Operatic metal, the near-inevitable welding of classical music’s most bombastic sub-genre to the power of metal, can be a difficult thing to get right. Finding the right singer is essential, of course, whilst crafting music that lives up to the strident tones inherent in opera is similarly important. A weak link and the end result is, more often than not, weak and can even sound thoroughly ludicrous. Like metal itself, opera is an acquired taste and offers a great deal of variety, although it is to the gloriously overblown excesses of Wagner that metal bands most typically turn, a link made explicit by therion’s part-classical performance at the Miskolc opera festival (where the band were invited to play with a full orchestra on the condition that the set be divided between traditional, classical fare and the band’s own metallic excesses). Another factor is whether to focus on the more familiar structure of metal or the varied, complex, free-flowing arrangements of opera. Nightwish, for example, more often focus on the former, employing operatic vocals in a contemporary setting. In contrast Mollust utilise the power of a metal band to support their wildly ambitious classical leanings, with the result that ‘Schuld’ is more opera than metal, and a much more interesting album because of it.
Sung in the band’s native German, packaged in a dark, handsome digipack complete with Victor Hugo quotes adorning its inlay which roughly translate as saying that music expresses that which is impossible in words – an apt quote for the music contained within. Comprising eleven tracks in total, ‘Schuld’ is an album that is quite impossible to listen to in fragments. Designed to be listened to, as one would a classical piece, as a whole it is clearly not a record designed for the MP3 generation. Subtle and haunting when it chooses to be, overwhelmingly bombastic at other times, it is the closest I have yet heard to a metallic opera, the band augmented by a trio of musicians adding violin and cello to the mix. The result is refreshingly different and while it is hardly mainstream fodder, music fans with an eclectic taste and interest in the unusual will find plenty to admire.
Opening with an overture, the tone is set with the band’s signature sound proving to be surprisingly dry. Although there is plenty of depth in the composition, this is clearly music that is meant to be played live and as a result the band have avoided the use of lush backing tracks, preferring instead to stick only to what can be recreated on stage. In Janika Grob, the band have a fine, talented singer whose voice is reminiscent to the stunning Lori Lewis from Therion. Capable of soaring to dizzying highs and warm mid-range tones, Janika is clearly a focal point of the band, but one should not overlook the part of her counterpart – Frank Schumacher – whose deep tones add depth when needed and provide a sense of contrast that is missing from many operatic metal bands. On ‘Sternennacht’ Janika is unveiled, her voice a thing of beauty over a chugging backdrop which captures attention thanks to the charming string section and bright piano parts which suggest a band in love with the range of sounds at their command. Janika, meanwhile, does not unleash her full range straight away, the verse delivered in whimsical tones that suggest a playful side to the band. It is a bold beginning and it is impossible to ignore the brightly lit ambition which fires Mollust, an ambition that becomes all the more apparent on the brilliantly contradictory ‘Alptraum’ which swerves between a light, melodic opening and a full-on metallic rampage through the verse, giving Janika more room to utilise her full range. ‘Aufwind’ takes the music even further into the realms of rich, rewarding classical music, the different styles blending perfectly as the guitar and violins swirl around one another, underpinning Janika’s increasingly lovely voice. As stand-alone tracks it is hard to imagine these songs having the same impact, but listening to the ebb and flow of the music over the course of the album transpire to be a rewarding experience indeed and one that should draw equal appreciation from classical music fans as from those who love metal, a rare trick to pull off.
Having thoroughly captured the listener’s attention, ‘Spiegelsee’ slows the pace for a moment, drawing you more closely in before unleashing the guitars once more to surge underneath the hammered violin passages to create a rich, vibrant effect that few bands capture so well. Frank makes his first vocal appearance on the dramatic ‘Lied zur nacht’, a storming piece of music that is probably the most effective stand-alone track on offer here, the furious guitar passages and striking string parts all causing the adrenalin to surge most effectively. ‘Puppentanz’ is a wonderfully whimsical number with bouncy string parts contrasting against powerful, but sparingly used riffs and some brilliant interplay between Janika and Frank. ‘Tanz des Feuers’ is a decent, heavy blast that emphasizes the guitars to a great extent whilst Janika sticks to her upper range, cutting across the metallic backdrop with ease and lending great power and gravity to the song, while Frank’s vocals recall a more traditional, even folk-orientated style of singing – the contrast between the two allowing for great diversity and musical innovation. ‘Erinnerungen’ has a grizzled, metallic feel to it, the guitars taking much of the strain here, although the piano is well used to add detail to the sound. ‘Schatten’ opens with soaring violins for a piece that is awash with atmosphere, Janika’s voice piercing the gentle gloom and shining like a candle placed in a window during a storm, and when the guitars do come blazing in the song ignites wonderfully. The final track ‘Kartenhaus’ veers between gently rippling neo-classical beauty and violently assertive metallic blasts of icy fury. It is a fine closing track to an album that is so ambitiously arranged.
Mollust is not an album that will appeal to everyone. The emphasis on the classical influences over the metallic will undoubtedly limit its audience, whilst operatic metal itself is a genre with no small number of detractors. However, for those who enjoy experiencing something that perfectly blends the worlds of the classical and the modern and which is played by passionate, innovative and ambitious musicians, then this is a record for you. Eclectic, beautifully produced and organic, ‘Shuld’ is an album that needs to be experienced as a complete piece, each song flowing into the next. The musicians are first rate throughout and the music often breaks off into unexpected tangents, pushing expectations and rewarding those adventurous souls prepared to follow. Far from the mainstream, Mollust are proudly unique and wonderfully capable, those with an interest in the unusual should make an effort to track this brave and often beautiful release down.