While I’m significantly late on this it is now time to review Island Of The Dead!
This album was released almost a month ago but, because I’m a purist idiot, I refused to listen to it digitally until I had my hard copy. All of these pictures were taken after letting it sit for three days after it came in the mail. You know, because of the now global pandemic.
I can’t describe how happy this made me when I finally opened it. The happiness over receiving an individually numbered CD copy also brought my attention to other aspects of the presentation and delivery. I don’t know all the specifics of this, but hard copies of Sopor Aeternus albums tend to only be available through the band and record label’s website around the time the album in question is to be released. I read that Sopor Aeternus worked briefly with John A. Rivers who, in the world of goth music, is a fairly big name, having produced albums for the likes of Dead Can Dance, Love And Rockets, Daniel Ash, etc. As far as I know, I don’t think Sopor has ever come any closer than that to approaching major label representation.
In fact, when I search for Apocalyptic Vision Records online, it seems that Sopor Aeternus and The Ensemble Of Shadows constitute the majority of their output. This goes back to early albums like Ich tote mich…, Todeswunsch and the earliest known version of Es reiten die Toten so schnell, which makes me suspect that Anna-Varney Cantodea herself must have some kind of personal involvement with Apocalyptic Vision Records. Maybe I’m way off base, but if they were working with Sopor Aeternus since the very beginning then I think her personal involvement is likely. If the production and release of Sopor Aeternus music is Anna-Varney’s own personal labor of love, then it makes sense that hard-copies of their work would only be made in proportion to purchases if, perhaps, money needs to be saved for studio time, production costs, studio muscians, etc. So little things, the amount of detail put into the physical object itself…reflect a much more personal and deliberate touch. Which is why a hand-written 878 in front of the /1000 warms my heart.
Now for the actual music and lyricism: there isn’t a specific and obvious genre affiliation like there was with the death metal album Death & Flamingos but modern touches are distinctly present. Songs like Poison, DeathHouse, Saturn Rising and Nightbreed have noticeable new-wave and new-romantic influences. This shift in creative direction happens along with the preservation of the personal, memoir-style lyricism from Death & Flamingos. The lyrics here are very direct and have very personal \ conversational word and sentence construction and the vocal delivery has the same rawness as the previous album. Minotour has a conversational delivery similar to Kinder Des Teufels from Death & Flamingos, You Cannot Make Him Love You from Mitternacht and Something Wicked This Way Comes from Songs from the Inverted Womb.
The closing song, Goodbye, is very lyrically streamlined: when you read the lyrics in the booklet it looks like a personal note between two individuals, like something meant for someone to read. When Anna begins singing, though, the cadence and rhythm of her voice is perfectly musical. The same goes for Mourning, The Void, Saturn Rising and Cold. Mourning struck my as a little challenging at first- I actually didn’t listen to this album all at once, as a single body of work, the first time I heard it. Which will definitely effect the impression of each song. Anna-Varney Cantodea makes albums that are whole, distinct bodies of work, meant to be taken in as a whole. Now it feels like one of the most important songs on the album. Not least of all because of the lyrical stream lining mentioned earlier. The use of verbal repetition is different on this album- in fact, I don’t think lyrical repetition is used quite the same way in anything else by Sopor.
On Mourning, repetition is used in a way comparable to the function served by a chorus in an ordinary rock song, but still gives the rest of the more conversational lyrics room to define the overall tone. The longer instrumental sections also provide necessary atmospheric breathing room for the song to work. As a kind of orienting “center” to the album, this generous use of space is very justified.
Saturn Rising, while just as streamlined overall, is more of an equal split between conversational and conventionally rhythmic lyricism. The alternating slow and fast pacing and the use of electric guitar give the song a recognizable alternative-shoegazey feel. In fact, all of the electric guitar usage on this album reminds me of shoegaze.
The lyrics of Burial Ground are more rhythmic than conversational but retains the shoegaze flavor. Poison, DeathHouse and Nightbreed all riff on shoegaze but go a bit further into the land of straight up gothic rock. On that subject, Nightbreed is particularly satisfying. Very cheeky and angry and contains one of my favorite personalized lyrical bitch-slaps on the album:
I’m not your pal, your aunt or your mother!
You asshole, I’m your FRIEND!
But if all that is too much to ask for,
Then, please…don’t pretend.
If you don’t care to have me
In your busy and happy life,
Then don’t you dare
Say that you love me!
Tell that shit
to your wife
I love love love how she spits the words “Go and \ tell that shit \ to your wife” ❤
The new familiarity with direct, memoir-style lyricism and rock experimentation on both this album and the last one seems significant. Death & Flamingos and Island Of The Dead both sound more like direct and personal statements from Anna herself, as opposed to Dead Lovers Sarabande or Songs from the Inverted Womb which employed less literal narrative devices. This, in addition to the release of one album a year for three years so far makes these new works seem like an important moment in her artistic career.
After the release of The Spiral Sacrifice in 2018, Anna did an interview with the German LGBT magazine Seigessaule in which she said that The Spiral Sacrifice will “probably” be her last album. This made sense in that interview, as she described the 2018 album- which was in fact a reimagining of her 1997 album The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller -as a journey through time and a stock-taking. This made The Spiral Sacrifice sounded like a grand, finishing statement, to say nothing of the fact that Anna is in her sixties and could hardly be faulted for considering slowing down.
Not only did Anna release new music in 2019 and 2020, but look at the contrast with the 2018 album. The Spiral Sacrifice is almost luxuriously introspective, poetic and slow-paced. I listen to it often while writing or drawing, as I do with Poetica and Ich Tote Mich. The Spiral Sacrifice was constructed with room for the listener’s mind to occupy the material alongside Anna’s presence. In the last two albums, Anna herself dominates all the space and is singing literally about herself in lyrics that make you hear her as both an artist and a private person. So far from being a final album, The Spiral Sacrifice appears to have marked the beginning of a unique chapter in the life of Sopor Aeternus and The Ensemble Of Shadows.