Pros:Dark, heavy, soothing, complex - its beauty will haunt you at night
Cons:Good luck finding it in America
The Bottom Line: As necessary as air, food and shelter. Really.
If someone told me back in 1999 that I would eventually adore a gothic metal band known for its frequent use of death-grunts and Early Modern English lyrics, my responses would be similar to the following:
"Gothic metal? Is that like Korn or Marilyn Manson? And what are death-grunts? What are Early Modern English lyrics? Don't tell me these guys are going to be talking like Shakespeare or Chaucer. I had to read some of those plays and poems in fourth-period English. It sucks and it's boring. Can I go back to daydreaming about *N Sync now?"
Time makes us wiser, they say.
Theatre of Tragedy has been getting a lot of play in my stereo lately. I've become more closely acquainted with the band's work after falling in love with Leaves' Eyes (the band that Liv Kristine, the now ex-vocalist of ToT currently fronts), and I can safely say that ToT's sophomore album Velvet Darkness They Fear contains some of the darkest, prettiest, and most challenging music I've heard in quite a while.
Velvet Darkness They Fear creates an eerie atmosphere in the way that most of the bands inspired by it could only dream of doing. The album's frequent use of sweeping piano, dramatic guitars, and the fascinating alternation between Liv Kristine's soft, angelic soprano voice and Raymond Rohonyi's furious guttural growls make it a true pioneer of goth-metal classics.
"Velvet Darkness They Fear," a soft one-minute piano introduction, sets the tone for the seven-minute opus "Fair and Guiling Copesmate Death". This song glides along with heavy guitar work and deep bass, starting off with Liv's quiet murmurs. Raymond soon joins along, with a solemn speech that soon paves way for the deep, maniacal roar that he uses for the remainder of the album.
The sinister "Bring Forth Ye Shadow" is one of my favorites; it's mostly Raymond-dominated, and initially I'd think "well, I'd prefer a lot more Liv," but the way the two complement one another is seriously outstanding here. The gruffness of Raymond's voice creates such striking overtones of evil for the song, balanced by the innocence and purity of Liv's sound. "Seraphic Deviltry" picks up the pace a little. The guitars feel more energetic in this track, almost like a hint toward the direction ToT would take with their following album Aegis.
Taking Velvet Darkness They Fear back to the slower-paced melancholy is "And When He Falleth," which has a wonderfully gloomy piano introduction and is enhanced greatly by a fabulous dialogue sample in the middle, which was taken from the film The Masque of Red Death (thanks to good ol' Wikipedia for that snippet of info). This clip is simply too mesmerizing not to quote part of it:
"That cross you wear around your neck -- is it only a decoration, or are you a true Christian believer?"
"Yes, I believe. Truly."
"Then I want you to remove it at once...and never to wear it inside this castle again!"
"Der Tanz Der Schatten" is the album's only track sung in German. I really like the piano melody in this song -- very simple and relaxing. While it floats along with Liv's voice perfectly, it also creates a great contrast to the harshness of Raymond. The somber "Black as the Devil Painteth," hailed by many ToT fans as Velvet Darkness They Fear's finest moment, displays Liv at her possible best. It always amazes me how the gentleness and delicacy of her voice somehow manages to be so much more powerful than other vocalists who seem to want nothing more than to shatter glass.
The final two songs, "On Whom the Moon Doth Shine" and "The Masquerader and Phoenix" are, for the most part, gentler than the majority of Velvet Darkness They Fear. Don't get me wrong, the entire record flexes the band's capability to combine such aggression with soothing piano and whatnot. But for whatever reason, these tracks in particular strike me as more peaceful.
I'm especially drawn to the ethereal "The Masquerader and Phoenix," incidentally Velvet Darkness They Fear's longest song. Liv's feathery delivery is backed by majestic piano, sailing along so smoothly, when Raymond comes along. Utter chaos ensues, and frantic guitars are plentiful. The album fades away into silence after one last harmony from the two vocalists -- a truly brilliant ending that leaves me wanting more.
By no stretch of the wildest imagination is Velvet Darkness They Fear an album for everyone. It's more likely to scare the hell out of, confuse, or amuse the majority of, say, pop music lovers. But anyone who has even the slightest passing interest in female-fronted gothic music would enhance their collection greatly by adding Velvet Darkness They Fear to it. Rarely will you find an album of this genre with a level of sophistication and diversity that even dares to rival this.