TRAIL OF TEARS are a band, whose latest album title could hardly have been chosen more fitting than in this case, as the existence of the band itself was in jeopardy after the whole band walked out on fronter and main man Ronny Thorsen after a failed Mexico tour of the band. It would have been easy for him to just throw away the pieces, but instead he has announced that he would continue.
And given the quality of the material on "Existentia" this is a very good decision, even though it of course remains to be seen, where the path will lead the band once a new line-up has been assembled. Musically the new album is kind of a mix of the more distant and recent past of the band. Compared to the previous effort, the Gothic-like melodies as well as female vocals and a stronger emphasis on the clear male vocals have returned, but overall the heaviness level still is higher than at their beginnings.
To pinpoint TRAIL OF TEARS' style is near impossible with the hodge-podge of styles that they compute through their song writing, Gothic Metal, Death Metal, harsh vocals, clear vocals (at times bordering on baritone), female vocals, symphonic keyboards, a lot of atmosphere and lots of variety within the songs, so "Existentia" definitely is not your every day album to cross your way. Surely the Norwegians are not something to easily digest in the background or with a short attention span.
Almost all of the tracks are very layered and merge these different influences together into a highly interesting and cohesive whole, that despite drawing upon the same influences in most of the songs always remains fresh and different, as the band cleverly varies the weight of the ingredients and also shakes up the rhythm structure frequently without losing the songs' flow, though. And as positive as it is for the longevity of the album, as hard it is to pick out single songs to highlight what the whole thing is about, but I would definitely call out the opener "Deceptive Mirrors", "The Closing Walls" (this is where the baritone vocals come into play), balladesque "Empty Rooms", where French guest singer Emmanuelle Zoldan takes over much of the lead role, while Østen complements her with his warm voice, resulting in a very emotional song) or the brilliant "As It Penetrates". Oh yes, before I forget to mention it, the guitars have a pretty modern, fat sound to them, which is another element setting TRAIL OF TEARS apart from most of their genre peers.
Overall I can only recommend "Existentia" to any fan of the described sounds, as the album is definitely among the best TRAIL OF TEARS have released so far, if not the best, so I really hope that the turmoil the band was tossed into will not negatively affect the artistic evolution, it would be a pity, because this is a strong effort indeed!
(Online January 20, 2007)