Virgin Black
Elegant ... And Dying

While the concept of “Aussie Doom” alone seems oxymoronic yet appealing, I admit it’s taken many listens for this release to grow on me. Still, while I won’t add more grandiloquent depression to the fire by banishing it to the graveyard, I can’t exactly put my complete support behind it either. Instead, my opinion is much murkier and stranded in the middle, with both ups and downs pulling hard at each end.

In terms of style, Elegant … and Dying is far more consistent, for better or worse, than the previously release Sombre Romantic, shedding variation of style to settle on slow to mid-paced doom. While Virgin Black are extremely adept at changing tempos seamlessly with both emotional and melodic effectiveness, they often fail to expand their songs and instead settle for long periods of drawn out dirges which lack either punch or passion. This is particularly unfortunate because brief moments of increased tempo are often quick flashes showing Virgin Black’s potential brilliance. The drumming particularly stands out on these occasions, but you’ll have to pay close attention to notice this talent as Dino Cielo is rarely expected to do much.

In addition to their slowed tempo, Virgin Black’s vocalist is also a defining characteristic of the music. For many of Virgin Black’s listeners, Rowan London’s voice seems to be a highlight of the music. For me however, it’s not the first time that praise for a vocalist has made me wonder what people are eating. London is often off key, over dramatic, and sounds strained and out of reach, especially on higher notes. I must admit however that his growling vocals on the song “Beloved” are exceptional, albeit brief.

As for the songs themselves, I can’t remember the last time I found the best song on an album its last, and its worst song the first, but the opening “Adorned in Ashes” is six dragging minutes which I’m sure loses many new listeners immediately. On the other hand, despite being perhaps the most mainstream song on the release, the final track is perhaps the finest. “Our Wings are Burning” varies tempos while balancing good singing with yearning melodies and a unique sound. The song “Velvet Tongue” is an excellent microcosm of the entire album. It’s an overall good song with moments of great beauty, but weak vocals. It is eight minutes long, but does not diverge from its basic pattern. Had Virgin Black taken the final three minutes to develop the song and expand their musicianship rather than becoming repetitive, the song could have been great. London’s lyrics on this song are also probably the best of the album. Along with the previously mentioned final track, “And the Kiss of God’s Mouth” is one of the best songs, building layers of emotion while combining despair with melodic lead guitar work and hooks.

Moving to the weaker tracks, “dead in the middle” is how I would describe tunes 5, 6, and 7. “Renaissance,” seventeen minutes of the aptly named “The Everlasting,” and “Cult of Crucifixion” provide thirty three minutes at the heart of the album when one could take a siesta … or be forced. While this might rejuvenate your body, it won’t rejuvenate your spirit for Virgin Black.

In conclusion, though Virgin Black seems to have both up and down sides on this album, it would not surprise me if in the coming years, should they be productive, they could release a classic album. Still, if unlike me, you enjoy eons of lethargic doom and Rowan London’s singing, this release might already be the classic. On the other hand, Virgin Black’s fade into obscurity, as they do in the middle of Elegant … and Dying, would not shock me either. With Virgin Black, really anything seems possible.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Tim Dodd
June 24th, 2003

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