Record Label: Équinoxe Records | Genre/Style: Gothic Rock | Release Date: March 11, 2016 | Country: Germany | Virus G Rating: 5/5
Sweet Ermengarde were prominently featured on the radar screen of any Gothic Rock connoisseur virtually since their debut album “Raynham Hall” saw the light in 2013. Now, the Germans take a significant leap forward with the release of “Ex Oblivione”, an ambitious sophomore effort whose title is already telling enough of the oniric, recondite vibe emanating from within - especially for enthusiasts of Lovecraft’s stories. However, as with the band’s name, horror fiction is just one of the many dots to be connected for discovering the entire magic of this grimoire. From there on, you go into a dream-like trance and every song become a doorway to dim, esoteric realms where the symbolic visions addressed in the lyrics appear to be real. Each track leads gently into the next, giving “Ex Oblivione” not only fluidity but also entity as an allegorical whole unit. Immediately after the first track is launched off, time seems to stand still, and then an eerie yet serene atmosphere emerges slowly from remote twangs and voices until, barely realizing it, you find yourself undead but dreaming at the gates of silent memory, embarked on one of the most thrilling journeys provided by a Gothic Rock record since Fields of the Nephilim’s “Elyzium”.
“Close your eyes now... close your eyes... let me inside your dreams... initiate me... to your deepest self... and I will sacrifice... sacrifice... in your inner sanctum... close your eyes now... close your eyes...”. These revealing lines mark the start of the song “Ex Oblivione” itself, which in turn is the first part of the 18-minute, 3-track opening movement. The singer’s magnetic, unearthly vocals take us into the unexplored landscapes of slumber. The vacuum begins to fill up with haunting chords, cherubic litanies and suspenseful bass sequences and gradually an intense sense of gloom takes root to accompany us during the whole experience. Thereafter, the sound rises and falls alternatively, matching the emotional peak of the moment. Thus, with no changes in the track listing, you excitingly pass from deathly quiet, lethargic tempos to combined riff raids in classic Nephilim fashion, and so on. The latter reach a climax in the second chapter, “Into Oblivion”, with those apocalyptic, staccato bass lines blasting out on top of the mix. “Open your eyes now...”. Longing and despair, numbness and anger, quietude and anxiety; calm and tempest; ultimately, high-octane excitement unfolded second by second throughout seamless, tidy sound passages that flow into the track that closes this essential set of three, “From Beyond (Sleep Is Better Than Prayer)”, whose neatly spaced, steady drums produce an intuitive state of elevation, rhythm in rhythm with stylish, ringing tones of bass guitar. Swirling guitar tunes occasionally nod to zero gravity locations, while the soaring, mournful vocal delivery blurs the borders between body and soul; death and life. Notably, the versatile vocal range displayed by the storyteller in this album, who fits right in his role as daemonic Morpheus, is crucial to convey the lyrical poetry in its full scope, as well as for tinging the cinematic vignettes. In the light of all the above, those wearing black hats will go into raptures while listening to this segment.
Although the same could apply to the couple inspired by Le Fanu’s famous vampire character Carmilla (or Mircalla), comprising the instrumental quotation “I have been in love with no one, and never shall, unless it should be with you”, whose tribal beats, reversed reprises and long drawn-out cries of guitar properly invoke for two minutes the song “Carmilla” as such, which enters sliding over a tempting, unfussy percussion pattern, put in sync with soft, melodious bass picks and airy, chiming chords, both adding texture without taking over, and therefore preparing the ambiance for the passionate croons and cries, along with the elegiac solos to hover above with proper ghostly allure. Not to mention tracks such as “Dreamlands” or “Death Of Night”, which pair bouncing bass throbs with tapping guitar figures in a catchy ticking manner, and switch between hook-laden, tuneful midsections and threatening, misty flights over the ancient Sumer, rocked by epic flanger turbulences; or the smoldering, weirdly ethereal “Beneath This House”, which takes the hair-rising surreal glide element to its furthest extent.
Moreover, the duet formed by “Port Of Hope” and “Tender Russian Roulette” shows a more wistful and romantic side to the band, which comes tightly shaped in intricate string frameworks that conjure up the finest works of The Mission’s catalogue. Furthermore, the sound of “Drain” and “Nigredo-Clad” fuses Gothic Rock’s flair for harmony and drama with hints of Gothic/Doom Metal’s climate and menace, finished off with fathomless, hoarsely crowned baritones that handle the emotional pulse in complicity with the guitar refrains, sometimes plangent, others fateful, but memorable at any time. Taken together, both tracks are quite reminiscent of that sweeping, haunted swing which permeates Type O Negative’s “October Rust”. “For your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost” concludes this illusive voyage with an astoundingly filmic 666 seconds piece that brings us back to the point where we were plunged into reverie. Languorous, unnaturally spoken vocals drift along prophetic chord repetitions, all this wrapped with a subdued, but nevertheless very suggestive string of sound effects. Crackles and hums, sacred chants, moans and gasps, bleak piano notes and angelic choirs, subtly depict a brooding, hypnotic yet vivid preamble panorama, until everything ceases abruptly at the end song and we somehow become one with the oblivion infinitude.
Review by Billyphobia