Virgin Black – Requiem – Mezzo Forte

Reviewed: April 2007
Released: 2007, The End Records
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Chaosankh

The name Virgin Black is defined by the band as “an anomalous harmony between the juxtapositions of purity and humanity’s darkness.” I was not familiar with the band before this current album, REQUIEM – MEZZO FORTE, so I could not comment on that definition. Their first release was back in 1995 in the form of a self-titled demo. Over the next six years, they released their next two projects, 1998’s TRANCE and 2001’s SOMBRE ROMANTIC. The latter album received very good reviews from the metal press, and two years later they delivered their next opus, ELEGANT…AND DYING. After the 2003 release the band began to tour more extensively with bands such as Agalloch and Antimatter. According to their website, they have also shared the stage with Opeth, Cathedral, Entombed, Paradise Lost, Vehemence and Tiamat.

Now, let’s begin to unravel what their newest offering has in store for listeners. Overall, this is a massive album that will take several listens to truly absorb and appreciate. You should know that REQUIEM – MEZZO FORTE is only one part of the whole project that was undertaken by the two main writers, Rowand London and Samantha Escarbe. This current release is actually Part 2 of a trilogy that will soon also have Part 1, REQUIEM – PIANISSIMO, a complete album performed by classical instruments, and Part 3, REQUIEM – FORTISSIMO, an aggressive and heavy work. All three parts were written and recorded at the same time so the future installments should arrive soon.

From the somber strings, accompanied by haunting choral arrangements, that open the first track, “Requiem, Kyrie,” you quickly learn that you are in for something non-conventional in presentation. This first track is extremely atmospheric in texture and it moves at a slow, graceful pace through its seven and a half minutes of subtle piano, slight operatic singing, and minimal drum accompaniment. In fact, it is not until about a minute and a half into the second track, “In Death,” that we get our first taste of distorted metallic guitar. However, because of the wait, this emergence of doom laden riffing is all the more dramatic and powerful. This track is an absolute highlight of the album and it does not follow a formula either, for as quickly as the guitar enters the mix, it gives way to another section of piano and marching drums and strings. At this point in the album, listeners will realize they are listening to something epic and theatrical.

None of the songs on the album tend to have traditional vocal melodies or harmonies for the gothic/doom genre, but lean towards a more classical approach. The music seems to fit this description as well. The arrangements found throughout the recording are grand, but brooding and dark. Like great classical compositions, the songs vary from soft, quiet passages that lead to louder, more aggressive movements. As you listen, the previously mentioned definition of the band’s name becomes clear as the songs presented seem to offer a dichotomy of feeling like the name itself: while at times they are overwhelmingly sad and depressing, they are also soothing and hopeful.

This recording works better as one long piece of music rather than a collection of separate compositions. Fans of moody, epic doom metal compositions in the vein of THE ANGEL AND THE DARK RIVER by My Dying Bride will feel very comfortable with this release and should not hesitate to pick it up immediately. Anyone else looking for something challenging, dark, and hypnotic should give this a try as well. Open-minded listeners will be rewarded with a truly special release. While it will not be something immediately accessible to the ear, the final result is something that will linger with its audience. I am eagerly looking forward to the other two parts.

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Track Listing:
01. Requiem, Kyrie
02. In Death
03. Midnight’s Hymn
04. …And I am Suffering
05. Domine
06. Lacrimosa (I am blind with weeping)
07. Rest Eternal

Rowan London – Vocals, piano & keyboard; songwriter
Samantha Escarbe – Guitar; songwriter
Grayh – Bass, vocals
Luke Faz – Drums