When a review request comes through my email comparing an unknown band to a well-known group like Nightwish, two thoughts enter my head simultaneously:
- I might enjoy this (because I like Nightwish)
- Oh no. Not another poorly produced, derivative group who think they sound like Nightwish just because they’ve got operatic-style female vocals (or whatever other element they’re using for comparison).
So I vet these requests very carefully, and sometimes I ask to hear the material. Despite the Nightwish references, something in the press release for German symphonic band Molllust caught my eye, or maybe I was just in a particularly generous mood that day, I don’t know. But I asked to hear the album, and it was one of the smartest music-related decisions I’ve made in recent months.
When Schuld, Molllust’s debut album, came in the mail, I was intrigued by the spartan, elegant cover. The band’s imagery shows the three female members in elaborate period costumes, and each member of the six-piece band wears a “serious musician face”. The CD artwork and booklet look more like something the Londom Symphony might release at a performance than a metal band. Now I was even more intrigued, and also a little apprehensive. Would the music live up to my expectations?
I shoved the disc into my computer and hit PLAY. Instead of the operatic, rock-infused “Wish I Had an Angel” cover I was expecting, what I heard was clearly a piano (and this is a real piano, with all the intonation and nuance in the notes you can’t get through a keyboard) playing a haunting and brilliant piece of classically-inspired music – a dark twist on a lullaby. It was joined in a few seconds with the deep tones of a cello and a fuzzy, distorted electric violin. Within a minute, drums and guitars kick in, and Janika Gross opens her mouth, and I know I’m in for a treat.
The songs here are graceful, and the interplay of classical (because I’d call this classical, rather than operatic) instrumentation and metal has been expertly woven into complex and multi-layered compositions. One of my favorite songs is the second track, “Sternennacht”, where galloping verses pull you toward the slower, doom-laden chorus. Every instrumental passage gives you the opportunity to appreciate the textured orchestral sound. It’s the classical features, rather than the metal, that dominate, but not in a way that seems cheesy or gimmicky. “Alptraum” is another song with fast and furious sections paired with slower, doomy passages. And although the songs retain the catchy riffs and soaring melodies of their metal undertones, every composition is put together with the elegance and penchant for story-telling of a classically trained composer.
Janika Gross’ vocal performance is rich, textured and slightly remote. There’s a slight tremor, an echo in her performance, that makes her seem ghostly, a shadow of another time. Cello (Lisa H.) and electric violin (Sandrine B.) make up the classical half of the band, and the pair duel against each other with increasing ferocity and technical skill. France Schumacher provides the occasional male vocals on Schuld (including on one of the album’s standout tracks, “Puppentanz”), as well as the crunching guitars. Alongside Johnannes Hank (bass) and Tommaso Soru (drums), the metal half of the band lifts the compositions out of the softer constraints of the classical world and demands you take notice.
Schuld is simply enchanting. There is not much I could suggest to improve about this album. From the haunting intro track to the vibrant and powerful final number, “Kartenhaus”, Schuld is a captivating suite of stunning musical performance and classical compositions dripping with malice and gothic forboding. Fans of operatic, symphonic metal would be well-advised to add Molllust’s Schuld to their playlists.
For your listening pleasure, a preview from the album: the song “Kartenhaus” by Molllust.