Thursday, October 3, 2013

Virgin Black - Requiem mezzo forte (2007)

Formed in 1993, in Adelaide, Australia, I was first introduced to Virgin Black in the late-90s, when I stumbled upon a Christian metal show on a local radio station - a show which played its last track only a few weeks later.  That song was "Mother of Cripples", an early doom/death number - and quite possibly their demo. For a band played on a Christian Metal show, VB do not come across as typical of that genre.

The name, which sounds almost bordering on black metal, is said to represent "the juxtaposition of purity and humanity's darkness"*

In 2006, they undertook a project to release a trinity of albums, all named for their sound using the classical terms. I (thanks to my beloved brother) own two of them. I do not own the third one, the most beautiful and classical sounding of the three ("Pianissimo"), because the band took an "extended break" and have still not released it.

"Mezzo Forte" means "moderately loud". This album features the band performing with the Adelaide Symphonic Orchestra.

The cover features a portrait on parchment, one of those old style sepia artworks. The head is aflame, the vivide orange dancing across in stunning contrast to the shades of brown and tan. It is a booklet, and inside the lyrics read as typical goth-doom - poetic, majestic, dark and sorrow-filled.

"Requiem, Kyrie" begins with low, haunting melodies, deep and visceral, the sort that sends a chill down your spine. Chanting, spectral and eerie. Slowly the other instruments creep in, an orcheastra laden with gloom and tragedy. Rising over them, flitting like a gentle breeze bringing with it maudlin hope, the vocals rise and swoop and soar. Heavy with melancholy, desolation and loss, this truly is a requiem.

Heavier, but slow, dirge like, "In Death" has male vocals - merging the low, deep and haunted with the guttural snarls and grunts, punctuated by the rise and fall of the orchestra, the tension of drums and a spectral female choir. A gloriously dark, haunting and spooky symphony.

Harmonious, dark shadows of twilight stretching out across the fields as "Midnight's Hymn" comes upon us. The piano touch of frost. The churning of a double bass, and from the shadows a spectral voice rises, a strange and msyetious figure, as though created by moonlight. A man joins her, his voice low, echoeing, powerful.

"...And I am suffering...." is slow and laden with grief, loss and a hint of longing. The harmony between orchestral instruments and the soaring operatic vocals is truly a majestic combination, an aural delight. There is nothing more sublime, more beautiful than classical and metal joined in glorious harmony. So laden with emotion, power, drama. To anyone who claims that heavy metal is "just noise" - I would challenge them to listen to this album - it is impossible to do so without being moved:
"...when will my sorrow begin to pale?"
The bittersweet harmony of strings opens "Domine", in which the guitars and drums come crashing down, slow and strong. This is a much heavier number, the vocals slipping from guttural growls to higher, tenor-esque despair. There is an edge of menace.

Heart-aching, heart breaking, we step into the dirge that is "Lacrimosa (I am blind with weeping)". Lacrimosa is a beautiful word, would make a lovely Goth name. The harmonies of voice and string replicate the grief that falls upon one's heart, making it leaden with misery. Choirs rise in an anthem to despair.

Finally, it is time to "Rest Eternal" with a song reminscient of the earlier one - slow, heart-wrenching, lade with bittersweet melancholia. Atmospheric, emotive. Haunting.


This is an album laden with layers and beauty. Unrepentingly sorrow-filled, but never gloomy or depressing, just a symphony of sadness, a requiem. The combination of orchestra and choral vocals, interspersed with the occasional more traditional heavy metal instruments and death metal vocals all combine to create an anthemic, sublime and magnificantly dark and haunting album.

I shall rate it 9/10.

I wish I could get my mitts on ""Pianissimo"... Why not release it already!

* From the source of all knowlege - wikipedia

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