In the late autumn of 2021 Swedish experimental duo Opera Diabolicus has released their sophomore record with symbolical name Death on a Pale Horse through Season of Mist Records. It’s their first collaboration with this French music label, before they had a deal with Metalville, German music label specialized in traditional genres, but now when their music has morphed into something more experimental, Season of Mist is the best option for them.
This band consists only of two musicians, who are responsible for all the basic musical instruments, except additional ones (like violin, flute or Hammond organ) or the singing parts. Both Adrian de Crow and David Grimoire were involved in live shows of Snowy Shaw, who is known for his fondness of theatricality and swanky expressiveness. Within Opera Diabolicus Adrian and David were able to express their unconditioned love for pompous epicness and heroic moods. Impressed by a theatrical adaption of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose”, they have decided to join forces creating something dark, grand and experimental as seen in this stage play. It’s almost a metal opera with conceptual stories, a bunch of guest musicians, a lot of symphonic solemnity and stone-cutting emotional background. And not without interesting ideas and skillful performance, so no wonder this chef-d’œuvre took them almost ten years. The intricate pattern of this record was explored so meticulously that it seems like it was polished to the tiniest detail, until every inch of this album was shining with perfection. Yeah, this devoted attitude is really a delight.
It’s almost impossible to squeeze this album into brief and laconic description, there’s a lot going on here all the time, and although the mood changes are not too drastic and stylistic games are also rather smooth, Death on a Pale Horse teeter-totters on a verge of avant-garde. The foundation is still traditional, and this progressive/heavy metal base always helps to stay sane in the familiar metal realm, when the theatrical madness soaks you in or the symphonic elements tear you into pieces through classical music’s grinder. So there’s not even a possibility to get lost in the labyrinths of chaotic messiness, there’s no place for something erratic or random in this structural pedantry. But that doesn’t mean this album is too predictable, on the contrary, it is full of surprises and beautiful relaxing moments, and that’s incredibly refreshing to forget about clichés and anticipations, Opera Diabolicus are here only for unexpected.
Despite traditional and symphonic framework, the mood of the album is covered with dark and gothic veils, entwining the very spirit of this record with deadly thorns and black tears, and moreover, it doesn’t sound depressively or painfully hysterical, quite the opposite, the aftertaste is always sweet and optimistic after the listening. Old school vibes are very attractive from progressive rock viewpoint, thanks to the moog synths and Hammond organ (performed by Brazilian guest musician Rodrigo Rodrigues), but both female singers Madeleine Liljestam and Angelina DelCarmen add some commercial touches with their contemporary singing techniques (especially audible on “Second Coming” and “Little Sister”). And that’s also is refreshing, because all these young Therionish bands hurry to invite well-known operatic metal divas, and that would really endanger the already high critical level of solemnity here.
The mournful atmosphere belongs to the last two compositions “Night Demon” and “At Nighttime”, hinting on classical doom metal, and unsurprisingly, because the lead singer is none other than Mats Levén (mainly known from such bands as Candlemass or Krux), so this doomishness is really natural here. His singing manner became a real trademark – high (often bordering with falsetto), expressive and emotionally rich. Backing vocals of Snowy Shaw are absolutely different, but together they form a true circus of madness and a theatre of darkness. Of course, it’s not so easy to highlight the progressive parts in this sumptuous symphonic journey, so the technical side of this album is rather muted, without overcharging and overcomplicating the music itself. The guitar solos from Danish legends Andy LaRock and Michael Denner (King Diamond, Mercyful Fate etc.) on “Second Coming” add yet another charming piquancy to this diverse record. And without doubt symphonic elements often lead to classical music’s domain (thanks also to violin, piano and flute).
So, what is Death on a Pale Horse? Progressive heavy metal masterpiece with strong ties to the past times? Dark/gothic melancholic story, full of mysteries and horrors? Classical experience with a lot of symphonic clichés? Or a lite version of traditional doom? Or a multifunctional rock opera? Or just something experimental with multiple stylistic faces? Neither… or everything, so let’s forget about the genres and just enjoy the music.
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