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MacBeth - Malae Artes

MacBeth -  CD Review
Malae Artes

CD Info
Label: Dragonheart / SPV
10 Tracks
Language: English

Four appears to be the number of choice among bands these days. In the last three reviews I’ve written, including this one, each band has appeared to leave a gap of four years between their last album and their most recent. Italian goth-metal band Macbeth appears to be no exception, but they also seem to have a reputation for keeping fans waiting a long time for albums. Since their inception in 1997, not including their demo tape Nocturnal Embrace, the band has released a grand total of three albums, their last being 2001’s Vanitas, the one before that being 1998’s Romantic Tragedy’s Crescendo. However, Macbeth has made this reputation work for them and has lived true to the credo “good things come to those who wait”.

Nor have they rested on their laurels during this time span between albums. Touring rigorously throughout Europe, mostly in their homeland of Italy, Macbeth took their chilling gothic sound to the masses. They also experienced some lineup changes over the last year or so, and then at the beginning of 2004, announced to their official website that a new album would be waiting in the wings very soon. Then, nothing. Macbeth’s website read, “last updated June 16th” for quite a long time. It seemed like they had just disappeared, but then came back with a bang, with a brand-new website and brand-new album to boot.

I was one of the shocked people that had no idea what Macbeth had been up to, and had began to give up on Malae Artes ever being released when I kept going to the old website and seeing that there had been no new updates. So when I heard that indeed the new album had been released this last March 29th, I practically jumped out of my seat with the reaction, “Macbeth’s got a new album? Where?” I knew I had to have it immediately!

Unlike my last review, this one did not take months or even weeks to write. So happy to have the long-awaited sound of a new Macbeth CD in my ears, I write it now less than a month after its release.

The album opens with an instrumental track called “Nuda Veritas”; the symphonic keyboard sounds hearkening in the fact that this is indeed a Macbeth album. There is a touch of techno influence as well, and the sound of distorted speaking layered over the lovely keyboards. It ends with a sound like static feedback, opening to the next track.

Fabrizio’s drumming is the centerpiece of the second song, “Lifelong Hope”. It is another declaration of Macbeth’s classic sound, with his fast drums, dark keyboards, and then the dueling vocals of Andreas and Morena. Morena’s vocals are not as harsh or hard to hear as they were on Vanitas. Andreas leans more on his regular singing voice here. His voice is mournful in the chorus, and the guitar riffs are tight throughout. There is a nice, soaring solo that gives the song a nice kick. More of the shared vocals between Morena and Andreas before another awesome drum roll by Fabrizio ends the song.

“My Desdemona” intros the same as most Macbeth songs, with the eerie keyboards, but soon after, heavy guitars and pounding drums come in to give it a heaviness. Andreas and Morena trade off vocals again, but this time Morena’s voice carries the majority of the verse. Some of their vocal parts give a sound like they are echoing from a far-off place, especially Morena’s parts in the chorus. The guitars are really what makes this song for me; the riffs gloomy yet concise. More of the creepy keyboard sound that gives Macbeth that extra goth flavor, along with the evocative vocals of Morena and Andreas, and the song fades out.

A techno-influence fade-in starts up the fourth track, “Miss Murderess”, then breaks into the assertive drums and guitars. Andreas’ voice this time is distorted, using a sort of “Andreas-bot”, if you will. Morena’s voice is strong and clear, making the contrast of their voices all the more obvious. The chorus is infectiously catchy; one that easily stays stuck in my head after a while. Another kick-ass guitar solo brings the song back to the dueling vocals of Andreas and Morena. However, this is an incident where the accents of the singers put a small damper on the delivery of the lyrics. Their pronunciation of “Miss Murderess” comes out more like “miss murders”, but that is really something small and can be easily overlooked. Hey, no one in Macbeth ever claimed English to be their first language! There is a sort of rallying chant that ends the song, sealing it as a sort of “anthem” song for Macbeth.

Track 5 is a cover of Sarah Brightman’s “How Can Heaven Love Me?” Though I have never heard the original, I think it is safe to say it does not begin with such wailing guitars as Macbeth’s version. Morena’s sweet voice brings it in, followed by Andreas, who especially sounds akin to The Cure’s Robert Smith on this song. In the second verse, Morena proves her worthiness of covering a Sarah Brightman tune by belting out a few operatic notes of her own! Another catchy chorus that equally blends the talents of both vocalists. Afterwards, a whispered spoken part by Andreas, which leads into more vocals by Morena, then another chorus. The final round of the chorus switches up a bit and has Morena singing the lead part instead of Andreas, fading out as it goes.

Classical-sounding keyboards make way for cutting guitars on “Good Mourning”. This is the first song to bring back the growly voice of Andreas that was prominent on the last album, but only as backup vocals on this track. Some more of the exchange of vocals between Morena and Andreas, then a burst of guitars during the middle of the song, making quite the nice solo. This is a return to the larger-than-life sound of Macbeth without going overboard on the time limit. As usual, Fabrizio’s drumming is outstanding, and compliments the gloomy keyboard sound well. That combination takes the song into a fade-out.

