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Observing Virgin Black in our current-day musical climate reveals an entity that endures as uniquely intrepid. Rewind to the 1990s, and that uniqueness becomes blindingly apparent amid the vastly more rigid cultural and musical standards of the time.

The history of Virgin Black dates back to 1993 when guitarist Sesca Scaarba begun piecing together music that would both go on to form the early works of the band, and also inspire the ever ambitious and ground-breaking project that it became. By the release of 1995’s self-titled demo cassette there had been the crucial addition of fellow-composer, singer, and counterpart to the iconic duo, Rowan London. The demo laid a foundation of rich doom complimented by mournfully stirring guitar and vocal melodies.

The band would sporadically perform live, at times appearing in more commercial environments, sharing the stage with peers such as Paradise Lost and Cathedral, but also on their own in obscure back-alley venues and inner-city basements; word of mouth often the predominant gravitating force. The local Adelaide fans crammed into the tight, dank spaces auditioning songs that would ultimately be heard throughout the world, soaking in an early taste of that distinctly Virgin Black brand of darkness.

Written during that period, the band’s debut album, Sombre Romantic, was fashioned without a fleeting glance at what the long-established genres it engaged would have expected of it. An incredibly ambitious work, it thrust together doom, classical, opera, gothic and industrial elements in a way that somehow still allowed for a seamless stream of signature, cohesive darkness.

Following the release of Sombre Romantic in 2000, the band quickly became a key figure in a marked era of legendary label The End Records. It was Virgin Black, alongside equally unique and self-assured acts such as Antimatter and Agalloch that were emblematic of the label’s strong vanguard ethos. Pioneers in a time when musical categories were far more rigidly adhered to.

The follow-up album, Elegant… and Dying, reinforced the composers’ ability to balance esotericism and strong song-writing cohesion. Yet for all of the ambitiousness on display at the time, Scaarba and London were about to up the ante manyfold.

In 2006 it was announced that a three-part Requiem would be released: a requiem mass composed as one unfolding piece, progressing from the all-orchestral first stage, through to a balanced, collaborative orchestra/band middle section, concluding with the band coming to the fore in the final and heaviest section. Total duration at 2 hours 33 minutes.

Befitting “a mass for the dead”, the sounds, whether represented by orchestral or metal instrumentation, are ever-presently dirgeful and heartrending. On display is both an adherence to and an outright betrayal of the long-established tradition of requiem masses in classical music. Typifying that betrayal is the semi-atonal vocal barrage referred to as the “death choir” – a chorus of extreme voices employing a resonant undertone technique found most commonly in death metal. Musical elements such as a full string ensemble (with specifically requested low C-tuned basses), woodwinds, horns, brass, timpani, heavy A#-tuned guitars, drums, tenor/baritone and soprano solo voices, death solo voice, and full choir are at times dexterously interwoven and at other times deliberately thrust together for chaotic effect. Many passages for the words were reproduced from traditional religious mass texts and lend a ceremonial component offset by the far more personal and emotional words penned specifically for the project which interject throughout.

Six individual audio engineers were engaged to realise production, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra enlisted to perform the scores, and the Adelaide Stamford Academy Choir for performance of choral arrangements. As per record label plans, Requiem – Mezzo Forte was released in 2007, flooring critics and fans and instantaneously positioning itself as what many would still argue is the pinnacle of what is possible in marrying metal and classical. Following on, and more so than most would have expected Requiem – Fortissimo didn’t shy away from the commitment to the extreme heaviness that was touted. Released in 2008 it further expanded the breadth of the project to the listener and teased as to what its opposite extreme, Pianissimo, might offer in that regard.

The band toured Europe and North America in support of the two released Requiem albums in 2007 and 2008 respectively and then at the peak of its powers disappeared. As years ticked by, even the most ardent fans had their hopes for the missing album’s release evaporate. The online world is littered with comments and editorials signifying a final sigh of dismay as people let go of the belief that Pianissimo would ever actually come to bear.

Twelve years had passed since Requiem was recorded, when, in August 2018, the Virgin Black Facebook page suddenly had all of its content deleted, with a single ambiguous image left instead. That, and the series of chronologically dated images that followed, left fans divided on whether or not they were witnessing a return to life after the massive hiatus, or a final memorial. Fans feverishly debated, but when the date jumped to 2018 with a new image of Scaarba and London, followed by a shock posting of the first 13 minutes of the fabled album, it was essentially unanimous that Requiem – Pianissimo was real, and imminent.

With Requiem now complete the path is clear to look toward to future prospects while concurrently reflecting on a band and a catalogue that has long-defied the constraints that so often inhibit artists.


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Australian doom legends Virgin Black sign new distribution deal

After a long hiatus, Australian doom outfit Virgin Black is set to return to view alongside newly acquired record label Dark Escapes Music, lavishing a landmark release with a brand new cinematic music video.

After initially releasing their highly acclaimed debut album Sombre Romantic independently in 2000, the group shot to international prominence, signing with Massacre Records in Europe and The End Records in the US. They toured extensively in Europe, the US, Mexico and Australia during the 90’s and 00’s, sharing the stage with peers such as Paradise Lost, Cathedral and Opeth.

The elusive group will release Sombre Romantic to streaming services for the first time ever (November 25), along with a brand new music video for the single Walk Without Limbs (November 18).

“It’s a composition that clearly still resonates with a lot of people and as one of its composers it’s sobering to reflect on how it’s forever marked me,” vocalist and keyboard player Rowan London commented.

“It was born of humble resources that ultimately could not constrain its grand visions. I’m unapologetically proud of it and grateful that it will finally make its first legal and official appearance on Spotify et al.”

An incredibly ambitious work, Sombre Romantic manages to carry a focused, signature dark spirit through its entirety, despite daring to thrust together doom, classical, opera, gothic and industrial elements without locking the band into one specific genre. The album has long been hailed as a landmark release for the scene and holds a special place in the hearts of many fans of dark, esoteric music.

The upcoming single Walk Without Limbs epitomises this experimentalism, combining hard, cold industrial-like beats with a menacingly dark soundscape that builds to a chaotic crescendo where utterly spine-chilling vocals enter to punctuate its finale.  Elsewhere on the album, Museum Of Iscariot remains incredibly potent to this day as a truly heartbreaking piece, its at times “bare-bones” presentation of lone acoustic guitar and solo voice setting up an immensely emotional impact with the wailing guitar leads.

Following the release of their self-titled demo cassette, Virgin Black quickly developed a cult-like underground following in Australia in the mid-90s, with local fans cramming into darkened venues and inner-city basements to audition the dark, melodic songs from composers Sesca Scaarba (lead guitar) and London that would ultimately be heard throughout the world.

Virgin Black has released a total of five studio albums to date. The 2003 follow-up album, Elegant… and Dying, further enhanced the band’s reputation, and in 2006, the group announced that a three-part Requiem would be released.

However, only two out of the three were initially released (Requiem – Mezzo Forte in 2007 and Requiem – Fortissimo in 2008) before the band mysteriously disappeared, leaving even their most hardcore fans wondering if they would ever hear the missing piece of the puzzle. Finally, a decade later, the group reappeared, and Requiem – Pianissimo became a reality.

Now, over two decades after its original release, Sombre Romantic will be available on streaming services globally from November 25. It will also be available as a high-quality digital download from the Dark Escapes Music Store.