Rather than pointing at a well defined and specified genre of music, the term Gothic Metal indicates a broad scope of bands which combine heavy sounds with dark atkmospheres, melancholic melodies, romantic or gloomy lyrics. In the history of modern music the main exponents of this gothic approach to music were bands of the caliber of Type o Negative, Anathema, My Dying Bride and of course Paradise Lost (the term “gothic” actually entered heavy metal music with their beautiful album Gothic, published in 1991).
Today, many of the bands that have helped to develop this kind of metal have moved to play other styles of music, but there are still other groups that continue to explore with their songs the sounds, the atmospheres and the lyrical themes associated to the gothic world.
I’m presenting in this article three albums released in 2018 that represent, despite their differences, the best examples of contemporary gothic metal. You will discover groups that started from genres like death metal, folk or even industrial metal but which then expanded from there and incorporated in their songs the characteristic elements of gothic music.
Unfortunately the Swedish formation Usurpress had to face this year a terrible tragedy, perhaps the worst of their life as a band. On June 2018 their singer and frontman Stefan Pettersson lost his battle with cancer. The amount of suffering he endured to complete their last album Interregnum was incredible (“it will be legendary even in hell”, as the band wrote on their webpage), and we can’t avoid to feel the pain and despair of this great musician in the songs of the record.
It’s not yet clear at the moment if and how the band will proceed further, but for sure Pettersson’s departure arrive in a moment where Usurpress have reached on of the higest peaks of their career, in terms of quality and value of their music. In a scenario where most of the bands seem to flatten themselves on a specific genre of metal – in the worst cases without even trying to give their own special stylistic contribution – their music arrived in fact as an healthy blow of fresh air. In the eight years of their career, Usupress have carefully avoided the marshes of musical mannerism and have always and consistently strived for breaking the typical barriers which exist between musical genres. Started with as a relatively conventional death metal band, Usurpress embarked a roadmap of a musical evolution which has seen them incorporate, year after year, many different influences and also a number of absolutely original and unique ideas. A number of changes in the line-up has certainly contributed to this process, but there was evidently an innate creative restlessness in this band if you consider that even the songs of Interregnum move easily around different regions of metal: from prog-oriented sections inspired from the rock of the 70’s to gothic and melodic metal, from sludgy and heavy atmospheres to moments of crystalline musical poetry.
Interregnum is a beautiful and precious album plenty of dark, evocative and profound atmosphere. Sadly, it also represents the musical testament of Stefan Petterson.
Unshine are a gothic metal band from Finland, active since 2001, and which arrived with their new release Astrala to the fourth entry in their interesting discography. The band declares to play “druid metal”, but in the end their songs bring inside all the main elements of gothic music, in particular for what concerns the melanchonic, soft and feminine characters that we may appreciate in their music.
Similarly to the band’s previous releases, Astrala owes much of its beauty to the delicate and elegant voice of Susanna Vesilahti, the singer of the band, who gives a special romantic and dark touch to all the tracks of the LP.
Astrala is plenty of synthesizers and other instruments that provide the songs with an ejoyable element of folk and progressive. The rhythms are absolutely moderate, sometimes very slow, and in many sections of the album the guitars seem to play a secondary role. This is an album that you can play in the background for hours and hours and it won’t annoy you; there isn’t any special song that will polarize entirely your attention, but the album as a whole will bring you a gothic feeling and a dark touch to your day.
Crematory, from Germany, is a band of veterans of metal which is active from almost thirty years. With the exception of a couple of false steps, they have kept an impressive regularity of publications of good and valid records.
Crematory have consolidated through the years an interesting style of music which mixes together elements of gothic metal with industrial. Their latest full-lenght release, named Oblivion, doesn’t bring many changes with respect to what they have done in the recent years but the albums still signs a step forward compared to their previous work, Monument, especially for what concerns the instrumental component, which shines for compactness and improved dynamic.
This result was not for granted given the various problems that the band had face in recent times, including changes in the line-up and economic difficulties that have also led them to take up controversial positions in front of their supporters.
From a general point of view the music played by Crematory has never been particulary innovative or “trendy”, actually some of their songs seem even dangerously inspired by some other successes of the past (if you listen to the beautiful song Ghost of the Part you’ll see by yourself how it could be borrowed from One Second, the 1997’s album by Paradise Lost). Anyway, their music always seems of the same quality of the models that are taken as reference and, in the end, their new album is definitely enjoyable and cathcy to hear. If only for the desire I have to keep listening to their nice version of gothic music, I can only hope that Crematory will manage to overcome their problems, find greater stability and to continue following the path they have undertaken up to this point.