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Tristania - "Darkest White" (CD)

Tristania - "Darkest White" CD cover image

"Darkest White" track listing:

1. Number
2. Darkest White
3. Himmelfall
4. Requiem
5. Diagnosis
6. Scarling
7. Night On Earth
8. Lavender
9. Cypher
10. Arteries

Reviewed by on September 23, 2013

"Believe the hype -- what many have critically hailed as Tristania’s definitive post-Vibeke Stene album, 'Darkest White,' is a true gem of value."

Believe the hype -- what many have critically hailed as Tristania’s definitive post-Vibeke Stene album, “Darkest White,” is a true gem of value. Coming from the “gothic metal” scene with a first release back in 1998, this seventh album sees a trifecta of vocal styles merging well for much-needed counterpoint purposes. Anders Hidle handles the harsher vocals, Kjetil Nordhus provides clean male vocals, and Mariangela Demurtas expertly soars above them with her shining clean singing. Entangled together with the rhythm section, the music is summed up well by the album title alone.

Favoring the less-bright-but-still-quite-clear production style favored by fellow progressive black metallers Enslaved (yes, you can call Tristania progressive black metal without a major stretch), the drum sound is very natural and the guitar sound is slinky and raw. This maintains a warm and live feel throughout the album. Reinforcing the idea of paradoxes inherent in the album’s title, most of the lyrics to the songs deal with stirringly dark subject matter belied by beautiful vocal melodies at many points. Another point of note with the lyrics is their instantly conversational nature, which makes them feel more personal and immediate.

The title track and the closing track, “Arteries,” are pure headbangers’ dreams, rife with clever guitar riffs. On this album, the band lives for the chorus of each song. “Arteries” has a powerful Nordhus-led chorus full of expressive vibrato. “Himmelfall” boasts a rising chorus that Demurtas fills with energy, which evolves in unexpected melodic directions before burning up at its end. “Requiem” is the emotional high of the album, made solid by Demurtas and Nordhus combining for a luxuriously deep-layered chorus about rebirth. “Lavender” brings in lush atmospheric clean guitar lines over a 5/6 time signature to give way to a similarly bright chorus. The most viscerally impressive part of the album lies in the magic between the middle of “Lavender” up until the end of the song, where the guitar riffs seemingly cry out in anguish.

“Cypher” sees vocalist Nordhus working his best Vintersorg angle with the verse melodies. “Scarling” flirts with different time signatures and sees yet another searingly beautiful chorus. The whole album feels like passing your hand quickly through a flame over and over -- inherently dangerous, but compelling and too much fun when you realize that it won’t burn. “Darkest White” presents as many shadows as it does light, which gives it a high repeat value.

The shortcomings are purely production-related, and mostly have to do with vocal clarity. Liner notes are definitely needed for this one if lyrics are a prime concern. Luckily, the lyrics aren’t necessary to enjoy the album. The mix was handled by Christer André Cederberg, who also provided mixing for Solefald, Circus Maximus, and Anathema in the past. Otherwise, the album will caress the restless soul nicely.

Highs: The expert merging of vocal styles and the unique melodic developments.

Lows: Vocal intelligibility isn’t high in most places.

Bottom line: A multi-faceted progressive gothic/black metal crossover and an impressive 7th album.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)