Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Theatre of Tragedy

Theatre of Tragedy is a gothic metal band from Norway. Interestingly, I found them through another gothic metal/folk metal band called Leaves' Eyes. Leaves' Eyes is fronted by Liv Kristine, who used to be the female vocalist for Theatre of Tragedy. :D

Theatre of Tragedy started out as a gothic doom metal band often credited as the first of its kind to feature dual male and female contrasting vocals, influencing an entire generation of European metal that followed. Another distingushing element to ToT's music was that they originally wrote all of their lyrics in Old English.

ToT's first three full-length albums are completely in Old English and are thoroughly doom/gothic metal. The first two albums are darker and not as well polished as their later work and include harsh male growls and grunts, which I'm not overly fond of. Liv Kristine's vocals are high soprano, fragile and secondary to the male vocals at times.

This all changes with their third, and best liked, album Aégis. Aégis loses the male death grunts and instead Raymond sings in a kind of narrational sort of way. The album has a theme of women of European mythology. The songs are more accessible than their previous albums with more polish, stronger song structure, and choruses you can even sing along to (if you can remember odd lyrics in Old English, that is). They've added string-sounding keyboards, which almost make this album 'symphonic metal'. The result is beautiful, dark, well crafted album that has become one of my favorites of all-time.

After Aégis, ToT went on to evolve their sound, focusing more on keyboards and programming, and dropping the Old English completely for modern English. Their next album, Machine is a kind of techno-rock with some good songs here and there. After that came Assembly where the shift in style is complete. Gone are any hints of metal - this is a pop rock album with heavy synths. "Superdrive" is a perfect example of the shift the band took.

Unfortunately, Raymond's vocals remain front and center for most of the songs, always as a kind of narrator, never actually singing. After a while it gets really old - particularly when Liv Kristine's voice is the best part of the music. She's almost audibly being pushed to the side.

After Assembly Liv left the band to concentrate on her own project, Leaves' Eyes, with her husband - a folk-metal band focusing on Viking and nature imagery. Meanwhile, ToT returned to their metal roots, probably due to the resurging popularity in the genre due to bands like Within Temptation and Lacuna Coil. They hired a new female vocalist who sounds remarkably like Liv and recorded the album Storm.

It's a solid album - the tracks purposely flow into one another in a jarring manner, not too sure what I think about that. Storm takes what was best in Aégis and combines it with the successful polish and structure of Assembly for an updated version of their own metal music. It'd be like Lacuna Coil adding epic keyboard synth strings to their music.

A highly inventive band, for sure. Their successes are strung out across several albums (except for the entirety of Aégis) but in a lot of ways I think other bands took what ToT started and made it even better (Within Temptation, Lacuna Coil..)

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