Tristania - _Illumination_
(Steamhammer Records, 2007)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (
It's been over five years since the Morten Veland incarnation of Tristania morphed into this radio friendly goth contingent, highlighted of course by the operatic vocals of Ms. Vibeke Stene. In the interim, the harsh vocals -- and pretensions to extreme metal in general -- have fallen by the wayside in favor of a cleaner sound, leaning heavier on the goth than the metal.If I have any issue at all with "mainstream" goth metal it's that most bands of the ilk merely ape '80s groups like Sisters of Mercy and early Cult, with the heavier guitar lines borrowed from the metal side of the genealogy more or less just dumbing down the more artful, ghostly chords of their post-punk ancestors. To an extent Tristania is guilty of this as well (they could definitely go black and never look back), but they make up for it with consistent songwriting and a legitimate amount of diversity, given their genre constraints."Mercyside" gives the upfront impression that the album as a whole is going to be heavier and more foreboding than it actually is. The female vocals are brought in on the chorus to ease the later transition, but the song is mostly given over to male vocals, alternately hollowed out and rasping along in full black metal menace. With arch, strident melodies and a wealth of hooks, it's one of the craftier tracks on the album. Only the brief black metal vocal bits prevent direct comparisons to monster selling acts like Lacuna Coil and Evanescence, which is probably to the benefit of Tristania, artistically speaking.The rest of the album continues the male / female interplay, with Stene typically providing the choruses (usually the catchiest part of the song) and haunting background vocals. She gets her first star turn on "Destination Departure" -- not really much of a metal song at all -- and makes the most of it, her operatic arias preferring genuine empathy to the vacuous "how many notes can I hit?" histrionics many of her peers are guilty of.From here the album starts to slide a bit. "Sacrilege" is a turnabout for the better, but unfortunately it's sequelled by the too-proggy-for-its-own-good "Deadlands". Yet it's all so professionally done, with the vocal interchanges ever maintaining intrigue, and the songwriting consistently memorable, that it's hard to find too much fault with Tristania's head space these days. If there's any aspect of the band's work worthy of demerit, it may be simply their inability to break new ground. Yes, their sound is a formula, but in the end it's a winning one.
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