Released: 2000, The End Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
This is a very interesting CD representing several fairly bold experiments in metal. Virgin Black is an Australian outfit, and while they could probably be (uneasily) classified as “gothic symphonic metal,” they are clearly out to defy easy classification. At that, they succeed.
I’m not sure they succeed at everything they try, however. SOMBRE ROMANTIC is a journey through a landscape of metal – some melodic, some doomy, some depressing, some heavy, some not-so-heavy – mixed with a lot of other elements. Gregorian chants surface frequently, starting with the very first track, the mournful intro “Opera de Romance.” There is some sort-of-techno stuff here (“Walk Without Limbs”), blistering black metal stuff (“Drink the Midnight Hymn”), melodic, dark, slow epic-sounding stuff (“Weep For Me”), and some just plain weird stuff that I can’t really describe. This would probably appeal most to fans of progressive and experimental type projects. Overall, Virgin Black is basically vocal-driven. The guitars aren’t the backbone of the sound – the vocals of Rowan London are. At times he reminded me of the guy from Beseeched, but that may not be a fair comparison. It should suffice to say that SOMBRE ROMANTIC is like very little you have heard before, and probably like little you’ll hear for quite a while.
While all of this album is interesting and thought-provoking, as far as hanging together as a memorable metal album, SOMBRE ROMANTIC has its work cut out for it. Sometimes the desire for innovation seems to overpower the structure of the music. I also think the Gregorian chants are over-used. Fans of more traditional black, death or even doom metal may decry the supporting role that guitars and drums play here, and I do think there is room for improvement in Virgin Black’s sound. That being said, a lot of what is here is extremely good. The melancholy of “A Poet’s Tears of Porcelain” is as pure as any mood I’ve heard in metal for a long time, and the musicianship on all the tracks is exceptional. These guys (and girls) write music well and play music well. SOMBRE ROMANTIC’s shortcomings are mostly conceptual, but in their case it’s not fatal, as conceptual difficulties usually are to bands and albums, particularly those as ambitious as this.
What we have here is a mixed bag. It’s a tough call whether you’ll like this or not. I will say, in its favor, that the album improved upon repeated listenings. Perhaps if I had reviewed it for May instead of April, I would have had more praise for it! Give it a try – you may enjoy it.