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You'd be better off listening to something else - 12%

The_Desolate_One, December 2nd, 2011

Gothic metal is a weird genre. One can lump in it catchy, up-beat semi-heavy gothic rock like Sentenced, Poisonblack and Tiamat, together with semi-doomy, semi-symphonic bands, with violins and lots of keyboards accompanied by female vocals, like Sirenia, Draconian, The Sins of Thy Beloved and, of course, Tristania. Even when this was a genre I kind of liked I still couldn't quite listen to Widow's Weeds, or at least remember any passage of it after listening. Going back, nowadays, going through it feels like a chore. Take a big bag of crumbs from My Dying Bride's post-Turn Loose the Swans era, with all the violin and keyboards (with the difference that MDB had Martin Powell), add some flaccid black metal riffs, operatic female vocals that were oh-so-trendy back then and male growls that lean more towards raspy than properly guttural, and there you have it: an album completely devoid of any power.

Not that it doesn't try – it tries, hard, way too hard maybe – and that can be noticed ever since the bombastic beginning of “Evenfall”, which, despite sounding a little jarring to my ears due to Vibeke's background wailing, at least attempts something that resembles a riff. But that really goes nowhere and, fuck, this song begins to sound like Enya or any other of those new age groups half-way through, before it comes to a piano and violin solo and repeats the starting structure. But, no matter how hard they try, there's no feeling here, really. Don't let goths (well, the remaining ones that like Tristania, at least) trick you with their depressive little act: there's no feeling at all. You know Tristania is aiming for a melancholy sound, if only because of the lyrics, but they never get that point across. The vocals sound distant and emotionless – possibly because they want so much to sound operatic that they become background-ish, like a “chorus” effect on a synthetizer, not so bad when they're supposed to be in the background, but annoying when they want to be in the spotlight – and they're not at all like what you can hear in the voice of the female singers of Draconian or Theatre of Tragedy, or even Tarja from Nightwish, despite my distaste for this band and musical style. Even the male vocals fall flat, devoid of the anger, despair and power, especially if compared to any earlier doom or gothic metal harsh vocalist, like MDB, Paradise Lost or Anathema. The only exception would be the track “Angellore”, featuring Østen Bergøy as its main vocalist (with Vibeke in the background and Morgen on the chorus), who would later become their full-time clean vocalist; his deep, passionate voice, despite the cheesy lyrics he's singing, is a highlight in this poor album.

And, yeah, the lyrics, these bad imitations of Romantic poetry are just as plain and emotionless as anything else here. Angels everywhere, flowers, embraces, autumn, winter, the night, the moon (“pale enchantress”), shadows, tears and “my heart this” and “my heart that” – nothing but clichéd imagery, with no emotion and no real meaning. If at least the songs told some sort of story, like Cradle of Filth sometimes does (no matter how cheesily), maybe then we could gather something, but alas, no such luck. It's like they came up with an automatic gothic lyrics generator that makes vague melancholy-ish lyrics or something. ”Dark... thou embrace my bleeding heart / My dreams... uniting our tearful eyes... enchanting / At night... I kiss the serpent in thy tears / For years... thy sorrow I've mourned” Come on.

Then, as it goes, the rhythm section and guitars come off as equally unimpressive, with fuzzy trebly generic riffs, the type that a black metal band would have discarded for having found better stuff to put in their songs when not blastbeating away. What remains, then, are violins and keyboards, and quite a lot of those. I can't say they're bad per se, but there's always that problem that if you want “classical” music (a terrible term, but I'm using it for the lack of a better word), you're better off listening to actual classical composers. Go for Debussy if you want violin and piano, or Chopin, for something more romantic, or Liszt, or anyone, really. There are ton of composers that did this infinitely better over a century ago. And while we're here, go for real opera if you want operatic vocals as well.

In the end, I guess this is the real problem with Widow's Weeds: while many metal bands resort to violin, piano and string ensemble synths, when not entire real orchestras, to give atmosphere and highlight their metal elements, Tristania has barely any metal elements, or worthwhile metal elements, to be begin with; thus, they use the classical-ish elements to distract from this. The only saving grace here is the track “Angellore”, where there's actually some decent, memorable, guitar playing instead of pseudo-classical stuff masquerading as metal – though it's still more of an upbeat “heavy gothic rock” song. The fact that it features the only vocalist in the band who isn't a musical equivalent of Keanu Reeves helps a lot too.

So, the bottom line is: if you like this album, there are good chances you'd be way, way better off listening to classical composers. If you like this genre of flowery “beauty and beast” gothic metal, go for any of the other bands I mentioned above. If you insist that you absolutely must listen to Tristania, then at least go for Beyond the Veil, which despite still sharing many of Widow's Weeds's flaws, features much better songwriting and more memorable metal instrumentation.