Review

Review

'The Best of Bella Morte: 1996-2012' – CD Review

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It's been a while since we delved into the darkly romantic strains of Bella Morte on these pages, but in case you've missed our features on one of the hardest-working and most influential Gothic bands in the genre, now's your chance to catch up. Founded in Charlottesville, Virginia in the mid-'90s, the band was instrumental in kick-starting the second wave of Gothic rock at that time, and across their eighteen-year history they've racked up seven full-length albums and two EPs, the latest being the 2011 album Before the Flood (check out our review here). This week they've released a mammoth compilation of highlights from most of those projects, as well as some new and rare tracks.
 
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One thing that will become apparent as you voyage through these sixteen songs is the consistency of the band's songwriting skills and particularly the vocal strength of frontman Andy Deane; both have become stronger over the years, but there's always been that stable, reliable core to the band's sound that helped them maintain a memorable identity among the thousands of goth acts that emerged in the mid-to-late-'90s, and which continues to endure even as the band madly juggles genres and styles, rocketing from thrash to electro to horror-punk and old school death rock, and every dark shade between.
 
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The band's earliest studio material collected here includes the grim and melancholy "One Winter's Night" from the band's 1997 debut album Remains, where we get the first taste of Deane's vocal flexibility, slipping out of the usual goth gloom and into a more robust, operatic baritone. Their instrumentation was simple and unremarkable at this stage, but is clearly improving on the follow-up release Where Shadows Lie, represented here by the serene, bell-toned “Winter” and the Depeche Mode-inspired dance track "The Rain Within Her Hands.” The darker colorations and atmospheres that mark tracks like “The Quiet” hint at the moodier, more profound direction the band was heading in the 2002 album of the same name, with the aid of a much grander production style. The same serene cinematic mood touches the piano-based instrumental "Untitled" from the same year, though that one actually came during the band's heavy stylistic detour into '80s style horror-rock, in the form of their Death Rock EP and its 2004 follow-up Songs for the Dead.
 
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The heavier elements were firmly in place by the arrival of their next full-length As the Reasons Die, from which we get the gritty electro-rock "Another Way," which finds Deane alternating between his usual lush croon and a coarser, more metal-styled approach, though he brings some of his smoothest lyrical nuances to the same album for the soft ballad "Many Miles.” The electronics and industrial rock riffs are firmly in place for 2006's Bleed the Grey Sky Black, as you can hear in the hefty "On the Edge.” The same mode of instrumentation lends itself well to the ballad format in the hugely popular "Find Forever Gone" from their 2008 release Beautiful Death. That album found the band at a creative crossroads (check out our review here), and revealed shifts in tone to a more power-pop vibe. Here's the video for that track:
 
 
Versions of the ghostly '80s-style dance piece "Fall No More" and the post-punk rocker "The Coffin Don't Want Me and She Don't Either" (a standout from the band's death-rock period) showed up last year on a compilation of rare and unreleased tracks, and they make encore appearances here. Also returning is "Flatlined," an industrial rock single which briefly surfaced in a Metropolis compilation CD via Hot Topic but has otherwise been unavailable in legit form until now. Closing in on the present day, we have the somber soliloquy "Here With Me" from Before the Flood – the best showcase of Deane's vocal strength in this collection – and finally the band's latest studio offering: an elegant new recording of their early-era track "Evensong." The original, which appeared on Remains sixteen years ago, is transformed here into a clean guitar-based ballad with a simple but heartfelt lyric line and sweeping strings in the chorus.
 
 
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For newcomers to Bella Morte, this collection is an ideal way to get caught up on the band's history and hear the integrity of their darkly romantic sound as their production skills evolve and develop, although you'll only get a small sampling of their heavier, more aggressive material – which I heartily recommend you seek out via their previous two albums and their Death Rock EPs. Already dedicated fans will want to snap this one up anyway, if only for the new and rare tracks alone, and it's also a worthy landmark on the band's career path... which I hope will continue for many years to come. 
 
Although the track “In the Dirt” from Beautiful Death is not featured in this collection, I just couldn't go out without including this insane music video, since it was directed by Troma's Lloyd Kaufman and features dozens of gross-out highlights from their most memorable features. Dig it!
 
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