(Napalm Records, 1999)
#FOR FANS OF: Death/Gothic
Simultaneously, Tristania denies the classical sound its monopoly with a tinny drum recording that becomes the catalyst for more techno oriented exchanges later in the album and hazy harmonies that swell in short bursts. The schizophrenia of loosing fire at such gorgeous constructs is a common theme in metal, a juxtaposition that relishes the relationship between carefully created beauties and a destructive counterpart. In Tristania this becomes a major focus as subtle hints of the harsh reality 'Beyond the Veil' become a world of strife as the album progresses.
From this approach is a worthy wellspring of fresh and tantalizing variety, decadent and arousing while also crisp and cutting in spite of such lengthy and expansive riffs and harmonies that diabolically document the derangement of one's descent into a world of ritual and death. A long swinging churn to the title track brings unmistakable choral highs and tinkling cymbals, the wailing web of guitars delicately settles along a middling pace that easily worms into an ear and, in reaching apogee through soloing while buffeting such cries with double bass, finally finds the sonorous swing expand into a prickly deluge to satisfy even Satyricon with its torrents of grain. “Aphelion” and “A Sequel of Decay” make obvious the turn of intoxicating tones and inviting momentum into the demonic as you enter the embrace of the succubus, a creature literally fucking her way through “Opus Relinque” before tearing out swollen hearts. To say that Tristania's approach is transparent is an understatement, the obvious balance of harmony and hatred is belted across your face like domestic violence at the opera, but that doesn't diminish the theatrical enjoyment of the theme or the profane potency of “Angina” when a cavalcade of choirs clash for control.
The creativity and craft employed through this album ensure a consistently inventive approach that allows the band to experiment at times but also limit itself to only its most presentable attempts. Where “Aphelion” drags at times, its methodical sound accentuating a dormant beauty far from the heat of the Sun, its subtle movements enchant in symphony from the flowing chorus punched by double bass to a heart melting interlude where beautiful highs and a weeping verse pluck at each artery. The nearly eight minutes of this song shows the band patiently holding itself back until its dam breaks and ducts overflow. A piece that by far outruns the track lengths of the rest of the album, “Aphelion” becomes a staple show of the careworn strife breaking into rage that tantalizes Tristania and appropriately harbors its drastic breadth.
Shining in the spotlight are the sopranos from Vibeke Stene, her incredible vocal delivery brings beauty and strength with every cry and fulfills a an enticing half of a filthy combination when joined by Morten Veland's growls. Opening “A Sequel to Decay” with a choir of intense cries easily shows the rhythm employed in this nearly chanting operatic while Veland's range is more protracted, embracing the decadence and magnificent sound of a gruff and massive presence similar to Peter Steele of Type O Negative. At other times Veland employs heaving growls and, with a choir aided by drummer Kenneth Olsson and guitarist Anders H. Hidle, the ensemble completes its medieval majesty. The twinkling apogees and insidious abysses greatly compliment the instrumental deliveries showing that Stene and Veland's contributions are among the many masterstrokes in structuring as well as sounding out the album to make it such a memorable and astounding experience.
Synth plays a prominent role from tinkling classical piano keys and symphonic strings to the wild jarring horns later in its hellish progress. Employed by Einar Moen, one of the major forces behind the songwriting, the placement of synth enlarges the range of this album by giving it the unmistakable theatrical characteristics that capture the magnitude of Tristania's ambition. The snare drum, pacing the percussion at a laborious and lamenting step, has the sharpness of shattering glass and compliments these bouncing rhythms as guitar joins symphonic strings, winding around a choir to create machinery of chaos and hatred by the turn in “. . . Of Ruins and a Red Nightfall”. Like the heartless clanging denoting the fires consuming Fangorn Forest, Isengard melts and molds metals into a new mechanism of conquest.
An ever-energetic motion below the snare finds constant implementation. Double bass brings personality to the central hammer as it pumps like a bellows and brings heat to make malleable the clanging cymbals overhead. Like an endless ride down winding trails in “Lethean River”, the clip clop of double bass is where one notices how riding these percussive fills and interludes typify the bridges between verses and choruses. As majestic as mounting an eagle to escape from the imploding Mount Doom, these amorphous undulating movements create in sound the defined, sinewy, and romantically detailed image of Pegasus taking flight.
Where the band made emotions meander through its opera early in the album, things become more straightforward and streamlined through the back half. A personal favorite, “Angina” brings Stene's voice so high that it nearly becomes as comical as “Take On Me” and its high C. Still, the cascade of choir tumbling down from such a gorgeous summit is the epitome of Tristania's unusual and calamitous sine wave. Cymbals dancing in concert with piano keys while walled into a pit by a crowd of double bass conjures images of a stately show where metalheads meet aristocracy and all gather in lively celebration of the music. Distant organ and marching guitar riffing conjure images of a “Heritique” transported across space-time as flames engulf the stake, a raucous crowd receives its satisfaction, and a star bursts from a blasphemous chest.
Tristania's treble is mainly concerned with an energetic and elaborate labyrinth of strings, upheld by Morten Veland and Anders H. Hidle who tirelessly strum through lengthy lamentatious riffs that harmonize and break from one another with a smooth and studious flow, sometimes finding frenzy or chomping into a juicy rhythm, but never disabusing itself of the bountiful beauty found in resonating strings. In its most frantic moments, clarity is lost in the very treble oriented mix making such a saturated end become slightly hazy and indistinct. In a song like “Aphelion”, where its lumbering gait holds court for the majority of the song, this grandiose sound has a crispness that becomes muddled as layers are added on. Still, the majority of the production is listenable enough though in need of a bit more range on its low end to lend a tighter fist to this expansive energy and bring the necessary punch.
Tristania is a succubus in sound, one that many a man would happily embrace. Wearing a sinister grin as it consumes your soul, its once alluring form quickly contorts into a vengeful demon. Brimming with brief but compelling moments, 'Beyond the Veil' happily babbles like a brook throughout its enticing bubblegum bits, a denial of the darkness lingering behind the lovely cover of stark-naked sirens seemingly sleeping among the rocks of a hot spring refuge. Where the woman in the foreground appears to be enwrapped in a peaceful slumber, the fog settling across the background has begun to obscure bodies unceremoniously lying where they stood showing, as one figure lords herself over the fallen, that slaughter must take place in order for one's ascension. Like its magnificent music, Tristania's foreground of beauty belies the sinister reality that awaits 'Beyond the Veil'.