Theatre Of Tragedy - Aegis
I have struggled with metal. Too often the obvious technical quality of the music is, in my opinion, ruined by the cookie monster style vocals which are used. I know that, for some, this is an essential component of the music, but it does make it inaccessible to someone who is coming to it anew to find some longhair growling incomprehensibly about demons and dragons. It was refreshing then when Jools (thanks mate) suggested I listened to Aégis by Norwegian outfit Theatre of Tragedy.
The songs have a degree of elegance about them which I find lacking in other examples of the genre. Credit for that must go, almost in its entirety, to Liv Kristine who provides the soprano female vocals on the album. These combine with the harsher vocals of Raymond I. Rohonyi who has apparently toned down his growling from earlier albums. Most of his vocals are almost spoken and rarely growled. Yet, my favourite track, "Venus" is the one where he returns to growling, albeit in a less over-the-top manner than one might have become accustomed to based on other metal albums.
The quality of the vocals enable one to overlook what are sometimes rather strange pretensions. A lot of the lyrics are written in a form of sixteenth century English, a style of speech found in Shakespeare but which is now archaic - very few instances of "thou dost" instead of "you do" can be found in common usage today. For good measure, some Latin is thrown into the mix as well. But then I am not going to criticise anyone for use of a linguistic style unless they use some awful imagery or inappropriate vocabulary, which is not he case here.
The theme behind the first seven tracks of the album is powerful women. Aégis opens with "Cassandra," the Trojan prophetess who was doomed to have her prophecies ignored. A denser, slower-paced song than many, there are swirling keyboards across a simple guitar melody. "Lorelei", a siren of Germanic myth, is quicker and has a very catchy guitar riff "Angélique" (a character from the cult TV series Dark Shadows) and "Aœde" (the mythological muse of song) provide the first true glimpses of what Liv Kristine can do when she is given the freedom to do it.
"Siren" is a strong gothic-metal track with an atonal piano intro segueing into slow, sonorous guitar work which underpins the quality of the female vocals. At this point, the album is strongest, no more so than on the aforementioned "Venus", partly in Latin and partly in archaic English - a song about betrayal and the anger arising from it.
The final song in this theme, "Poppæa," takes its title from the second wife of Emperor Nero, the beautiful but scheming Poppæa Sabina. This is a heavier piece with strong riffs and an at times overpowering melody. The vocals here are perhaps the best on the album, with Kristine's soprano being backed by Rohonyi's eerie baritone. The one track which does not follow the theme, "Bacchante", is different in musical character as well. A combination of lavish music and creepy vocals which move between the deep baritone to the stark growling as the song changes tempo leading to a climax of wildly chanting choral vocals.
This album is probably the best thing Theatre of Tragedy are likely to do, having sacked Liv Kristine shortly afterwards. Without her, it is difficult to see how they could repeat this. Whether they would wish to is another matter entirely. It may be that the band feel this is the epitome of a style of metal which it would become cheesy to repeat. Whatever the case, this is one of the more interesting and accessible examples of metal and deserves a wider audience from people not familiar with the genre.
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