Sunday, January 26, 2014

Darkest White | Tristania

I've listened to the Norwegian gothic metal band Tristania off and on for the past six-ish years. They've always been a band I respected and generally liked, but I never fully got into them, with the exception of their 2007 album Illumination and various other tracks. They're one of those bands that doesn't make any bad music, some songs simply stand out to me more than others. (I have similar feelings for bands such as Tool and White Lies.) Tristania's newest album, Darkest White, is the second album with Mariangela Demurtas, who replaced their original female singer, Vibeke Stene. However, Tristania has had several other line-up changes over the years, including who writes the songs. While all this sounds like a recipe for a completely different band, Tristania still sounds like Tristania on Darkest White. Their sound has evolved very gracefully and progressively.

But before I begin discussing this album, I must mention the singers. One thing that Tristania has done for some time now is include three different vocalists. Anders Høyvik Hidle does harsh/rough/scream-like male vocals, Kjetil Nordhus does the clean male vocals, and as mentioned, Mariangela Demurtas is on lead female vocals. A very decent variety, if I may say so. It helps give the band more dimensions.

The opening track, "Number," displays such vocal variety with two of the three singers. Hidle's screams are really intense... I mean, the song really opens with a bang, but I found the vocals to be a bit much for me, personally. But Mary comes in eventually for the chorus (which I prefer to the verses), so that's a plus. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike Hidle. I just like him in certain amounts. After all, he has the entire title track to himself, and I loved that song right away. The vocals are harsh without being too excessive, urgent guitar riffs were present along with a dizzying keyboard line, and the chorus was fantastic. This is Anders Høyvik Hidle at his best, in my opinion. I immediately loved "Darkest White."

"Himmelfall" is the third track, led by deep and relaxing male vocals in the verses and catchy guitars throughout. Mary is also featured on this song, and I really love her voice. Her vibrato really shines and throughout the entire album, it's evident that her voice is powerful and strong. She has a very different sound than Vibeke's, but I honestly feel as though Mary's fits the style better from a technical perspective. While Vibeke's voice was indeed very pretty, Tristania records will oftentimes keep the clean vocals from outdoing the instruments. Mary's voice type sounds more natural in that setting, while Vibeke's vocals had occasional effects added in for a better blend and it seemed to get a little bit buried under the sound.

"Requiem" is one of my favorite songs from Darkest White. I can't quit listening to it! It's a beautiful song, particularly the chorus. Great lyrics, too. Mary gets most of the song to herself, except for some screaming in the middle eight, which is probably my least favorite part of the whole thing, but it died down relatively soon to leave Mary with mellow instrumentation before returning to the powerful chorus. You can hear Kjetil Nordhus in the chorus, just barely at first, but in the end it sounds more like a full-blown duet. Both voices sounded very clear and balanced; they blended very well together. The last set of choruses change up the guitar line a little bit, creating a dramatic breakdown to compliment the soaring vocals.

The fifth track, "Diagnosis," brings a heavier feel than the anthem before it. The instrumentation is chaotic behind Mary's voice in the verses, but Nordhus' chorus is a bit more mellow. While it doesn't stand out the most to me, it's a good song nonetheless. "Scarling," on the other hand, definitely stands out to me. It's a fantastic track with smooth, eerie guitar riffs. Much like the other tracks I love on Darkest White, this song's chorus really stands out. The execution of the verses kind of confuses me... it seems that the vocals aren't quite in synch with the music at some points. I'm not sure if this was done on purpose, or what. Anyway. The guitar riffs at the end are very moving, and I love this song regardless of the imperfect verses. It reminds me of Illumination in some ways.

But, the extremely harsh grunts/screams come back on the seventh track, "Night on Earth," and I am personally not a fan of this song. "Cathedral," a bonus track on Darkest White, follows "Night on Earth," and while the verses don't do much to interest me, the chorus was decent and the middle eight featured a male choir. But the ending of "Cathedral" really fell short; it has one of the most abrupt endings I've ever heard.

"Lavender" brings a change of pace and shows Tristania's mellow side, but that doesn't mean the electric guitars are going to disappear. This song, much like the other tracks, conveys emotion very well. "Cypher" continues in a somewhat similar fashion, except "Lavender" is certainly a lot closer to being considered a ballad than "Cypher." Both songs just have more of a watered-down feel, but not in a bad way whatsoever. However, "Cypher" gets more intense as it goes, and for whatever reason, it reminds me of the film Underworld.

The final track is a heavier one, entitled "Arteries." Doesn't that just sound lovely? As I've mentioned a few times before, I'm not the biggest fan of the screams/grunts in this band, so "Arteries" wasn't a favorite of mine. The clean vocals sounded nice though.

With that, the album has concluded, and I must say I'm pretty impressed with this. While a few of the songs didn't appeal to me (usually due to vocalizing preferences), there are some serious gems on Darkest White, which turned out to be a very dark album indeed. I'm going to be listening to this for a while; it's one of those albums I was doing some serious head-bobbing and swaying to as I reviewed it. There are some profound, moving moments woven into this metal album in a few different senses. The lyrics are consistently flawless. But in terms of the instrumentation, one thing I've always loved about Tristania's music is its chord progressions and guitar riffs, and they're great on several tracks of Darkest White. I think this is why so many of this albums' best songs remind me of when I first began discovering this type of music, when I first discovered Within Temptation and Tristania... It's a very nostalgic album for me.

At this point, my only request of their next album is for a little more variety in terms of musical layering and structuring. Darkest White really pleased me; I hope they keep it up!

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