Last month, I was just sad – it was one of my first Christmases without my entire family – so I thought it would be fitting to discuss one of the saddest genres in metal, much to my chagrin and (possibly) tasteless jokes. It got personal, as I tend to closely associate with the music I listen to on an emotional level once my tendency to intellectualize it is stripped away. The music I chose to discuss last month were albums I deeply connected with – particularly Created in the Image of Suffering – and they needed to be revisited to see if they still hit as hard as when I first encountered them…some still do and others hit harder.
Enough about that. That was all in the past, and now we get to move on to something I have wanted to talk about since I wrote about symphonic metal many months ago.
On the darker side of symphonic metal exists another genre, one that tends to be overlooked due to its association. After all, it’s always easier to lump two genres together when they have a similar tendency to showcase female operatic vocals.
It’s time we talk about Gothic Metal.
When I think of gothic, two things come to mind: literature and architecture. I remember being in high school and learning about Romanticism. For someone who consumes literature like a kid inhaling cotton candy, this was fascinating for me and it eventually led me to appreciate the darker side of life. After all, many of us do enjoy the macabre. We like horror and terror in our films, music, books, and we listen to true crime podcasts because we are fascinated by the horror and terror these stories bring to us. They are our gateway to being as close as to the macabre as we can; it allows us to detach from it all, to live vicariously through the terror and the fear, and what they can provide.
That’s how I feel about gothic metal in a nutshell – it allows me to fully live through the dark side of metal while also still being in my comfort zone.
Back in my bullet hell days I would devour everything and anything that I could, I became intrigued by anything unknown. I became exposed to the goth/emo style by a friend who was really into it, and she helped me develop an appreciation. Even though I would never be able to pull off the things that she did I tried to emulate it by wearing a lot of black, something I still do to this day.
Now before I dive further into gothic metal, I want to talk about goth as a concept. While I don’t think I would fit in it, I like the aesthetic and how people can take elements of it and incorporate it into their style or into their life. I remember having a keen interest in visual kei – which I considered to be gothic on steroids – when I was 15, as I was just getting into Dir En Grey. Something about the entire aesthetic resonated with me; the way it approached the macabre in an appreciative manner struck me. In fact, looking back, the visual kei approach to the macabre was so comfortable that it made me uncomfortable. Nowadays, I am much keener about joking about death and the macabre; back then, I wasn’t interested in death and the creepy imagery that came with it.
The Japanese are fantastic about showcasing the macabre.
I eventually gravitated towards the darker side of symphonic metal. Instead of lyrics that talked about politics and fantasy I wanted something more in the Romantic sense. I wanted something that dealt with the darkness of the soul, with mythology, with something akin to horror without touching horror. Because I wasn’t allowed to watch horror movies by my parents – none of my parents like them and my sister wasn’t interested – I began to consume horror via reading gothic terror and crime fiction. On one hand, you had the romanticism of the unknown and the supernatural – like the vampire – and how the Romantic hero (read: Byronic) was able to defeat a dark, seductive evil. On the other hand, you realized that the biggest thing you had to fear was the darkness in other people, which doesn’t bode well to someone who tends to get paranoid easily. Gothic metal gave me that and a lot more than I expected, and I was very into it.
Cue me reading all the crime fiction I can get my hands on and listening to true crime podcasts in my spare time.
Over the years as I moved from one genre de rigeur to another, I always come back to this genre. Even with the angst that gothic metal sometimes has, there is always something about it that makes me pick up an album and give it a good listen. After all, these albums deal with certain themes that allow a listener to live vicariously through whatever is happening. If anything, these albums taught me to not only accept the darkness in my soul – how dark and melodramatic is that? – but it also allowed me to empathize with those who also deal with those feelings. Even if they are all unrelated to one another, they all still touch upon something that all humans go through – the deep well of dark emotions that makes us feel alive.
DSBM has nothing on gothic metal.
