Theatre of Tragedy – Forever is the World
In the overcrowded Theatre of female-fronted metal, the latest from Norway’s premier “goth with a chick” outfit is thankfully no Tragedy.
Call me pleasantly surprised: I never would have guessed Theatre of Tragedy could make a good album after the unceremonious dismissal of Liv Kristine in 2003. Wait, I actually never would have even imagined that they would make an album that was even halfway decent after replacing the extraordinary Liv with the bland Nell Sigland. I was never of the mindset that anyone who is not Liv Kristine will automatically be awful. I mean, when Nightwish replaced Tarja Turunen with Anette Olzon, I could quickly see that Olzon’s vocals weren’t as impressive as Turunen’s (understatement of the year there), but Nightwish’s songwriting didn’t suffer and they still continued to make amazing music. That wasn’t the case with ToT and Storm, their first album with Sigland. I really hated to see one of my longtime favorite bands steadily descending into an unoriginal, yawn-inducing mess. So it is only natural that when I heard that they were working on new music, I wasn’t waiting with bated breath for a masterpiece.
And a masterpiece Forever is the World is not. The good news, though, is that it’s genuinely not terrible. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that some of the songs on Forever is the World have a similar atmosphere to that of one of ToT’s classic albums, 1998’s lush, wistful Aegis. There is nothing really heavy or notably complex on this release, so those seeking out progressive build-ups and eight-minute guitar solos obviously aren’t going to dig ToT. Instead, this is decent female-fronted “gothic” rock music with gentle keyboards and melodic guitars used as a simple rhythmic tool. Interestingly, ToT’s male vocalist/co-founder Raymond I. Rohonyi unleashes some harsh vocals from time to time on Forever is the World, which is something he declared years ago that he would absolutely never do again. His voice isn’t especially wonderful, but the contrast between the dark, growled vocals and flowing keyboard arrangements can be nice when pulled off correctly. And ToT — one of the very first of the now overpopulated female-fronted metal genre — can pull it off. When they want to, of course.
“Astray” has a spacey, slow groove with Rohonyi’s clean spoken vocals against Sigland’s light, near-whispers. Throughout Forever is the World, the guitars are soft, rolling and not too prominent. Fit for a movie soundtrack, “Hide and Seek” is suspenseful and slightly edgier, with Rohonyi bitterly growling, “Look at me, look at me, you motherfucker. If you could see what I see, I know that you would hate me.” This is quite a far cry from the early days of ToT when their lyrics were composed in Early Modern English. Somehow, the straightforward approach seems to work here, as “Hide and Seek” has been an effectively attention-getting first single from the album and it also does a fine job of entertaining me.
Not all of Forever is the World fares as well, though. “A Nine Days Wonder” seems to intentionally play into the faceless, generic “band fronted by a chick” game, with indifferent vocal passages from Sigland and uninspired, insipid playing from the rest of the band. “Illusions” is sleepy, saccharine filler, with Sigland and Rohonyi at their most mind-numbing and redundant. Sigland’s helpless squeak of “Everything’s electric blue / everything’s untrue” at the very end of the song literally made me wince. Reaching desperately for a high note of profundity is never advisable for such a mediocre voice.
Resurrecting the passion and emotion of vintage Theatre of Tragedy in some small form is “Hollow,” in which Sigland’s vocal performance is actually pretty nice. In a way, I could imagine this song being on the magnificent Aegis, and that is not a compliment I dish out commonly. This ballad creates quite an atmosphere with light drumming and inescapably hypnotic keyboard melodies. There is a beautifully depressing tone to Sigland’s voice as she quietly laments a relationship’s agonizingly slow end: “Brittle and frail, we fall down / all that we are is means to an end.” The elegant keyboard outro and seemingly impromptu, upbeat guitar riffs made me smile and are an appropriate symbol of closure. And though the title made me roll my eyes, “Frozen” sets a pretty intense mood as well. Sigland and Rohonyi trade off with more “beauty and beast” vocals, though Rohonyi’s harsh voice doesn’t exactly fit as well into this song. Again, the keyboards are gorgeous — the introduction to “Frozen” gave me goosebumps. Lorentz Aspen may be the highlight of this album in terms of song writing and arrangements; his keyboards really play a huge role in making Forever is the World something worthwhile.
Forever is the World re-establishes Theatre of Tragedy as a possible player to watch in the rock/metal world. I had resigned this band to failure with the disastrously dull Storm, but am surprised and impressed that Forever is the World is not a failure. I can say with certainty that the band will never recapture its old magic, but this new release is a positive step toward them being good again. It seems as if ToT is picking up the pieces from its musical missteps and trying to make things right again. I’m on board with that and am now curious once more about what they will experiment with in the future.
3.5 stars out of 5