VIRGIN BLACK - "Requiem - Fortissimo" (2008)
Jesus of Nazareth once went forth to load all the suffering of the world upon His shoulders. Two thousand years later, our planet is haunted by an Australian band that has about as much to do with the aforementioned event as the reviewer might have dreamed up...
As the title already reveals, we're up for some hardball-playing. The third installment of the Requiem trilogy bears the title "Fortissimo" (whereas the first part, "Requiem - pianissimo", is still withheld). In music "fortissimo" (Italian for "strongest") is the performance indication for "very loud". A very modest title, since compared with the musical performance it seems restrained and does not at all convey what is to be expected from this album. Even the title of the second part, "Requiem - mezzo forte" only slightly hinted at what VIRGIN BLACK mean by "moderately strong"...!
This time, however, we are not wholly unprepared, for VIRGIN BLACK have offered us a foretaste with "Silent" - which not only boasts no silence at all, but also demonstrates both the album's divergence from and its similarity to "mezzo forte". The fans have carefully been prepared for certain changes... however, the hardliners have come to expect the unexpected. "Requiem - mezzo forte" opened our minds to completely new dimensions. The way had before been paved by the timeless monuments "Sombre Romantic" (2000) and "Elegant... and dying" (2003), which back then opened new chapters in music history and broadened our horizons infinitely and forever.
As was expected and announced, the orchestra has now taken a back seat. Short passages are occasionally slid in almost in passing, and only the soprano singer is permitted to shine as a supporting actress (for which she would deserve an Oscar, nevertheless). What strikes the ear are the distinguished death metal elements, whose expressiveness is only topped by the outstanding doom metal broadside attacks. It is without exaggeration that I declare never to have experienced VIRGIN BLACK in such denseness and intensity. And that's saying something. Samantha Escarbe has long been playing beyond all known constellations, and Rowan London's abysmal growls seem to have been recorded not in a studio, but in a black hole.
It's just too bad that the first installment of the trilogy is not yet released, as it seems to be essential for a comprehensive understanding of the work as a whole. Frequent allusions to part two suggest that there is also an audible connection with "Requiem - pianissimo" which is still in the dark. When the first part is out, a final review, or I may call it an overview, will have to be considered...
Hardly anyone would have expected these exceptional Australian artists to top their past achievements, and yet more than a few were overcome by fear of what would come. "Mezzo forte" unearthed emotions that we had never dared to feel and released torrents of images that we had never dared to envision. However, in retrospect, that elegantly ruthless death march led us not even to the edge of our imaginations...! That "musical twilight of the gods" at most led us to the edge of despair and, at times almost tenderly and with lofty modesty, introduced us to the ghosts that might be lurking far beyond...
But now everything is different. Thanks to a heaviness unprecedented by VIRGIN BLACK, this output is comparable to a (controlled) outburst of madness. Nothing is as it was. Not one stone is left upon another. This music is an outcry of millions. Hosts of lost souls marching towards the abyss. No one will escape. The beautiful blue planet wears its mourning dress.
VIRGIN BLACK have loaded all the suffering of the world upon their shoulders. Every second spells out the torture of all ages as well as the horror and abominations of the present, while hinting at mountains of tragedy that might yet come. In the past, VIRGIN BLACK have revealed to us hidden paths within ourselves and celebrated operas within eternity - now they have launched an atom bomb into our system in order to once again confound everything. Everything, that is, but the undying conviction that this is one of the most exceptional groups the world has ever seen, heard and experienced.
It is amazing how much we as humans can bear. Too bad that everything will end. We will be forgotten. As if we had never been there. And yet, in spite of it all, this apocalyptic work teaches me something about a flicker. The flicker of hope. That is not everything, but still a lot. And this divine spark even forms a conviction and brings forth a realization that may stand above all:
All the suffering in the world will one day come to an end. Every sorrow will pass. We shall be no more, for this world will die. Life will continue its journey, long after the last legends about us humans will have faded away. However, every soul that ever lived is like a candle in the dark night. An eternal light. Infinity will be the glorious victor. But there is no need for sorrow, for we are all part of it.
In conclusion, the tragedy of humanity. Eternal darkness calling.
1. The Fragile Breath
2. In Winter's Ash
4. God in Dust
5. Lacrimosa (gather me)
Virgin Black and The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bruce Stewart
Soprano: Susan Johnson
Tenor: Rowan London
Guitars: Samantha Escarbe
Drums: Dino Cielo
Piano: Rowan London
Rowan London: Vocals, piano, songwriter
Samantha Escarbe: Guitar, songwriter
Grayh: Bass, vocals
Luke Faz: Drums