Thursday, October 24, 2013

Candle Serenade - Nosferatu's Passion (1995)

One of my 'goals' this Halloween season was to head back in time to the 90s/early 21st century and revisit a lot of the cheesy Gothic/black metal hybrids that were once making waves in the wake of Cradle of Filth and Therion's success over the same period. Not to imply that all of the bands were all biting off these more familiar names stylistically, but there certainly seemed an era when that lowest common denominator 'haunted house' factor was this fresh, unexplored aesthetic in extreme metal that bands were diving into with vampiric lyrics, synthesizers, and of course the implementation of wailing female vocals. Some of the recordings I hold dear despite their obvious limitations, and others not so much, but after storming through the catalogs of Hecate Enthroned, Ancient, Graveworm, Siebenbürgen, Abyssos and numerous others, I suddenly remembered this 'gem' of a disc gathering dust in one of numerous forgotten boxes of my CD collection...okay, not exactly a gem.

I picked up Nosferatu's Passion some time in the later 90s, at one of Koshick's Milwaukee Metalfests. Remember when those were a thing? Remember when they were THE thing? At any rate, this wasn't exactly an blind or impulse purchase, as I had read some zines that placed Candle Serenade in that whole Gothic black and doom metal scene emerging from Portugal (Moonspell, Heavenwood, Desire, etc), but I was also drawn to the grim packaging, sloppy but symmetrical logo, and frankly I had a 'thing' for that whole vampire mythology drawn from a fascination with Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, and White Wolf tabletop RPGs like Vampire the Masquerade, Vampire: The Dark Ages, and so forth. No, I wasn't so much a dork that I was drinking wine and pretending it was blood, or engaging in mutual wrist-cutting rituals with the few ladies who might be willing to sup upon me, but I was pretty fond of classic horror, and even though my preference was for the raw black metal shit like Deathcrush or A Blaze in the Northern Sky, I had no real issue with those imaginative, dreamer bands who were trying to turn it into some kind of symphonic spectacle in lieu of limited resources and oft-substandard songwriting skills.

Well, once I finally trekked back to Massholeville and actually had the chance to go through all my loot, I can't say I was thrilled with this, immediately relegating it to the 'perhaps I will listen again' stack and then moving on to far better stuff. Every now and then I've broken this out to attempt some sort of appreciation, but ultimately I've got to conclude that Nosferatu's Passion, while a well-meaning disc that hovers on the precipices of both black and doom metal, is pretty fucking mediocre. I guess the best way to describe this would be as a mix of Moonspell's first EP, the earlier Theater of Tragedy records, and Therion's Lepaca Kliffoth (which came out the same year, one of my favorite Gothic metal records and infinitely superior to this). The use of the flute tones is somewhat reminiscent of Kawir from Greece, but obviously there's a little bit of a cultural divide and they don't give off that same rustic effect; they're not piping at you from gleeful, sylvan glades where ancient fauns dance, but rather following ghostly lights down corridors, disembodied floating hands with candles in them en route to some ritual. In fact, when it comes to the 'black' metal elements on this recording, which are scarce, there is some other parallelism to the Greek scene in that Candle Serenade tended to play slowly with a lot of simple guitar melodies.

Tunes like "Celtic Lir's Sons (Sad Erin's Legend)", for instance, seem like an alternate spin on the stuff that Rotting Christ, Nightfall or Varathron were putting out, or Root/Master's Hammer from the Czech scene, only nowhere near as poignant or memorable. There's that pervading sense of 'alternate' evolution. Nobody handed these guys a guidebook on 'black metal dos and don'ts', so it bears precious little similarity to the usual Scandinavian sources. Of course, Nosferatu's Passion would not have suffered from some bursts of infectious tremolo picking, some storming surges of energy. The entire album seems too content with its laconic sensibilities, constant glazes of guitar melodies that fail to catch the ear. They're really into using a lot of synthesizer sequences which sound like what you'd hear trekking around a graveyard or necropolis in some old computer RPG from the 90s. Not only in the 3/8ths of the track list that are pure intros or interludes, but also in sizable chunks of the lengthy tracks like "Transylvanic Mistress", which can take a long time to build in intensity and then never offer the payoff it needs to feel as if the song has actually transported you anywhere...honestly, Nosferatu's Passion is rather's biggest crime.

The production seems a little better than I can remember, but then that happens a lot when I'm going these old atmospheric black metal records like Siebenbürgen or Bishop of Hexen. I think a part of me just pines for these simpler times when bands were just lucky to get the instruments to a coherent mix and get something out through an inevitably doomed label (if I'm not mistaken, Guardians of Metal released less than a dozen titles). The drums pop through, the synthesizers are voluminous but contrast enough with the rhythm guitars and vocals that they don't drown them out, and the bass lines, while nothing extraordinary are at least audible. I think my biggest gripe here would be that the guitars sort of stumble along without much impact... not only are the 'riffs' pretty bland, but they simply lack the power or eloquence to successfully provoke the escapism of the lyrics. Vocally, Candle Serenade is also a little scattershot. The harsh vocals have more of a gruff bark to them, slightly reminding me of Johan Edlund on some of the older Tiamat stuff, but there are also some weird clean sections which seem a little 'off' in tuning (something I also felt about a few of the guitar melodies). The female operatic guest vocals are rather inconsequential though not unexpected. The clean guitar tone is also a fraction murky, so these sequences don't really shine on the album like they might with a proper 12-string mix.

All studio gripes aside, Nosferatu's Passion really just strains credibility because for an album that seems so imminently dark, suffocating and possibly undead in inspiration, it never once seems menacing or evil, not at any time visceral or ethereal in its horrors. Granted, not all the lyrics revolve around vampiric topics like Murnau's Nosferatu film, there is also a fascination here for Celtic myth and other history, but I've heard a grade school quartet sing the "Monster Mash" and it sounded spookier. Candle Serenade seems to avoid the incorporation of the darker atmosphere generated through a lot of minor scale exploration and general dissonance, and the riffing lines seem satisfied as seats for the keyboards, only neither is doing much worth a damn. Nothing on this debut is outright offensive or utterly irredeemable, but lyrically and musically you could put on anything by Cradle of Filth, Therion or Tiamat from the 90s, or any aesthetic median between any of the three, and benefit more than Nosferatu's Passion. Hell, pick up Medieval Demon's obscure debut Demonolatria from 1998...much better. I hate to say it, but the most notable thing about this short lived act was its of those handles that seems to just DESERVE better music. No offense, but if I had just spent a hundred years in my coffin and heard someone playing this in an attempt to lull me out, I think I'd just remain in torpor, thirsty, for another century.

Verdict: Fail [4.5/10]

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