Virgin Black - Elegant ... And Dying
The End Records
Dark Gothic Orchestral Music
9 songs (74'27")
Release year: 2003
The End Records
Reviewed by Alex

It seems that only yesterday I reviewed 2002 debut by Virgin Black titled Sombre Romantic. While I liked the album overall, with some melodies (A Poet’s Tears of Porcelain) being simply outstanding, I felt that this Australian band was drawn in way too many different directions. I am happy to report, therefore, that Virgin Black has settled in. Gone are black and industrial influences. The sophomore offering Elegant … And Dying sees the band concentrating on what they think they do best – dark gothic metal. In fact, they go even further. This album is oppressingly gothic, if there ever was such a thing.

Two players of Virgin Black carry the day (or is it night?). The whole band is about Rowan London’s vocals and keyboards and Samantha Escarbe’s strings, guitar and cello. On Elegant … And Dying Rowan left his blackened shrieks behind, and it was a good thing. Only a few times, when extreme angst has to be expressed, you can hear “extreme” vocals. Most of the time, his voice is detached, hopeless and harmonic. It feels that whoever he is longing for has passed away, and all there is left to caress is a dead cold body. To diversify, various approaches from Gregorian chants to harsh whispering are used. Samantha has discovered that a lot of heaviness can come from plugging a lot of buzz’n’fuzz in guitar playing. She deliberately mixes this sound with plenty of clean, bard-by-the-fire guitar passages, but the best moments come when guitar is allowed to carry the melody (the end of And the Kiss of God’s Mouth Part 2, the closer Our Wings Are Burning). Cello fits in nicely, and provides the velvety mysterious orchestral element. Quite often all music has to stop to let Rowan meander with his ivory tinkling and minor chords. When this is organic, and not overblown, it provides another shot of depression straight in the vein. However, when it completely slows everything down to a halt (The Everlasting), the continuity and flow is lost.

The album starts, continues and ends on dark, depressive and hauntingly morose notes. Mostly instrumental Adorned in Ashes starts the “festivities” with its funeral melodies, timpani like drums and string (cello) orchestral elements. The next three songs combine tender gothic despair, elegant orchestration and some doomy fuzzy guitar. Renaissance is where things start to bog down, and The Everlasting and Cult of Crucifixion also have a lot of empty spaces in them. When you go for a 17 min song (The Everlasting) you have to make sure you have enough ideas to cover that long span of time, otherwise listener’s attention wanes. The last two tracks, Beloved and Our Wings Are Burning, save the day and bring the album back to its dark and organic nature. Beloved may be one of the most anxious songs I have heard in a while.

The cover art is very clever, the outside of the booklet being white, and all inside context being placed on the black background. This definitely fits with the lyrical approach the band takes – there is only one step from light to darkness, and darkness is all that’s left.

Virgin Black are on their way to something good. They have already found the niche they would like to occupy. Now I wish they could tighten up their songwriting and eliminate those overly artsy gaps in their compositions.

Killing Songs :
Velvet Tongue, And the Kiss of God's Mouth Part 2, Beloved, Our Wings Are Burning
Alex quoted 75 / 100
Other albums by Virgin Black that we have reviewed:
Virgin Black - Requiem - Fortissimo reviewed by Alex and quoted 82 / 100
Virgin Black - Requiem - Mezzo Forte reviewed by Alex and quoted 84 / 100
Virgin Black - Sombre Romantic reviewed by Alex and quoted 72 / 100
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