I've followed Virgin Black since the days of their appearance on the Rowe Productions compilation Falling On Deaf Ears in 1996. Easily, they impressed me more than any other band on that album. The band released an EP called Trance in 1998 that was different, but still very unique. In very late 2000, the band totally outdid themselves with the amazing and stunning Sombre Romantic. On that album the band took us to another world that left us weeping in joy at the harsh beauty that was laid before us.
Now we come to 2003 and one of the most underrated bands in all of music has finally graced us with a work of art that is almost too good to describe with mere words. The only thing that crosses my mind that does this album any justice is "INCREDIBLE"! Virgin Black totally lays their souls bare and creates a work that is utterly drenched in emotion. Elegant...and Dying is an astonishing journey that is nothing short of one of the most moving things you will ever hear in your life.
Virgin Black will usually be described as gothic, but they go so far beyond anything that genre has generated. The band still incorporates metal into their music, but less than was evident on Sombre Romantic. The album delves much more into calmer passages that include beautiful cello, flute, soft guitar, and piano. The lead guitar playing of Samantha Escarbe is so amazing on this disc that it seems like the guitar is a elegant voice singing sweetly and softly in your ear. It totally mesmerizes you till you forget where you are. Sometimes it's as if the guitar is literally crying. Then it will stop, only to be replaced by a lone piano playing individual keys delicately and deliberate...sounding as if it's being played in a huge hall echoing off the towering walls into oblivion. Then Craig Edis' crushing riffs break the near silence with a mournful feel that tears at your soul. It's inconceivable how this band's music just takes on a life of it's own. It really could stand on it's own without vocals and still move the listener to their knees.
But it gets better as the vocals of Rowan London take this art to the next level and beyond. If you considered London's vocals great on their last album, this album will take your breath away. It is almost as if London is not even trying. His voice just effortlessly slides off into the air...piercing and hypnotizing you. He is in total control and his voice becomes one with the instruments playing along. Whether he whispers, chants, sings softly, or whether he rakes you over the coals with his agonizing screams, he never fails to impress. At times, it sounds like his vocals are coming from a deep, dark pit or maybe even a prisoner's cell hundreds of feet below in a gloomy dungeon. The band also incorporates many choir vocals that add to the already dreary atmosphere. I must say that this entire album is one of the most depressing and haunting albums I have ever heard.
Lyrically, the band will most likely be just as controversial as on their previous album. Sombre Romantic's lyrics offended many people, but when you dug deeper you would realize that the lyrics were absolutely amazing with truth and insight. Definitely, one of my favorite lyrical albums of all time. This disc is equally unique and profound. Even after all my listens I'm still discovering new things both lyrically and musically. I am really looking forward to going even further below the surface in the days and weeks to come after this review. This band pours so much of their lives into their creation that a cheap and superficial attention is pointless and to be shamed.
Whether it's the swells of emotion in the nearly twenty minute "The Everlasting" or the aggression of "Cult of Crucifixion", Virgin Black will conquer your will and nail you to the wall with a truly original piece of craftmanship that has few rivals.
Steller production and outstanding artwork round out what promises to easily be one of the top albums of 2003 and maybe of all time. The End Records scored big time when they picked up a band of this high caliber. Virgin Black's new recording is an absolutely must for anyone who calls themselves a lover of music. (Review by Matt)