Three or maybe even four years ago I had reviewed the debut of French Gothic Metallers PENUMBRA, "Emanate", and I had not really been enthused by it, good average it still had been. The following release "The Last Bewitchment" passed me by completely unnoticed and now, 2003, the circle closes with their third album "Seclusion".
As usual, when you are not sure what awaits you, you consult the info sheet and here we find out that "Seclusion" is based on a complex concept (the love between an angel and a mortal), in which the different vocal styles represent different characters, female, clear male and Black Metal shriek, a complete eight headed choir, plus melodies from the folklore of Bulgaria and Ireland, sounds pretty damn interesting right from the start.
Opening "Tragical Memories" starts out with monks' chants accompanied by something that sounds like a sitar, before the guitars set in and effectively end this intro. Those, together with the stomping rhythm, the keyboards and the rough vocals almost conjure up an image of ROTTING CHRIST/SAMAEL, which is torn down by the cue of the powerful, female vocals again right away, making way to a quite own sound, which due to the many different elements and vocal styles is pretty hard to put into a whole.
The complexity of the background story is continued in the music, which is very layered and which's atmosphere, mood and intensity is shifting almost continuously, yet never drifting off into abstract soundscapes or overtly progressive regions. Instead it keeps up the tension, even though one should give "Seclusion" a few more spins to take in and understand all the details. As example we can take the title track "Seclusion", in which we get bagpipes, which somehow remind me of IN EXTREMO, and together with the dynamic structure and the different characters in a big dialogue form an absolutely great track. Something similar could also be said about the strong choirs in the following "The Prophetess", which give the whole thing a somewhat noble atmosphere.
And we get the genre typical ingredients as well as more unusual elements such as bagpipes or something that sounds like an oboe, embedded into the variable music it results in a sound that I can neither describe with a few words only nor really put close to any other bands, so it seems as if PENUMBRA indeed have succeeded in finding their own sound, which additionally sounds really good, too! Especially the very diverse vocals have to be pointed out, here in a dialogue, there in duet, they let me long for the lyrics, which unfortunately did not reach me as I only have a cardboard promo. But it should be really interesting to follow the story in the booklet.
Even though "Seclusion" at first listen might seem a bit hard to digest, it reveals its richness after two or spins already, spilling its contents, which also has the consequence that even after a longer stretch you will still be able to enjoy PENUMBRA's third effort. (Online January 3, 2004)