Darkwave is another genre tag that is easy to dismiss as superfluous. But the more you dig, the more it becomes a useful way to cordon off a set of artists that arose out of the 1980s in the wake of goth, post punk, and the first wave of neofolk. Equally, owing to this broad mix of interested parties from differing musical backgrounds, one can find a plethora of approaches to dipping and out of this territory. Many will share a common emotive and atmospheric intent, but all bringing different musical techniques from across the rock and electro spectrum. As far as metal is concerned – chiefly gothic and gothic metal that is – it offers a delicate counterpoint to the earthy neofolk and isolationist dungeon synth wanderings of these metal adjacent genres.
The instrumentation is usually richer, there’s a greater focus on classical vocals that constitute a key feature of the sound, and aesthetically it presents itself as more refined than the feudal farmworker cosplay of neofolk. Imagine Enya trying to write the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings. Band shots are often of a becloaked couple staring out of church windows, wandering through stone archways, or generally looking like they’re about to drop the next ‘Sorrows of Young Werther’ on us.
Die Verbannten Kinder Evas should be familiar to any Summoning fan worth their salt, it being chiefly the solo project of Protector, who was joined by an array of female vocalists over the years. In general the music offers a more fluid, streamlined and dynamic framework than the rigid sequenced layers of early Summoning, and in tracking the releases of the two projects in tandem we see these techniques bleed out into post 2000 Summoning works in interesting ways. Nowhere is this starker than 1999’s offering ‘In Darkness Let Me Dwell’, released the same year as Summoning’s ‘Stronghold’ and using the same keyboard and synth banks. Protector is also joined by vocalist Tania Borsky featured on the Summoning track ‘Where Hope and Daylight Die’.
With that in mind it would be very easy to simply regard this as a non-metal run at a Summoning album, especially given the fact that the keyboards, drum machine, and voice are all shared between the two projects. But ‘In Darkness Let Me Dwell’ is a different beast, both in terms of the themes explored – the lyrics are lifted from Shelley this time instead of Tolkien – but also the overall intent behind the music. The structure is more lyrical than it is narrative. The pieces are shaped around a duet of male and female vocals narrating their tales, and whilst there is plenty of music to back up this framework, the lead melodies often function in a call and response capacity with the vocals. Each track is set on a bed of rich string tones and minimal, reverb laden percussion, leaving tones with more attack such as the piano, harp, brass, and harpsichords to articulate the melodic heart of the music.
But it’s the rich vocalisations that are left to carry this template above mere wallpaper. The voice of both Protector and Borsy complement each other well, each bringing out the best in the other. It could be said that this has more in common with Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ than it does the metal-meets-film-scores of Summoning. The antecedents of Romanticism in both literature and music on ‘In Darkness Let Me Dwell’ are clear from the overall intent and atmosphere behind many of these songs.
Sure there’s bombast, there’s even some moments that carry some sonic weight to them, but the end result is a meeting of poetry and sound, a direct attempt to replicate the mindset of the tragic figure of the Romantic poets (and later the Romantic composers of the 19th Century) in direct contrast to the bold fantasy based heroism we are used to seeing from Protector. Some may find the sensitive and overtly emotive intent behind this work hard to swallow, but for any fan of metal’s underlying tragic qualities this is a rewarding listen, and gives new insight into a different side of this unique musical mind.
Also orbiting the Austrian black metal scene in the late 1990s was Dargaard, a very similar outfit to Die Verbannten Kinder Evas both in the setup of keyboard driven darkwave and the duet based line-up. Their third album ‘In Nomine Aeternitatis’ released in 2000 is as good a place to start as any. We are greeted with a rich mix of string tones that set the groundwork for the music, with choppier melodies granting a sense of urgency. Tthroughout the album these are joined by an array of other tones to bringing a welcome degree of diversity to the overall colour of the music, these include the usual suspects of harps, choral tones, timpani drums, and church bells.
The vocals of Elisabeth Toriser are more homely than the operatic stylings of Die Verbannten Kinder Evas, they fixate on gentle mournful melodies that function as part lament part lullaby. Their interaction with the music is at times so fragile as to threaten to break apart entirely, but this only adds to the overall appeal of the complexion of this music. Tharen offers some low key distorted vocals by way of backing, bringing this aesthetically closer to black metal, but they are suitably integrated into the mix as to work even for those approaching this music from a non-metallic background.
Despite the mix of strings etching out soaring chord sequences, medievalist melodies, and a whole array of rich instrumentation, the whole package comes across as overtly sparse. There is an attempt to write distinctive songs in tandem with presenting a unified vibe throughout the course of the album, but the thematic and aesthetic threads common to each track are undeniable. The minimalist percussion made up of intermittent timpani drums and bells is more ceremonial than musically linear in the conventional sense. The stop/start nature of these rhythmic accompaniments – set to the ethereal qualities of the other instrumentation and vocals – direclty calls to mind a slow march of spiritual or personal significance, a procession of hooded figures slowing but deliberately advancing through monastic ruins and gothic courtyards.
Although the overall impact is undeniably low key, one cannot help but commend the distinctive direction Dargaard took with tonally similar music to much black metal, goth, ambient, and neofolk. This is an impressive attempt to carve an emotive path entirely distinct from the rockier leanings of their cousins. Again, some may find the utter commitment to the moment, the unabashed romanticism and cliché-ridden poetic tragedy to the music a little hard to swallow. But there is a sincerity and naïve quality to it that fans of orbital genres may find deeply resonant.
Die Verbannten Kinder Evas offers more of a sense of journey than Dargaard, that being said it is still a lyrical journey of separate but connected moments as opposed to the strict narrative rigours of a Summoning piece. True to their literary influences, musically speaking the former is poetry, the latter is prose. Dargaard are arguably even more lyrical, exhibiting explicitly folky qualities; the music is homely and personal, despite the rich romanticism also present. Nevertheless, if one can find things to love in one of these albums it’s clear there will be things to love in the other. But if we take our poets hat off for a moment and don our critical headgear, we must side with Die Verbannten Kinder Evas as the pick of the week.
This is because ‘In Darkness Let Me Dwell’ is attempting to reach for something beyond its components. It is not defined by an absence, an absence of black metal, ambient, neofolk, or gothic techniques. Instead it attempts to work with the unique expressive qualities available in their choices of instrumentation. This in turn allows us to discuss it as music with a positive, independent existence, as opposed to resorting to statements such as “Summoning without the guitars” for example. The question remains if they actually succeeded, but one must at least applaud the intent to carve out an existence free of its metal antecedents. ‘In Nomine Aeternitatis’, despite also getting a strong plug from me this week, shares more qualities with neofolk and dungeon synth which – although not inherently bad – sometimes finds itself simply offering all the trimmings of goth or black metal with the metallic instruments removed. For all the raw musicality present on an album like ‘In Nomine Aeternitatis’ we still cannot resist commenting on what they haven’t said rather than what they have. This may be too nit-picky for some, I get it. They’re both fantastic albums for fans of darkwave, but one cannot escape the fact that Die Verbannten Kinder Evas created something that little bit more unique.