Label: Crime Records
Author: Isabell Köster
She was absent from the metal scene for far too long and now she is finally back with a bang! Vibeke Stene lent her seductive soprano to Norwegian gothic metal combo Tristania from 1997 to 2007 and significantly contributed to the bands’ success. The singer and actress from the southwest of Norway isn’t only an absolute powerhouse on stage, dazzling audiences with her sensual and energetic performance, but also a talented lyricist, a skill that she artfully displays on ‘Dead Poetry’, the first output of her new doom metal band VEIL OF SECRETS. Her partner in crime for this exceptional project is fellow Norwegian Asgeir Mickelson, who is known for having played drums for prominent acts like Borknagar, Sarke, Ihsahn, Spiral Architect, Vintersorg, Abyssic and Testament. For VEIL OF SECRETS he has written all music and recorded drums, guitars and bass, whereas Vibeke has provided the majority of lyrics and vocals. According to the band’s promo material, the fundament of VEIL OF SECRETS is to make music from the heart – and the belief that honest music is the only way to really captivate and move the listener. The cover artwork by Norwegian artist Kjell-Åge Meland beautifully visualizes the spirit of the music. It’s a gloomy and atmospheric piece of art that is reminiscent of romantic painters like William Turner and skilfully brings to life the Norwegian fjords. It perfectly suits VEIL OF SECRETS‘ melancholy music for dark Winter days. But there is a light at the foot of the mountains, maybe a fire, bringing some much-needed light and warmth into the wintery landscape. Similarly, VEIL OF SECRETS‘ mournful dirges aren’t just gloomy, but also contain a ray of hope.
The opening track and first single ‘The Last Attempt’ starts off with powerful but solemn riffs that quickly take on a hypnotic quality. When Vibeke launches into the first verse (“I kept my promise / The world was unaware / I sheltered in the safest place / And I would not go far away”) her vocals are sweet and poignant at the same time. It almost seems as if she is commenting on her long absence from the metal scene, confessing to the listener that she secretly vouched to return one day with renewed vigour. The song continues in a melancholic vein that is intensified by Sareeta’s (Ram-Zet, ex-Ásmegin) mournful violin playing, adding a classical feel to the atmospheric track and evoking memories of gothic metal compatriots The Sins Of Thy Beloved. The theme of renewal through transformation is addressed again in the last verse, when Vibeke softly sings “Rites of passage / Change to new beginnings / Illuminate the path / That has been laid before me”, thus literally celebrating the birth of VEIL OF SECRETS.
‘Sear The Fallen’ sounds like a deliberate nod towards the English masters of melancholy My Dying Bride. Heavy sombre riffs and concise drumming dominate the track and form a solid foundation for Vibeke’s seductive tones and Sareeta’s ornate violin playing. On this track Vibeke’s lofty vocals are intriguingly interspersed with harsh black metal growls by Erling Malm (Endolith, Articulus). Erling is a frequent guest on the album, effectively functioning as Vibeke’s dark counterpart.
Up next is ‘Remorseful Heart’ which kicks off with a punchy riff before it veers into more traditional doom territory. Once more, Vibeke’s dulcet tones are cleverly contrasted with Erling’s piercing grunts. Lyrically the song plays with images of dominance and submission. And while it occasionally seems like Erling has the upper hand, he and Vibeke both seem like the guilty party when they intone: “Punish me / Whip me / Lock me up / Isolate me / Bind me / Medicate me / Hit me.” But eventually, it is Erling who takes on the role of the punishing conscience when he vehemently intones “Regret cause you’ve hurt the dearest to your heart”. Sareeta’s passionate playing of the violin enhances the dramatic atmosphere even further and brings the sinister track to a beautiful close.
The fourth track is certainly one of the best, most diverse and doomiest tracks on the album. ‘The Lie Of Her Prosperity’ starts with an acoustic guitar sequence before it launches into melancholy riffs and poignant violin sounds that immediately tug at the heartstrings. Vibeke once again delivers a stellar vocal performance, truly bringing the lyrics to life. She has a special way of singing, luxuriating in the sounds and articulating the words in a very evocative way. She is fully in stage mode when she ardently sings “We’re all born dependent / So trusted to others / Keep shameful our secrets / We can’t live fully released”, deliberately placing the emphasis on ‘released’, thus making it sound quite sensual. The following spoken word passage with added violin is again strongly reminiscent of My Dying Bride and makes for an impressive finale.
‘Fey’ is another great track full of dark mystical atmosphere. It paints a nocturnal scene that is not very pleasant. The narrator is beset by invisible forces that scare her and destroy her peace of mind (“But the strident cries does hurt / Disturb / They haunt me / Confuse and scare me”). Is she tormented by fairies? The guitar sound here is heavy and dense, with an ominous undertone that makes the listener feel uneasy. Vibeke’s performance is pristine, her mysterious vocals intermittently mirroring the eerie sound of the guitars.
‘Bryd’, the sixth track, is carefully crafted and with its ‘beauty and the beast’ style maybe most reminiscent of Tristania’s original sound. The title sounds pretty and can be translated in several different ways, ranging from “break, violate” (Danish) to “bird” (Old English) or “bride” (Old English). The band will undoubtedly have their own interpretation and the listener is left to make up his/her own mind. The track’s slow burning groove and Vibeke’s leisurely vocals steadily draw you in before it picks up speed about halfway through and suddenly exposes you to punchy riffs and Erling’s aggressive growls.
‘Meson’ begins with resounding guitars and a playful violin, continues in a slower pace, but is generally on the faster side. Vibeke gracefully guides us through the different phases of the song and shines in the catchy chorus (“I do desire gratification to wake my meson with gracing fire”) that is dominated by a mesmerizing riff. The emotional violin solo towards the end, accompanied by Erling’s intense growls, atmospherically rounds off the song.
The final track ‘Entirety’ displays all trademarks of a gothic-doom jewel: melancholic, heavy riffing, slow but tight drumming, Vibeke’s seductive soprano vocals and soulful violin playing by Sareeta. The lyrics are beautiful, dark and poetic and prove once more that VEIL OF SECRETS dig deeply when it comes to lyrical content. In my opinion, the final lines best describe what the band is about: “And in abstract beauty / Reach for the quasar / Create existence through art / Synchronized heart to heart”. Creating existence through art, bringing beauty into the lives of their listeners while reaching for the stars (a quasar being the luminous centre of a galaxy) seems like a worthy goal for any band.
A magnificent debut work that occasionally lacks catchiness, but leaves you wanting more.