REQUIEM – FORTISSIMO: VIRGIN BLACK ARE A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
I’d be lying if I said I was familiar with Australia’s Virgin Black before the release of last year’s excellent Requiem – Mezzo Forte. But you can bet your ass, they now have my full attention. That album – which featured a shitload of orchestral pieces and operatic vocals – was the second in an ambitious trilogy; the band’s latest offering, the considerably harsher Requiem – Fortissimo, which The End will release on February 19, is the conclusion of the cycle (For reasons I couldn’t even begin to explain, the first of the three albums, Requiem – Pianissimo has yet to be released; but there are samples of it on the band’s MySpace page, and it sounds pretty killer). And what a conclusion it is.
I haven’t paid close enough attention to the lyrics of these two albums yet to fully grasp any concept or story, but the music should make it clear that there’s an arc here: Pianissimo is said to be entirely orchestral, and, as I said, Mezzo Forte mixed orchestration with metal, then it has to say something about whatever the band has in mind that Fortissimo is a burned-charcoal black piece of Doom with a capital “D.” That’s not to say that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra – which collaborated with the band on all three albums – doesn’t make an appearance here; but the somber, elegiac choruses and horns never really take center stage the way they do on Mezzo Forte. And the vocals, by singer/keyboardist/general mastermind Rowan London, are much more of the gargling-with-battery-acid variety, and not nearly so pretty – this dude has some range.
As a matter of fact, this sounds like an almost entirely different band than the one that recorded Mezzo Forte, and I mean that as a total compliment. The musicianship on this album is top notch, and the production, also by London, is insanely crisp, so every powerful detail of the massive drums and buzzing, droning guitars shines through. The female vocals – I think they’re done by guitarist Samantha Escarbe – are positively funereal (and, oh yeah, she’s a really good guitarist, too: check out the dizzying work in “Silent” for a taste of the goods). And the fact that certain musical phrases from Mezzo Forte return here shows that this trilogy wasn’t just slapped together; a lot of thought went into this incredibly ambitious project, and it pays off, big time. Whereas Mezzo Forte had a deep-seated sense of melancholy, this album is fucking pitch-black, drenched in dread and malignant like cancer – but they’re both incredibly powerful works.
Now, Fortissimo is, perhaps, a little long in the tooth, and not as stirringly, achingly beautiful as Mezzo Forte; but, to compare these albums to another trilogy, that’s like saying Jedi isn’t quite as good as Empire (I don’t care if it does have Ewoks in it, dude. It’s still awesome). I’m incredibly excited to hear Pianissimo, and, above all, to participate in a super dorky marathon listen of all three albums in their proper order. If the band pulls the final album off – and I’m willing to bet that they will – then they’re gonna earn an instant spot in metal’s history books. Got get this album now, boys and girls, before it’s so revered it’s not even cool anymore.
(four out five horns)