Virgin Black

Requiem: Mezzo Forte

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After four years of relative silence following a sophomore album menacingly named Elegant and Dying, many had assumed that Adelaide, Australia's Virgin Black had probably breathed their last; but the orchestral gothic metal project was in fact very much alive, and simply grappling with the challenge of composing a two-and-a-half-hour, three-part song cycle entitled Requiem. April 2007 saw the release of its first installment on CD, although Requiem: Mezzo Forte, as it was called, actually comprised the trilogy's second chapter, with acts one and three -- all recorded simultaneously à la the Lord of the Rings movies -- still forthcoming. Nevertheless, Virgin Black fans will quickly discover that this first, 52-minute mid-section of what's surely to become the band's magnum opus, already feels like the fulfillment of their thus far nebulous musical destiny. In it, their "gothic metal with strings" template is effectively transformed into an altogether grander full-blown symphony with gothic metal elements, marked by predominantly orchestral movements such as the extravagant "Requiem, Kyrie," the sublime melancholy of "Midnight's Hymn," and the suitably suicidal epic "...And I Am Suffering." Truly, this distinct shift in focus is more far reaching than some may at first assume, since scarce are the tracks here ("Domine," "Lacrimosa") where guitars, bass, drums, and non-choir vocals take prominence over the pervasive orchestra commissioned for its recording (although heavier, doom/death tendencies glimpsed here are promised to dominate the trilogy's third chapter). And, as with every Virgin Black release, classically trained operatic talents are employed as needed to carry out each song's morose poetics, while chief musical architect Rowan London has notably improved his clean singing, which he alternates with a fearsome Cookie Monster growl here. In sum, it is now obvious that rumors of Virgin Black's demise were terribly exaggerated, and if the remaining two portions of the Requiem trilogy are anywhere near as accomplished as this first one, fans are in for a magnificent musical adventure.

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