Dirging Down Under

Gloom-wizards of Oz
photo: Chris Slack/

The year isn't over yet, so I suppose it's a tad premature to call Virgin Black's newest album, Elegant . . . and Dying, the fabbest, most metallurgically shiny, and liturgically doom-encrusted goth opera to come from Australia

in 2003. But I'm throwing caution to the wind. Especially when the first lines on their album—which deftly mixes the faux-Roman hymnal-book vocals and church-lady bombast of countrymen Dead Can Dance with the sleek Bavarian musikal werkings and über-riffs of German epic and/or power metal—are these whoppers: "A thousand tears, a thousand eyes/My friends and I we cry/Religion has raped us." And then, like the man says, they really go down and under.

Seventy-five minutes of wavering shadows, muted children, savage priests, choirs, flutes, guitars, and enough eternal sorrow to fill the river Styx. No lugger-shepherd-boozer sing-alongs for these Aussies. Just endless grandiose dirges that stop, start, lurch, and flail gloriously, and with Byzantine construction and undead marching-band tempo that would give the jammiest jam band fits. If prog is the love that dare not speak its name when it comes to some of the most interesting metal bands these days, then count Virgin Black in with that lot whether they like it or not. By substituting sacrilege and stigmata wounds for dragons and Roger Dean dreamscapes, they end up creating dark, spacey suites where every day is like Sunday and the kangas weep in pain.

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