SummaryGothic face in the mirror
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Cemetary are one of those weird bands to me; not because of their stylistic changes (since those weren’t uncommon in the 90s to begin with), but more because this shift in style sees them reach their potential. Black Vanity shows no signs of death metal anymore, as it’s basically a refined and more consistent version of the band’s sophomore record. Having now settled for a gothic metal sound with doomy overtones, it’s clearly more accessible than the band’s past two albums, but makes up with far superior songwriting at least. Mathias Lodmalm often wrote short songs to begin with, but here they’re as rich in atmosphere as they’re downright memorable.
While Cemetary’s earlier records could have easily been compared to those of early Tiamat, I’d argue that the Tiamat comparison definitely ended at this point. Black Vanity reminds me more of Paradise Lost, but it’s more along the lines of Icon than Draconian Times; meaning that it should stick in your head rather easily, but still sounds distinctive enough and avoid the obvious commercial direction – which, let’s face it; Draconian Times clearly didn’t. Of course, vocals associated with this kind of gothic metal play a huge role and in this case, we’re dealing with a solid performance. Mathias Lodmalm avoids some of the traps other vocalists fall into, such as the monotone gothic croons of Kristian Wåhlin, or the loud, yet out-of-tune belting approach of Nick Holmes. Mathias has developed a raspy, yet coherent tone here and while you might need some time to warm up to his voice, I wouldn’t want it any other way; he sounds like someone who has become weary of life and all the crap that comes with it.
Guitars don’t stand out much from a conservative point of view, but it helps that a series of well-timed leads hum over the simplistic rhythm guitars that balanced on the edge of the doom and gothic metal spectrum; which is established by “Ebony Rain” – which introduces a killer pitch-black lead melody between the multitude of pouring palm-muted power chords. Catchier choruses have now become part of Cemetary’s repertoire as well; like that shout-along refrain of “Scarecrow”, that features a rousing lead-melody that could have easily appeared on Icon in addition. Most importantly: Black Vanity hardly features any serious cracks to begin with. “Black Flowers of Passion” is a near-four minute interlude of spoken vocals, wandering acoustics and warm keys… but it serves no purpose to the album by any means and “Out in the Sand” sounds a bit too stale when compared to the surrounding songs, where Mathias Lodmalm becomes loud during those unmemorable verses and gets surprisingly quiet during that lead-driven chorus.
Two out of ten poor choices isn’t bad, of course… let alone when one isn’t even a song to begin with. I may not be a huge fan of gothic metal to begin with, but Black Vanity is definitely one of the better examples that I can think of. It helps that this album has a serious edge to it and even the more surprising songs turn out well. “Hunger of the Innocent” alternates between some mysterious acoustic passages and explosive grooves that the doomier riffs are responsible for, where even Mathias Lodmalm gets a little louder than usual in between. “Last Departure / Serpentine Parade” is another hard-hitter, where Mathias Lodmalm shouts his way through the crunchy doom-styled opening before the track chugs along and leads to that fuzzy chorus. Even that ominous, industrial break halfway through does it for me; conveying an oppressive atmosphere that’s rather unusual when compared to the usual moods of the album.
As time went on, Cemetary would continue to walk the road of the gothics, but unfortunately would do so with mediocre results. Black Vanity may not be flawless, but if you like your gothic/doom metal with attitude, then you can’t go wrong with here and personally, I’d argue that this makes the band’s best introduction too – although I clearly realize that plenty of folks would prefer the death metal debut.
Release date: 1994
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