Opera IX – Strix Maledictae in Aeternum Review

Opera IX // Strix Maledictae in Aeternum
Rating: 1.5/5.0 —Not completely shitty, but close.
Label: Agonia Records
Websites: operaIX.it | myspace.com/officialoperaix | facebook.com/OfficialoperaIX
Release Dates: EU: 2012.01.24 | US: 02.28.2012

To say that Italian symphonic black metallers Opera IX have been keeping a low profile would be an understatement. The last time I even heard their name mentioned was back in the days of Napster and the Y2K virus. At the time, their mix of black metal with gothic imagery and female vocals was pretty rare in the scene [Yeah, if you had never heard of Cradle of Filth, I guess. – AMG], and it seemed like the band was poised to do great things. Now, they have returned in 2012 with Strix Maledictae in Aeternum, their first album in 7 long years.

The band’s press kit describes Strix as “a lustful journey throughout the deepest and most macabre desires of man.” Apparently it’s a concept album about witchcraft and medieval times (the historical era, not the restaurant). What this means in practical terms is that the listener is treated to copious amounts of keyboards, unnecessarily evil, spoken word vocals, Oh, and there will probably be some gothic chick with her shirt off somewhere in there. Yup, there she is [That’s NSFW, kiddies!AMG]. Seven years is a long time, though, and this may not be the Opera IX you knew and loved. Female vocalist Cadaveria is long gone, with new guy M. behind the mic these days. The sound has not strayed too far from the older material otherwise, and the influences are obviously still the same. But for a band where the female vocals were one of the few things that set them apart, having a fairly generic black metal dude fronting the band is a disappointing development.

The lack of a captivating vocalist leaves the focus on the musicianship, which has never been Opera IX’s specialty. Guitarist Ossian, who isn’t exactly Randy Rhoads in the lead department, bassist Vlad and drummer Dalamar [Where’s Raistlin? AMG] get the job done in workmanlike fashion at best, and are backed by an abundance of keyboards, dense layers of synth horns, flutes, and other orchestration that weigh down the proceedings here. Vocalist M. has a perfectly decent black metal rasp, but his clean vocals border on parody. By the time he literally shouts a history lesson at me at the end of “Earth & Fire,” it’s all I can do to keep a straight face. (“HER BODY WAS BUUUUURNT!” Seriously, dude?) Making matters worse, this album is long as hell. Seriously, this fucking thing is 66 minutes long, with seven songs that cross the 6-minute mark. Even Metallica can’t get away with that shit. And don’t even get me started on the intro track “Prologue” and the other transitional pieces scattered throughout. This album felt like it took me about a month to listen to.

Some parts do work well, such as the crushing second half of “Eyes In the Well” and the Bathory-esque atmosphere of “Dead Tree Ballad.” And the brief Celtic Frost homage in “Earth and Fire” is actually awesome and a welcome change of pace. But given the ratio of synth orchestration, gothic choirs, and general cheesiness to quality black metal and originality there’s no way Strix was going to be anything other than overblown and pretentious. Give them credit, though, Strix Maledictae in Aeternum is nothing if it is not ambitious, it sounds like the band put a ton of work into this and they should be commended for that. But at the end of the day, the band is working with a sound that was cliche even 10 years ago and that other people have done better (Cradle of Filth, hell even Abigail Williams). I’m aware that this band has its devoted followers and they will probably like this album (even if they’re still pissed off about changing vocalists).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go listen to Motorhead and look at that chick in the press photo again.

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