Norway’s Tristania was one of those quirky, but compelling bands that really grabbed my attention with their Beyond the Veil album. Their strange mash-up of goth, death, black and symphonic metal was quite intoxicating and had more moods than any crazy ex girlfriend you care to mention. Follow up World of Glass was also gripping and fascinating, but as the years went by, Tristania‘s wow factor rapidly drained away. By the time of 2010s Rubicon, they had become a mere shade of their former selves and the album felt like run-of-the-mill goth-metal with little to set it apart from the legions of similar female-fronted acts. I expected more of the same here with Darkest White, but I was pleasantly surprised by the improvements the band has made in their approach and song writing. Gone is the languid and generic goth drone and in its place is a much more diverse blend of elements. There are more harsh, vaguely blackened vocals, more aggression to the music, an odd, straight-up rock influence and plenty of well executed male and female vocals. There are also nods to their old material as well as notable Moonspell, Green Carnation and The Gathering influences and needless to say, those help quite a bit. While it isn’t some kind of musical breakthrough or innovation in the genre, it’s an enjoyable, accessible album with a few exceptional cuts that have been rattling around for days in the mostly vacant skull of Steel Druhm.
The first thing one will notice as opener “Number” unspools is the dramatically increased dark mood and urgency. The sound is similar to Green Carnation material (which makes sense since they share the clean vocal handiwork of Kjetil Nordhus) and there are some convincing harsh rasps (from Anders Hidle, I believe) to get the blood up. When the smooth and powerful voice of Siren-in-chief, Mariangela Demurtas blows in, they put the song over the top to success. Elsewhere they experiment with something akin to an indie rock ethos and traditional goth-metal on “Himmelfall” and borrow a page from The Gathering during their Nighttime Birds era for the satisfyingly melodic, yet energetic “Diagnosis.” “Lavender” mixes sedate, soft rock with a vibrant chorus that might have fit on some melodic viking/epic metal album and it ends up an addictive listen.
The big showstopper here is “Requiem,” which captures lighting in a bottle with a simple, but impossibly earwormy delivery and outstanding vocal work from Mariangela. Her warm, rich, but powerful delivery packs plenty of emotion without sounding forced and the vocal melodies are real winners, full of sadness and mourning. This particular song really latched onto my cranium and I’ve been playing the bejeezus out of it this week.
There are also some songs that don’t do all that much for me, like the title track and “Night on Earth.” While not terrible, they just seem too disjointed and weak. Worst of the bunch is closer “Arteries,” which feels pasted together and the poppy, clean vocals feel very out-of-place and too weird to enjoy.
While I wasn’t overly impressed by Mariangela’s vocals on Rubicon, she seems much more convincing and powerful this time out. Her vocals are paired with the clean and harsh male vocals in a successful way and all involved perform well without sounding like a tired “beauty and the beast” act. The backing music is a bit of hodge podge of classic goth sounds, Stone Temple Pilots style rock (especially on “Night on Earth”) and the occasional burst of angry blackness. While none of it will blow your mind, it’s interesting enough and provides a suitable base for the vocals while allowing them to carry the day.
It seems the Beyond the Veil days are gone forever, but this is a nice outing for fans of gothic metal and shows Tristania trying new things once again with mostly solid results. Come for the hot babe, but stay for the quality tuneage and zombie Bob Ross artwork.