Ever since clawing their way up from their subterranean lair in Charlottesville a dozen-odd years ago, Bella Morte has successfully fused a wild assortment of dark music styles into an entirely new Frankenstein creation. Horror punk, death rock and thrash metal riffs collide with ‘80s-style Goth-pop synthesizers and grinding EBM beats for the musical equivalent of a head-on crash between Grandpa Munster’s Dragula and one of the robot sentinels from The Matrix. Weirdly enough, it usually works – earning the band the honor of being one of Metropolis Records’ best sellers of all time.
Building a powerful fanbase on the strength of their live shows and tons o’ web buzz, Bella Morte ranks as one of Gothic rock’s most recognized independent bands… and their popularity just keeps growing with each new release. They’ve even crossed the lines into print and videogames, with their lyrics and likenesses (as zombies, naturally) appearing in Ross Campbell’s graphic novels The Abandoned and Wet Moon, as well as a shout-out in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.
The wicked mind’s work is never done, so once the boys came off their successful tour for last year’s Bleed the Grey Sky Black, they returned to the studio for their most ambitious album to date. Beautiful Death (the English translation of the band’s Italian name) is slated to release next Tuesday, and boosts the band’s profile even further, flirting with broader appeal while maintaining a solid grip on their pitch-black roots.
Beautiful Death may represent quite a departure from listener expectations, as the wide spectrum of genres commonly employed by the band has narrowed a bit, with a much greater emphasis on traditional song structures. Lead vocalist and band co-founder Andy Deane says this is the sound they’ve been striving for all along.
“We consider it the definitive Bella Morte album,” Deane explains. “It’s less schizophrenic than our other releases. We’ve created something completely new here by combining elements of what we’ve done in the past.” The end result of this fusion actually brings the Bella Morte sound a bit more in line with bands like My Chemical Romance, HIM, Fall Out Boy, AFI, or 30 Seconds To Mars. While some listeners may interpret this as a sign the band is crossing over into the mainstream, Deane suggests it’s actually the other way around, and that some of those artists have been following Bella Morte’s lead all along.
“[Our] music would have been considered ‘underground’ only a few years ago,’ he says. “It just so happens that the sound we’ve always had is now accepted by a much larger audience. We’ve always made music we love… regardless of what may be popular with the mainstream at the time. Following trends gets you nowhere.”
I'd agree that Beautiful Death is a more refined, focused representation of the Bella sound. Most songwriters, when they dedicate themselves to their craft, develop focus, economy and maturity in their style, and that's definitely the case with the songs on this album. There's always the risk of losing some of that raw passion at the expense of structure, but somehow these guys held onto that energy, and their maturity as musicians has sharpened and focused it. Maybe they don't wield the power as dangerously as I'm used to, but it's there nonetheless.
Opening track “Find Forever Gone” is probably as close to radio-friendly pop-rock as this band 's gonna get. Because of that perhaps, it's a bit too lacking in dynamics for my taste, and Deane's normally robust, voice comes across a bit thin until the bridge, where it regains the robust timbre that reminds me of Mike Patton from Faith No More's Epic days. The synth arpeggios and crunchy rhythm guitar of “Can't Let This Die” is much more consistent in its strength, and really pulls the album's tone from a better place.
From there the strongest tracks are “Black Seas Collide,” which features the fearsome pairing of a gentle piano break with a shuddering tremolo guitar riff that pounds the sonic spectrum, and the schizophrenic “In the Dirt,” which compares favorably to early Mushroomhead with its ever-changing tempo and dynamics. The powerful mid-tempo anthem “One Thousand Days” is a definite keeper and a strong argument in favor of the band's new approach (it would make a good single, actually), but then again tracks like “Burn the Sky” recall the highlights of their earlier work, with the riffs and vocals both delving into the lower range for a real gut-punch. They gear down dramatically for a thoughtful and melancholy epilogue, the sublime piano instrumental “Nine Hours.” It's a cool and unexpected touch to a refined and emotionally sincere work.
Although I expect this new sound will pull in a whole new group of fans, the band believes that the ones who have hung with them for the past decade (affectionately dubbed “The Fallen”) will not be disappointed – especially once they’ve heard the songs performed live. That's where I'd say you'll definitely get your money's worth, and then some. “This is the sound you hear at the shows,” Deane assures, “the unified vision of all the styles we’ve played with in the past… fans should expect the best damned show on the planet.”
We’ll be sure to bring you the scoop once they kick off that new tour, because it sounds like they’ll be pulling out all the stops. Better stay tuned!