Gothic Metal Gateway Albums
Tristania – Illumination (2007): Let’s take a moment to talk about what I call the grandmother of gothic metal starting with a lyric:
“My violent mood swings peak / And my hands are as heavy as rocks / I have no time and no space / I am falling behind / Just take me home”
(I know some of you will fight me on Theatre of Tragedy being one of the first bands of that nature, but I did not listen to them until they came up on Pandora and I was impressed. Of course, by the time that band showed up, Liv Kristine was doing her own thing and I hadn’t yet looked at Leaves’ Eyes.)
I remember hearing about this band back in my Pandora days, and my official introduction to them was “A Sequel of Decay” in 2010. After doing some research, I found that the band was still active, albeit some members had since left to do other things. For some reason, the name “Morten Veland” jumped out at me, and I had the inclination to find who he was. After some research, I found that not only was he out of Tristania, he was also in another band that he created called Sirenia. After finding Tristania a little higher-brow than I would have liked, I decided to pick up Sirenia’s album Nine Destinies and A Downfall and eventually when back to Tristania to see understand the tonal shift.
After I had spent a good portion of my time becoming familiar with both bands, I found that their one degree of separation was amusing. For one thing, if the common listener wasn’t paying attention, Tristania and Sirenia were essentially the same band, albeit one of them was more accessible. However, what truly sold me on Tristania was Vibeke Stene’s voice and complete aesthetic – she was gothic incarnate, the dark queen in a Romantic story, the belle dame sans merci. She was haunting, ethereal, and could hold a gaze that would send chills down your spine. Her voice added to her allure, her fluid soprano immediately going from operatic to possibly the scariest thing I have heard in my nightmares. I didn’t know if I wanted to be her or just be with her, but her siren-like nature terrified me and I didn’t understand why.
To fully understand this band – and to find the music that I was too broke to pay for – I used torrents to get my hands on some of their albums that I found interesting, one of which was/is Illumination. The minute I heard the beginning of “Mercyside,” I was in love. That album became one of my most played back in 2011, especially since I saw that VIbeke had left the band sometime in 2007. I wanted to understand why I connected to this album as I did, and it turned out that I just identified with it. It appealed to something that was internal, that I didn’t know I had in me until I listened to this album. I particularly identified and empathized with the song “Down,” which felt like those intrusive thoughts I have when I am going through an intense depressive episode. It became the song when I knew that I was going through a rough time, and it made me aware that I wasn’t the only one who thought like that. I know that I mentioned this genre made me accept that I can be dark and slightly macabre, but Illumination cemented that for me. This album became my gateway to not only other albums in the genre, but also to Dir En Grey. I have a lot of respect for Tristania and what they do, even when most of their original members are gone and they are finally coming out of the dark since 2013 on this year’s 70000 Tons of Metal.
Also, as an addendum – I love both Sirenia and Tristania, but I haven’t listened to Sirenia since The 13th Floor. While I do plan to eventually get back into Sirenia at some point, I make no promises. The backlog is immense and it’s screaming at me.
Lacuna Coil – Dark Adrenaline (2012): I recently wrote about this album in a series of posts where I revisit old albums from time to time. In their current incarnation Lacuna Coil really isn’t considered gothic in image, but I still consider them to be a cornerstone of the genre. They are one of those bands whose discography is highly familiar to me, because I have invested so much time into this band. It’s one of the few bands that I have gone back and listened to almost all of their discography, including a good portion of their live albums. Lacuna Coil is such a significant part of my life, and they can do no wrong in my eyes. They also tend to make me cry a lot because I identify so strongly with their music and who they are as people. It was also thanks to Cristina Scabbia that I found my vocal range, so, yeah, Lacuna Coil is important to me.
