Sadness. A quintessentially unpleasant emotion we go out of our way to avoid in this brief, meaningless slog we call life. Why then is it such an essential element in music, you ask? Because as intrinsically flawed creatures, humans love to revel in melancholy and pain in “safe” ways. We do it when already saddled with crippling plights, and we seek it out even when times are good. We just get an undeniable and perverse pleasure from diving into the darkness for short periods of miserable introspection. Germany’s End of Green has been serving the depression tourism market since 1996, and Void Estate is their ninth platter of uber-sadboy goth metal. Mining the same morose essential minerals as Lacrimas Profundere, Katatonia and Type O Negative, they’ve become increasingly adept at mixing rock structures with emo in ever more earwormy ways. 2013s The Painstream was a darkly enjoyable slab o’ glum, and the same ingredients are here in all their despondent glory, and once again the band’s songwriting acumen has taken another step forward. In fact, Void Estate is their definitive work to date, boasting some of their strongest, most emotionally evocative material. It’s not perfect, but as dour, soul sucking goth-metal albums go, this one is a weepy triumph.
The strength of Void Estate comes in the first 6 songs, all of which are excellent examples of goth-metal done correctly. Opener “Send in the Clowns” should be the textbook for young goth bands hoping to do the style justice. The pain-wracked, downcast vocals, the minimalist, understated riffs that echo The Cure, The Church, and Fields of Nephilim, it all just works. The fact it’s so sickeningly catchy is the dead kitten on top of the wake cake. “Darkside of the Sun” injects a near fatal dose of Type O Negative that does wonders for the mood and Michelle Darkness pulls off an eerily uncanny Peter Steele impression. “The Door” has something about it that keeps me spinning it obsessively despite wanting to listen to lighter fare. It’s just a beautiful song that burrows under your skin like an Alabama tick, and no, Steel ain’t got time to bleed. “The Unseen” could be a hit on alt-indie rock stations nationwide if it ever got a shot, and even the surprise cover of Calvin Russell‘s bluesy folk number “Crossroads” works unexpectedly well.
The back-half of Void Estate is very good, but some of the songs can’t hold up the insanely high standard set by the wicked biscuit of a first-half. That said, “Worn and Torn” is a helluva tune that sounds like a suicidal-depressive Vegas lounge act. “City of Broken Thoughts” is another winner with sweet melody and despair hopelessly entangled like a badly stored garden hose. “Dressed in Black Again” is the weakest cut present and even that’s a pretty good number that gets unfairly tarnished by the stellar tracks appearing earlier on.
As good as Void Estate is, At 55 and a half minutes, it could use some tightening. Take off the weakest 2 songs and this thing drifts closer to 4.5 territory. Longer cuts like “Mollodrome” and “Like a Stranger” – both very good – could be trimmed a bit for maximum impact. The production could stand a bit more dynamic range, but the overall sound is good and doesn’t get in the way of the material.
The vocals of Michelle Darkness have evolved and improved with every End of Green release and on Void Estate he’s once again upped his game to deliver a great performance. From the deep, baritone whispers, plaintive crooning and heartbroken wailing, the man has truly come into his own as a goth-metal frontman and he lifts the the material up with his despairing emo-works (his on-the-verge-of-tears delivery at 3:08 of “Head Down” is a thing of beauty). Darkness is complemented wonderfully by guitarists Oliver Merkle and Michael Setzer who weave all manner of forlorn leads and solos, most of which would be wholly apropos at a funeral. They borrow from Sisters of Mercy, Fields of Nephilim and modern acts like Lacrimas Profundere, but only steal the best parts and make them their own. The mournful little guitar-breaks on “Send in the Clowns” are perfect, and their soft, understated playing on “Worn and Torn” is first-rate. The subtle keyboards are also well utilized to convey a sense of sullen ennui. This band has grown up to become a legitimate threat to the world’s joy.
End of Green is a terrible band name and if you listen to their early albums, it’s hard to believe that sloppy, awkward act grew up to release something this polished, professional and enjoyable (in a head in hands kinda way). Void Estate is a top-notch example of emo goth-metal sure to please the Debbie Downers among us who were disappointed by the last Lacrimas Profundere outing and hunger for something truly bleak. Dive bravely into that deep despair, but wait an hour after eating and always wear your mood swimmies.