Review Summary: Dark, symphonic, gothic metal that reeks in anger and despair. One of the crowning jewels to be found in the gothic metal genre and particulary one album that shouldn't be taken lightly.
It goes without saying that Norway has played more than a pivotal role in developing extreme metal. Their contributions to black metal are extraordinary and can be felt by audiences as far as America to Asia. Bands like Emperor, Burzum, and Darkthrone showed that metal was not a toy but a serious weapon that shouldn’t be tampered with. Since the glory days of the early 1990s, the black metal scene burned it’s way into the minds of the young, almost completely overshadowing yet another emerging strain of heavy metal in the process. Along with black metal, Norway has played a significant role in devolving gothic metal. Since it’s official inception as another sub genre to the ever expanding confines of heavy metal, gothic metal has been one of the more popular styles to emerge since the glory days of Paradise Lost and Katatonia. Unfortunately like all great styles of music, gothic metal began to hang itself with cheap gimmicks, uninspired songwriting and imitations but even worse then that was when respected bands like Theatre Of Tragedy tried to morph their sound with little to no acclaim from their fan base. In The early nineties, bands like 3rd And The Mortal, Trail Of Tears, Theatre Of Tragedy, Tristania, and The Sins Of Thy Beloved took the blueprints from the UK masters and incorporated heavier and darker melancholic arrangements than their predecessors had. For starters, although Paradise Lost included female vocals in their music it wasn’t until Theatre Of Tragedy introduced them as a full time addition that that the style got popular. They are the band responsible for coining the term beauty and the beast which is beaten to death today but still an intriguing formula when done right.
Tristania formed in 1996 out of Stavanger Norway and since then, released 6 full length albums and an EP. Unfortunately, several prominent figures that helped establish the band have since left ranks to pursue other interests. On my journey to acquire some of the best gothic metal around, I searched around until I found “Beyond The Veil” from Tristania which I had heard from word of mouth that it was the finest work of their career and one of the essential albums to own along with Velvet Darkness They Fear by Theatre Of Tragedy and Tears Laid In earth by 3rd And The Mortal. Needless to say, I share the same opinions as those claiming this to be a crowning jewel of an album. Tristania do indeed make good use of the beauty and the beast formula. It helps to have one of metal’s elite vocalists on board to enhance the song writing process. “Beyond The Veil” was the last Tristania album that featured primary songwriter Morten Veland. He played a large role in brainstorming the compositions for Tristania and utilizes his abilities to his extent on Beyond The Veil. But what makes Tristania any different than the other bands I’ve previously mentioned? Well for starters, instead of basing their sound off gothic doom icons Paradise Lost and Anathema like Theatre Of Tragedy did, Tristania took inspiration from their own local legends Emperor and the Norwegian black metal in general to create captivating yet equally riveting music.
Another factor that separated Tristania from the rest was their unique three vocal attack. The main vocalist, Vibeke Stene was the bands female singer who possesses incredible range and depth with her voice not too mention a clear and distinctive style comparable to no one. Then we have Morten Veland contrasting the beauty with the beast, providing all the harsh vocals in a vicious manner. He is an excellent harsh vocalist, shifting between death and black metal styles quite routinely. And for the third vocalist, clean, baritone vocals were introduced to mesh with Morten’s intense growling and Vibeke‘s keening operatic delivery. Choir vocals, both male and female are also present, cementing Tristania as having one of the most diverse and exciting vocal patterns heard in metal. Aside from vocals making a large impact on the music, the backing musicianship was just as precise and intense, transitioning masterfully from clean, violin interludes and beautiful piano runs to fast, aggressive riffing pinning the deathlike growling.
Vibeke Stene had cemented herself as one of metals brightest hopes in her early twenties with her brilliant voice. After Beyond The Veil, she began to experiment with a more straightforward singing similar to Tarja Turunen’s transition from Wishmaster to Century Child. Nonetheless, Vibeke’s graceful delivery is one of the many highpoints on the album. English is the primary spoken language sung but at times, Latin is prominent, lending an intriguing quality to the music. There’s not much that needs to be said about Morten other than he’s excellent composer, riff master, and harsh vocalist. His harsh vocals are very menacing, shifting between high, borderline black metal growls to deep, thundering roars that invoke feelings of intense despair. It’s a shame that this style had once been a formidable option only to be watered down and diluted with age. The guitars are heavy and pick up speed instantly with blinding aggression only to slow down with some clean, acoustic guitar to calm things down. The lack of solos might be a con to some but Tristania make up for it with excellent synthesizer passages and haunting violin runs contributed by former Thy Sins Of Beloved violinist, Pete Johansen. Aside from the vocals, my favorite contribution to this album is brought by the bands synth programmer, Einar Moen. His work is incredible and captures the coldest emotion from the deepest, darkest corners of the earth with majestic piano leads and epic keyboard passages pulsating throughout the complex arrangements. The drumming plods away with speed and variation, shifting between blinding double bass to simpler rock oriented patterns when tempos start slowing down. With so much going on Beyond The Veil, counting multiple layering’s of vocals along with the other prominent instruments playing a big role, bass has a lot going against it but Rune does a great job following lead guitar with some memorable lines proving that this a group effort from everyone involved. Add in superb production and virtually flawless songwriting and you have one of the best gothic metal records in town.
With so much happening throughout the album, it’s a wonder how it doesn’t come out jumbled and completely out of synch. I credit professional musicianship and songwriting abilities towards making this album the success that it is. With a solid display of every member, Beyond The Veil stands the test of time as one of the genres crowning jewels. Fans of Nightwish and After Forever should love this album but be warned, this is much more intense and inaccessible than anything either of those bands have released. This album has no real standout tracks or single, replaced instead by several quality ones. But if I have to go with any I’d go with the opener, Beyond The Veil, Opus Relinque, and Lethean River as my favorite songs. Fans of metal should give this a run, and although it might take some time to sink in, it’s time well worth spent.