I first encountered Lacuna Coil in 2009, courtesy of good, old Schmidty. We were hanging out backstage before curtain call for one of the tech runs, and he had one of his friends along. I remember he had brought his iPod Classic to show me more music to further my education into metal. After telling me that I would like the song he was going to show me, I put on the headphones and he played a remix of “Our Truth” for me, which was dark in tone and fascinated me. Although I was never able to find that particular remix – I don’t remember what it sounded like – I was able to find the actual song, and I was in love. I remember asking Schmidty if he had access to the albums, and he said he didn’t – he had then backed them up somewhere and had misplaced his hard drive – so I was out of luck. Thus, after I went home for the night, I torrented what I could while I cross-referenced song titles with official album track lists.
Let’s just say that I went to the dark after that.
Here’s what I had to say about Dark Adrenaline and how it ties back to my freshman year of college:
When this album was released, it came at a complete surprise for me. I had no idea what this album was about or what I would find, but when I got my hands on it, I was a changed woman. I finally had an album that I could connect with during this time and I was took their lyrics to heart. It became my gothic metal support album, and someone had to pry it off my dead body to stop me from physically listening to it. This album, along with Gojira’s The Way of All Flesh, were significant in cementing a lot of my outlook in life and what I wanted out of college. The lyrics to Dark Adrenaline kept me motivated and filled me with hope. Granted, things were difficult and filled with shit, but the album was my anthem and it kept me from losing myself. Hearing Dark Adrenaline now is nostalgic; it’s an album that you play when you need a pick-me-up and some extra adrenaline in your body. [context]
This album became armor for me; it allowed me to embrace my inherent “otherness” where I was indeed the minority in a school were most of the students were white. I became known for being a metalhead in my circle of friends, and whenever someone had questions, I was the first to be asked. That was fine by me; after all, I’d rather be asked questions about black metal than about my appearance. Although I could have picked Karmacode as my introduction to this genre – and to the band – I decided on Dark Adrenaline because this album remains my favorite album of theirs. Although I love everything they have released, Dark Adrenaline remains a banger, and it’s an album I revisit at least once a year. It grounds me, and it reminds that freshman me still had a lot to do, even when she didn’t know she was going to make it past 21.
Moonspell – Extinct (2015): It took me seeing these guys live to remember that I torrented a large portion of their discography (and also deleted) a few years ago. I wasn’t listening to it prior to 2018 and I needed space in my hard drive, so I deleted everything. It was only after finally upgrading to a new drive that I began to miss albums, and I have regretted that decision since.
Moonspell has been in and out of my life since I was first introduced to them via the song “Scorpion Flower” featuring Anneke van Giersbergen (she’s a common theme in my musical experience) back in 2008, but it was the song “Everything Invaded” that made me sit up and take notice. Something about the way Fernando’s vocals were able to switch off between screaming and that deep bass that you don’t often see in the music I am used to truly threw me for a loop. At that point in time, the other bass I was aware of was Till Lindemann, and he was singing about who knows what that I could translate from transliterating English. Before I deleted everything, I spent an unhealthy amount of time listening to their music, eventually finding The Antidote to be my favorite of all of the albums I had. However, I lost interest in the band with the release of Memorial and stopped listening altogether.
After years of not paying attention to the band, it was them touring that finally pushed me to listen to some of their newer material. In preparation, I heard 1755 in its entirety toward the later part of 2018 and I replayed “Desastre” until I got bored of it. Then, I saw them live – and I was so impressed that I decided to go backwards in their discography, taking me to Extinct. Now, you would think that, given all of what I was listening to when this album landed in my crosshairs, I wouldn’t have time to do anything. In fact, I would have listened to it once, decided on whether I liked it or not, and then moved on. That’s not what happened at all. Instead, not only did I really enjoy Extinct, I played it almost every day for two months. I bought the album from the Google Music Store after listening to it on Spotify, stuck it in my mp3 player, and proceeded to just listen to it until I got sick of it.
Man, that album kicks ass.
Well, that was a trip down memory lane. I have spent a lot of time listening to the first two albums on this list, and I have enjoyed them immensely. I might listen to all of them together at some point in time, but for now, I need a break.
Tune in next time as we discuss a fun genre, before I start crowdsourcing for others.
Hasta la proxima!