Virgin Black
Sombre Romantic

Upon initial listening of Sombre Romantic I began to think, “Wow, has the End Records finally signed an average band? Will this be the first negative review of a End Records release?” But then dammit all to hell, I became absorbed by this deftly crafted piece of depressive art.

Sharing structural and musical similarities to the recent Green Carnation release (but much darker), Virgin Black are yet another band that reaches out and pulls forth emotions from the listener by creating a deeply moody and intrinsic sense of heartrending atmosphere. Hailing from Australia, Virgin Black’s debut album is ambitious, sweeping and at times a tad too artsy for my taste. You know you are in for an “artsy” album when the song titles are broken down into chapters and the lyrics have side notes like, “*Perceived limitations.” Nonetheless, this is an excellent album for the connoisseur of fine morose music.

I should warn you extreme metal heads – this stuff is deeply rooted in classical structures with an operatic emphasis on vocals, piano and string instrumentation. The doomy gothic guitars are not really the focal point of the music, but more of a accompaniment to the soundtrack-type scale. Sure, there are some aggressive moments, like “Drink the Midnight Hymn” and “I Sleep with the Emperor,” but they are a tiny piece of an otherwise beautiful and sombre puzzle, and frankly not nearly as impressive or absorbing as the rest of the material.

Where Virgin Black excels is when creating a melancholy, depressive state of … well, sombre Romanticism. Encompassing every aspect to the gothic/doom genre, Virgin Black add their own stamp of sullen individuality by adding Gregorian chants and some very “programmed” sounding drums. Yes, at times, Sombre Romantic did remind me of Enigma, but this proves to be an effective tool for creating Virgin Black’s solemn world. Also, benefiting the music is the lack of reliance on a female vocalist to imbue the ambience of the music. The vocals are solely handled by Rowan London (except for the choirs and chants), who does as admirable job of creating all the necessary hues for such an album. His pinnacle (as well as the band’s) being the amazing “Museum of Iscariot,” a stunning piece of music, accomplished with no more than vocals, strings and acoustics.

Sometimes Virgin Black do stagger into the realms of the more familiar, such as the guitar work on “Lamenting Kiss” that did bring to mind the more depressive moments of early Anathema and My Dying Bride while some of the choral usage is reminiscent of Therion. Other than some of these fleeting moments, Virgin Black are in fact quite unique, and capable of creating some very moving music, similar in style to some of the bold stylings of recent Anathema, without being drastically commercial. Virgin Black retains a gloriously over-the-top sense of sadness. And while sadness is normally achieved in a bleak monotone droning fashion, Virgin Black injects a wonderful sense of dark variety into the moribund proceedings. “A Poets Tears of Porcelain” is a superb example of how to create a deep sense of loss with a glimmer of hope.

The only real downside is the programmed drums that take away from the emotional, organic aspect of the songs. However, they have managed to continue the reputation of The End Records by releasing a very good album that stands somewhere between labelmates Green Carnation and Sleepless, and further adds to the fact the End records are one of the best labels around. If ever there was an album title and cover that summed up an album’s contents, it is Sombre Romantic.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
February 12th, 2001

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