Album Review: Sopor Aeternus And the Ensemble of Shadows – Island of the dead 7.6 (Dark Folk)

Written by Mass

  • Sopor Aeternus And the Ensemble of Shadows
  • Island of The Dead … Or the Five Stages of Mourning
  • Genre: Neoclassical Darkwave – Dark Folk – Darkwave – Gothic Rock
  • Release Date: February 29, 2020
  • Country: Germany
  • Highlights: Nightbreed – Black Magic Spell – Deathhouse – Saturn Rising
  • Rating: 7.6

It Is Sad, But Sadly It’s True

Throughout history have existed many artists with a troubled soul (and at times body) who ventured beyond the realms of artistic norms and created their own version of reality and purpose of art. They have worked within all mediums of art and more often than not, their conception of matters has been a somber, and times even, grotesque one. Maybe most famous among them that one can think of would be Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch Painter whose personal calamities are as legendary as his art is; Alexander Pope, the English physical deformity led to his aggressively pessimistic outlook on life; Sylvia Plath, the American poet whose suicidal inclinations led to her The Bell Jar and of course her demise at the young age of 30.

In music, many names have appeared within this scope. The Swede Per ‘Dead’ Ohlin of Mayhem who is renowned and widely-credited for creating and promoting the “corpse paint” in metal scene and who severed and shot himself at the very young age of 22 or Kurt Cobain, the 1990s’ grunge idol, committing suicide and joining the Club 27. One such artist with modern problems, though maybe to a lesser degree than said artists, could be Anna-Varney Cantodea (that is the alias this person has chosen and her real identity is unknown) with a surfeit of social and personal hardships, from violent parents to sexual identity.

As much as I respect and laud this person’s work, I find the music somewhat hard to personally relate to. I have been listening to it for years now, as darkwave is a genre I would dive in head-first, but it has always been an area where I find myself rather dumbfounded, and above all, Sopor Aeternus has this quality of ambivalence. It is gothic, dark, painful, occult, sensational, mystical, abhorrent, traumatic, enigmatic, and many things more and that is precisely what entices me. Her music, as well as her character, is otherworldly, eerie and of a complex nature.

“Island of the Dead” is Anna-Varney’s latest release and it encompasses all the familiar elements in her music. Musically, it is partially gothic rock and partially darkwave with tinges of electronic music in the mix, swinging to this extreme or that here and there. The stronger songs, to me, were the ones with stronger goth or rock influences; I can name Nightbreed as an example. The bass-driven Deathhouse is another piece that stands out in this mix. However, the slow-paced tracks are not devoid of magic either. Black Magic Spell can touch the listener’s soft spots with an emotive narration and a tender atmosphere.

Musically, Island of the Dead follows in the footsteps of its preceding albums; by that I mean it makes use of ever-present rock instruments (drums, bass, electric guitar) as well as synthesizer to add the electronic flavor to this dish. However, several additional instruments, such as violin, cello, and trumpet are present; these add so much to a song like Mourning. What I do not care for, however, is the domineering sound of this dulcimer-like instrument which tops all the rest in many parts. This sound is straightforwardly notable and easily overwhelming other sounds. This issue is partially attributable to production and mixing of the album which could have been done more smartly. Anna-Varney’s signature vocals can be found here as strong and strange as it has always been. Her voice is one of those special ones which are equally loved and detested. To me, her voice falls further in the “love” area and it actually adds to the peculiarity of Sopor Aeternus And The Ensemble Of Shadows.

Bandcamp / Official / Facebook

Lyrics, almost entirely, deal with the familiar topics of personal agony, specifically a somber and self-deprecating attitude towards this subject matter, and they primarily narrate such stories. However, there is a cohesive thread to these stories, it is a narration of an unrequited love of a person for an abusive man who did not return the love and then death comes knocking and this person has to undergo the 5 stages of grief (thus the rest of the title of the album “…or the five stages of mourning”) and finally this ordeal ends with a “Cold” “Goodbye”. Although this unifying theme augments this experience, the lyrics are chiefly simple and they lack poeticness, the rhymes are mostly lackluster and they just push the storyline forward.

Overall, if you are attracted to the morbidity of art and artists and the concepts of personal suffering and mental torment can draw your dark soul to themselves, this album, and this artist on a higher level, should be something you give full consideration too. The story it retells can also be worth reading and may even evoke sympathy in you.


  • Lyrics: 7.0
  • Artwork: 8.5
  • Musicianship: 7.0
  • Vocals: 8.0
  • Overall: 7.6

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