the record. The seven songs (excluding the short intro and outro) all range between six and nine minutes in length which allows each song to fully develop, although a few drag on at their length (‘Midwintertears’, end of ‘Evenfall’). Structure wise, some songs follow a more set verse-chorus arrangement (with instrumental passages separating the verses and choruses); others are more progressive, although there is repetition of passages tying them together. The album also rarely repeats itself, meaning replay value is high.

The vocals on this album are its life and soul. They consist of a frequent yet always suitable exchange between harsh vocalist Morten Veland and female vocalist Vibeke Stene; the classic beauty and the beast spectacle. Morten sticks to his signature style of somewhere between Death and Black vocals; his voice is powerful (in the chorus of ‘Evenfall’ it’s as if he’s physically attacking the listener) yet contains lots of emotion (a lot more than most harsh vocalists), really delivering the pained aspect of the album. Vibeke is of course the polar opposite. Despite recording four more albums with the band after this, her voice is at its prime on Widow’s Weeds, sounding like an angel more than ever. Each and every vocal part she has is a highlight, delivering the utmost melancholic beauty to every track. There are also a few other dimensions to the vocals. Østen Bergøy makes his debut with the band on ‘Angellore’; while sounding a little muddy his baritone adds a whole other dimension to the music and makes up for the song being fairly simple otherwise. An eight person choir is also used; while barely popping up the chorus of ‘Evenfall’ is one of the best things I’ve ever heard, really representing the gothic feel of this record.

The band’s performance on Widow’s Weeds is fitting for the record and displays great emotion; the band members are totally connected with the songwriting at hand and, more importantly, each other. The keys are perhaps the most important instrument here – the fantastic lead piano melodies form the basis to most of the songs (see the phenomenal intro and chorus of ‘My Lost Lenore’), while the synth adds a whole other layer of depth to the music. The guitars, despite their poor (dissonant) production, play terrific doom-influenced riffs (dark and slow) but also some faster groovier ones (see the chorus of ‘Angellore’), Black Metal-influenced tremolo picked (‘Wasteland’s Caress’) and even some warm acoustic passages. The minimalistic (for Metal) drumming is incredible – the intricate bass drum patters mean no beat is ever boring, the use of cymbals for accents and feel adds the necessary spice to each passage and the snare drum is used effectively for very satisfying fills. The bass playing, like in all Tristania is of high quality, adding the necessary background to the music with the drums. Just like the bass drum patterns, the bass lines are always fitting and interesting. Finally, the violin and cello, where used, add an aspect of beauty which can only be achieved by a classical instrument – the violin solo in the climax of the fantastic ‘December Elegy’ contains so much emotion it is difficult not be moved by it.

I do not give this album a 5 due to there simply not being enough amazing songs on here. ‘Midwintertears’ drags in parts while ‘Wasteland’s Caress’ feels rushed, lacking anything palpably great. Besides those faults the album is of superb quality, with proficient songwriting, powerful emotions, beautiful melodies and a unique yet relatable atmosphere within. Highly recommended for those interested in the darker (and let’s face it, better) reaches of Metal.