Virgin Black

Elegant and Dying

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Virgin Black should get some kind of prize simply for having the audacity to name their sophomore album Elegant. . .and Dying. But let's not be too hard on this Australian quintet over such matters because, after all, this extravagant title actually suits their outrageously over-indulgent, but equally awe-inspiring dark metal symphonies perfectly. Much of the credit for this feat must go to singer, chief songwriter, and head vampire Rowan London, who put his money where his mouth was (literally!) by taking vocal lessons with a professional opera singer prior to this recording. He could still use a little work, but his pipes already show a marked improvement over 2001's (at times cringe-inducing) Sombre Romantic, as he steps to the fore on opener "Adorned in Ashes." As for the more reliable musical portion of Elegant. . .and Dying, brazenly ambitious epics such as the nine-minute "Cult of Crucifixion," and the 20-minute behemoth "The Everlasting," might look overwhelming on paper, but such is the nature of the album's cohesive start-to-finish ambience that their bloated lengths hardly betray themselves. Still, there's nothing like a little restraint to entrust a great song with even more succinct power, and the two-part "And the Kiss of God's Mouth" is especially beautiful and evocative, if also somewhat reminiscent of previously heard masterpieces by label mates Agalloch. Still, it's difficult to resist this song's sheer stylistic breadth, or that of ensuing highlights such as "Renaissance" and "Beloved," whose melancholy charms will doubtlessly seduce most any open-minded fans of both heavy metal and gothic rock.

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