"Existentia" by Norway's TRAIL OF TEARS is easily one of the best gothic metal albums I've heard in some time, largely because of the combination of the heavy with the ethereal is so soundly written and performed. Granted, many would not call "Existentia" a purely gothic release due at least in part because of said heavier approach that at times recalls bands like DARK TRANQUILLITY. Wonderfully executed keyboards, a multi-vocalist approach (clean, operatic, harsh/growling), including the angelic voice of Emmanuelle Zoldan, a rhythm section that can pummel as well as it accents, and periodic use of borderline Swedish melodic death metal riffing make this one a gem. And have I mentioned the melodies? The band hits a grand slam with those as well.The deft blending of heaviness, melody, and gothic atmosphere shine brightest on songs like "Decadence Becomes Me" and especially the monumentally memorable and hard-driving "She Weaves Shadows" (certainly the best track in my book). "Decadence Becomes Me" boasts a classic gothic chorus, a perfectly placed piano break, and is one of several tunes that also breaks for Zoldan's lofty singing. "She Weaves Shadows" is simply a monster track; the build on the verse is powerful and the chorus catchy as hell, the grooves are tough, and the overall delivery adrenaline-pumped and dark. It's difficult to ask for much more. Other tracks are even rather menacing, "Venom Inside My Veins" in particular; the cut flows with a mid-tempo crunch, switching between clean and growled vocals and exploding into an anguished chorus. The riff on "The Closing Walls" is almost thrashy and juxtaposed against a bubbling electronic effect. In fact, the keyboards throughout the album work on several levels, putting a chill into the bones in some parts, shrouding the song in an obsidian aura in others, and incorporating nuance exactly where it needs to be. The effect combines grandly when choral effects are used on a song like "Poisonous Tongues", a track boasting a fine mix of operatic male and female vocals. The exceptional arrangement is one that moves between melodic, riff-based heaviness and dark (often creepy) majesty. Slower, more melancholy tracks are found as well, such as "Empty Room", a somewhat epic, ballad-esque tune that slowly pulls the listener into the abyss with Zoldan's beautiful vocals. There is so much to enjoy on "Existentia" and much to explore and uncover within these 10 elegant tracks. It gets better with each listen. A good part of the album's appeal has to do with the manner in which the music ebbs and flows, providing opportunity to absorb wave upon wave of metallic power and melancholic dreaminess. "Existentia" is truly the complete package.
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