Chiming keyboards open up track 7, “Henceforth”, fading into a barely-audible but incredibly dark guitar sound, which only builds up into something darker as the entire band breaks in. Some more of Andreas’ growly vocals, which makes this no doubt one of the heaviest songs on the album. Morena holds her own here too, giving us the same charming vocals as usual, but being especially assertive in her deliverance. The familiar classical-inspired keyboards do a sort of dueling duet with the forceful guitars in the middle of the song. The music fades out after a couple vocal rounds between Morena and Andreas, but their voices carry on until they, too, fade out into an echo.

Absolutely lovely piano work brings out Macbeth’s soft side on “Keep the Secret”. Morena’s lovely voice is the centerpiece here, but in some parts in the beginning it is a return to the harshness that was a little more prominent on Vanitas. But it is an absolutely brilliant ballad, showing the musicianship of Macbeth as a whole; that they can write simple and sweet songs as well as theatric epics. Morena’s voice takes on a deeper pitch towards the middle of the song, which sounds great for her. I hope she sings more in this key in the future. Flowing piano fades out the song poignantly. I would deem this as my favorite song on the CD thus far.

“Down-Hearted” keeps the feel of the previous song in its beginning with slow acoustic guitars, but does not last long, for rhythmic drums and shredding guitar soon come in. Another of the heavier songs on the CD. Andreas in his growly voice again; the two vocalists’ styles are not too different from “Henceforth”, but I would say this one keeps it in the lower pitch a little more than the aforementioned song. The whole band is rocking on this one. This guitar solo is hands-down the best one on the entire CD, and there were a lot to choose from! Running the gamut from punchy, wailing, towering to ripping, the guitars on this song give it that extra dash of kick-ass!

The symphonic keyboards make a triumphant return on the final track, “Dead and Gone”. More of the deep bass, howling guitars, and cadenced drumming. It is Morena’s turn to use a slight distortion in her voice, but that is mainly for her backing vocals. The aggressive vocal deliveries of both parties compliment the equally hard-hitting music, making this an excellent closer to the album. Definitely my second-favorite song on the album. It is undeniably classic Macbeth in its sound, but it’s more than indicative of their evolution as a band as well. Morena shows on this song especially how she can lead a song with her vocals and not just merely be a part among all the others. I am absolutely enamored with the keyboard parts, the grandiose sound that encompasses Macbeth is most apparent here. Andreas makes a smooth transition from his deep, chant-like vocals to his bloodcurdling growly voice. An exquisite piano part, and Morena sings in her deep pitch before showing off a little more of her operatic chops. Then she and Andreas sing a lovely part together that shows how well their voices do belong with one another. More of the gentle piano work layered over the fuzzy guitars, of which eventually take this song and this album to its end.

Overall opinion: Macbeth has lived up to their reputation of being a band who is worth the wait of their albums. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that a long time between albums only makes a band better. I seem to find more flaws or things to be desired in bands that are pumping out albums every year and don’t take time to make truly new musical endeavors. Macbeth has improved greatly from Vanitas to Malae Artes. Morena has all but lost the harsh edge to her voice that was so noticeable on the last album, she has not only honed her skills as a vocalist but she has pulled some new tricks out of her bag and shown off some vocal ability that had not been heard before. She has lived up to the potential that could be heard, but was not quite utilized on Vanitas. She has indeed become the “cruel siren temptress” that the band has nicknamed her for years. I have to give credit to Andreas for stepping his game up vocally as well. He has seemingly learned that there is a time and place for his more extreme vocals, and they do not need to be on every song. His regular singing voice has improved too; the quality of his singing that made his voice almost whiny on Vanitas is not nearly as noticeable here. It can be heard somewhat on the first few songs, but as the album progresses he really comes into his own. The guitar work has been “kicked up a notch” as well, not that it ever left much to be desired in the first place. Fabrizio is still the ultra-talented drummer and songwriter that he always was, and now it seems the band has caught up to that and all of them are finally performing to their potential. This album has taken the moody, dreamy sound of Romantic Tragedy’s Crescendo, the dramatic, melancholy quality of Vanitas, and condensed the styles of both to make Malae Artes. Like many of their fellow goth-metal contemporaries as of late, they have learned to be epic without writing long songs. The longest song on this album is nearly 6 minutes, the rest fall nicely between the 3-4 minute time range. So not only has their sound evolved, but their ability to fit all of that sound into a relatively short time period is also something they have learned to do well. If you are new to Macbeth, I would say that Malae Artes is not a bad place to start. However, I feel it would be to their benefit to put out another album in less time than their previous ones have taken, if they are serious about becoming high rollers in the game of goth-metal. Bands are easy to forget about when albums take too long for some, and a sound such as they have achieved in an album like this is far too good to be forgotten. While Macbeth is always worth the wait, I certainly would not mind waiting a little less time for their next venture. However, if they do take another four years to bring another body of work to their fans, Malae Artes is certainly a great album with which to pass that time.