Estatic Fear - A Sombre Dance

Playing Time - 49:37
When I bought this album last year, I didn't have a clue what the fuck Ecstatic Fear was. It seemed to be some gothic-doom metal-like CD, and at the time there was virtually nothing new of the more famous bands, so I thought what the heck, let's buy some goth for a change. Time has proven that it was one of the best CDs I ever bought. This one has just got it all : slow, moody parts, loud headbanging hard black-like melodies, catchy tunes, deep lyrics and magnificent artwork.
The Austrian gothic-doom band Ecstatic Fear started out in 1994 with their debut album "Sommnium Obmutum". The Ecstatic Fear homepage claims this CD had a huge succes (I didn't notice anything of an Ecstatic Fear hype at that time, though), and three years later "A Sombre Dance" was released. By that time (1999) everyone but Matthias Kogler had left the band. As a result, the CD can be seen as the brainchild of a single musical genious. The backdraw, however, was that Kogler had to depend on session musicians for the recording. Luckily this doesn't affect the CD in a negative sense. On the contrary, every instrument from the lute to the electric guitars seems to have been handled with great skill. Indeed, Kogler isn't afraid to use some less conventional instruments to create a unique medieval-gothic like atmosphere. Apart from the classic four-piece metal ensemble, he has also put keyboards, piano, chello, flute and the lute on "A Sombre Dance". Of half this orchestra, Kogler himself takes the electric and classic guitars as well as the piano and the keyboard for his account. Of these especially the keys sound great in their interplay with the chello or electric guitars. The chello also is a big asset in Ecstatic Fear's sound. Mostly this instrument is prominently present, which is further stressed by the production. This chello, together with the lute, the flute, the piano and the female vocals form a brilliant contrast, a sort of clair-obscur if you want, to the classical metal armamentarium. Mostly they form a sort of intro to the louder parts. In this function they mostly foreshadow the main melody. The louder part then features grunts and screams and loud distortion guitars with a prominent role for the bass guitar. Mostly at least one of the 'softer' instruments from the intro still go on during this part. The only thing I miss perhaps in these louder parts are lead guitars, but then again, this music doesn't ask for lead guitars lest the gothic-medieval atmosphere might be ruined.
The structure of the songs isn't the typical bridge - solo - refrain. Ecstatic Fear tries to bring some variation in the (at first sight perhaps monotonous genre of) gothic metal it brings. Although all songs clearly are in the same vein, they all sound quite different, yet never so different that they would break the overall atmosphere of melancholy "A Sombre Dance" tries to evoke. This is one of those albums that have a sort of hypnotising effect on me in the sense that I can just keep listening to it for days on end, and never get bored. Only great bands such as Morbid Angel (I'm not talking about a stylistic comparison here) have such an impact on me.
The album was recorded, mixed and mastered at the CCP studio, and the people over there did a great job. All the instruments and vocals (twelve in total !) sound just as they should. Thumbs up for the guys at the CCP studio ! The only drawback might have been that there's perhaps a bit too much emphasis on the bass instruments (i.e. the chello and the bass guitar), but I don't think this is a bad thing for this kind of music. Especially the great importance the chello plays in the music sounds great.
Ecstatic Fear tries to evoke an atmosphere of melancholy in it's music as in it's lyrics. Matthias Kogler tries to explore the soothing effect melancholy can have on people, or to put it in his own words, "This album is dedicated to all those, who have and still to [sic.] enjoy the pure and intense calmness which melancholy can bestow upon us.". He elaborates this theme in very poetical lyrics displaying his great knowledge of English. He even incorporates a regular three-beat scheme in his verses. This is just pure poetry put to music !
The artwork also breathes the same atmosphere of melancholy. The booklet, although not very big, is illustrated with beautiful medieval-looking initials. The text is surrounded by a nice-looking border in which some pretty drawings are incorporated.
"A Sombre Dance" has become one of my all-time favourite albums. Although I'm not a gothic fan, this album could tempt me with its melancholic poetry put on enchanting gothic-doom metal. The enormous range of instruments and vocals (no less than twelve!) are combined in a serene, never bombastic-sounding piece of pure art. In my opinion this was one of the best (if not, the best) CD of 1999.