Morten Veland - male vocals, guitars
Vibeke Stene - female vocals
Anders HÃ¸yvik Hidle - guitar, vocals
Kenneth Olsson - drums
Ã˜sten BergÃ¸y - vocals
Einar Moen - keyboards
Rune Ã˜sterhus - bass
The late 1990's was the Golden Age of gothic metal, essentially akin to black metal's heyday during the early 1990's. Influenced by seminal bands such as Theatre of Tragedy, the outpouring gothic metal scene spat out some of the greatest musicians the underground stage had witnessed yet. Amongst these bands were the likes of Macbeth, Trail of Tears, The Sins of Thy Beloved -- and Tristania.
Widow's Weeds marks Tristania's successful career as their debut studio album. (They previously released a four-track, self-titled EP album in 1997 which contained songs eventually added to later albums and compilations.)
The album combines Veland's harsh male growling with Vibeke's light, ethereal female vocals in a manner that simply works, harmonically and rhythmically. The album has approximately a bit more growling than it has clear vocals, though, and this is definitely responsible for much of the album's heavy moments (in conjunction to the fast percussion and rough guitars). However, Widow's Weeds does have its soft moments -- in fact, there are "mellow" passages abounding in nearly every song. Vibeke's renowned soprano vocals add an massive amount of interest and distinction to the music. However, unlike many gothic metal albums (such as Within Temptation's early works), I wouldn't say overall the music always revolves around Vibeke's vocal melodies. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it prevents the music from being too feminine-sounding. (Although there's nothing particularly wrong with that either!)
In terms of instrumentation, there isn't entirely too much to complain about. The electric guitars are quite lethargic and almost whining, despite being rather heavy. Drumming is usually an interchange of fast and slow/normal (or 4/4 time signature) with very noticeable cymbals. Keyboards/pianos are sometimes unsurprisingly prominent (for instance, in the song "My Lost Lenore"). But the most distinguishing instrument on Widow's Weeds, hands down, is Pete Johansen's violin. His melancholy, mournful violin tones are quite adept to fitting well within the context of the songs' sadder parts, especially in the song "December Elegy". Johansen's talents are quite well-known, having worked with Tristania for several albums, in addition to with another symphonic gothic metal band, The Sins of Thy Beloved.
I'd also like to make a point of the beautiful poetic feeling of the album. Widow's Weeds has exceptionally beautiful cover art, which appears to be a black-and-white photo of some antiquated architecture. As another minor point, the calligraphy art for the band name also seems eerily timeworn. The lyrics (written, it seems, in Early Modern English, i.e., imagine Shakespeare or the KJV Bible) are nothing short of fascinating to read, even containing neologisms like "bevail" and "examinate".
I cannot easily find any detractive qualities about this album. My biggest complaint is perhaps that there are infrequent "boring" parts of the album -- but this amounts to maybe two or three instances on the entire 53-minute track list. This is hardly a major issue in light of Widow's Weeds's conspicuous strong points. I still rate this album as slightly less seminal and venerable than Tristania's second album, "Beyond the Veil", for a few reasons; namely, it essentially isn't as dynamic and powerful. The drums also sound much different, as if they have less of an "echo" sound (I'm not aware of any technical term for this characteristic).
To summarize, Widow's Weeds is a breathtakingly beautiful album, with very high replay value, and is definitely among Tristania's most prevailing work to date. I'd certainly recommend this album to anyone who enjoys gothic metal in general and is open-minded in regards to the heavier bands of such a genre, such as Trail of Tears or very early The Gathering.
My Overall Rating: 9.9/10
Personal Favorite Tracks: Praeludium/Evenfall, December Elegy, My Lost Lenore