Review Summary: Surprisingly solid doom metal.
Before listening to Virgin Black’s latest release, I made note of a few things. Firstly, the band’s name is absolutely ridiculous. Secondly, Requiem – Fortissimo is a stupid title. Thirdly, it’s impossible not to laugh upon noticing the words “Requiem in G Minor” spread across the back cover. And so before we begin, I have only on thing to say to the members of Virgin Black: you are a metal band, get over yourselves.
As the title implies, Requiem – Fortissimo is both loud and part of a series, in this case it’s the second release but third album in the group’s Requiem trilogy. Regardless, Fortissimo is endlessly better than I expected. Rather than bludgeoning the listener with an over-the-top barrage of “gothic/symphonic” theatrics, Virgin Black actually managed to craft a relatively straightforward and therefore effective blend of death-infused doom metal, not unlike cited influences My Dying Bride.
“The Fragile Breath” kicks things off in a misleadingly high gear before its formidable crunch brings things to a Sabbath’ian halt. While the song plods alongside suffocating growls, it wastes no time indicating that the album is not without subtle variation, as it takes under two minutes for the operatic soprano vocals of Susan Johnson to enter the picture. The group’s apparent “gothic/symphonic” influence is also introduced sooner rather than later, introducing choirs and stringed instruments seemingly at will, perhaps in an effort to set the pace for an album that sadly feels longer than it is. The key with all of this is that, cellos and choirs and operatic vocals aside, the album never strays too far from the path, always interspersing each outside influence within it’s undeniably death-doom package. “In Winter’s Ash” ups the stake, adding a new sense of bombast found in the accented notes that plod along at a pace that feels slower than it should be, yet somehow just right. While it’s perhaps the most densely arranged track, layering Susan Johnson’s operatics two to three times over, it’s also the most simplistically executed, surviving entirely on a lowly 1, 2 guitar crunch and snail’s-paced lead.
With “Silent”, the band doubles up the bass drum and speeds things up a bit, only to piss the listener off with a few instances of horns that are neither necessary nor enjoyable. Though it saves itself with its wavering leads, it also hints at the band’s reliance on fallbacks. Throughout the album, Virgin Black teeters on excess and oftentimes relies on operatic vocals or a sudden lead to rope the listener back. And, with this, Susan’s otherwise enjoyable vocals become tiresome and repetitive, seemingly reusing the very same melody over and over, making her impact less distinguished and more forced. “Silent” is important to note because it highlights both the positives and the negatives found on Fortissimo. While it throws a welcomed curveball by playing with the tempo, it ultimately relies on tricks to wrap it back into its death-doom shell.
Ultimately, Fortissimo is more than solid. Typically plodding alongside sentiments of melancholy and death, the album survives on its moody atmosphere. Rowan London’s vocals carry a sense of hopeless duality, acting positively at delivering a sense of misery but failing to actually sound good. Rowan could by all accounts do worse, but the hollow and seemingly layered fashion in which his vocals are presented do more to swallow the instruments than they do to compliment them. This is made explicit in the mostly awful “Lacrimosa”, a choir-plagued disaster of an interlude. Luckily, Rowan’s effective use of the piano saves his name, and excellently compliments Samantha’s one-woman string section; her guitar acting as a violin alongside her cello playing. While the bass is felt more than heard, it does a more than adequate job at laying on the chunk, playing up the album’s dynamic title. The drums are solid, nothing more, nothing less.
Fortissimo goes above and beyond what I expected. Though the title implies laborious classical influences and excruciating egotism, Virgin Black manage to craft an effective death-infused doom metal album, one that lends itself to obvious comparisons but sets itself apart with its subtleties. Though at times it falls into an obvious comfort zone, Fortissimo survives on its conventions, hammering the listener (almost to death) with feelings of sorrow and misery.