Subway To Sally -Mitgift – Mördergeschichten (2014)
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
Subway to Sally is a so-called German medieval metal band that has found its niche with a mixture of dark and romantic lyrics, sinister industrial metal riffs, and a touch of Baroque music carried by strong violin play. The occasional use of bagpipes, flutes, hurdy gurdies, lutes, mandolins, and shawms adds some unique variety to the pioneering band that has been around since 1991. The reasons that I’ve always liked this band a little less than its more joyous colleagues, In Extremo and Saltatio Mortis, were primarily the singer’s nosey and squeaking vocals, the sinister and sometimes quite depressive or suicidal topics, and the unbalanced use of too much industrial metal not enough folk elements for my taste. The last few of the band’s albums have been a little bit weaker than the its earlier material, and I admit that I didn’t expect much from the new album, Mitgift – Mördergeschichten. In fact, If it weren’t for the intriguing concept around this album, I wouldn’t have checked it out at all.
For its latest album, Subway To Sally took some inspiration from different murder cases of the last five centuries and wrote eight songs (or nine, on the limited edition) about them, plus an instrumental interlude, as well as an atmospheric album opener and closer. The booklet of the limited edition (which includes a DVD) comes with some interesting background information about the murder cases: a desperate murderer forgot what he had done; an innocent woman met the wrong man in the wrong place and at the wrong time; a bad older sister got jealous of her younger and more beautiful sibling and pushed her into the ocean, and so on. These stories are nothing new, but they are presented in a very atmospheric and emotional manner of storytelling. Mitgift really turns out to be the best Subway To Sally album so far for me, and is on the same level as or maybe even slightly above the quality of the last strong releases by In Extremo and Saltatio Mortis.
After a few shallow records, the band decided to change a few things musically. Subway To Sally employs more neo-Baroque musical parts than ever before and the violin play, the occasional female choirs, and the use of Latin lyrics in the opener remind me of the band’s earliest efforts. The vocals sound more realized and melodic than before, and are actually enjoyable throughout the entire record. The band also uses a few modern electronic sounds and a few dubstep passages in their songs. To my big surprise, these new sections perfectly contrast the classically inspired music and the crunchy guitar riffs. The first single, “Schwarze Seide”, mixes all three elements in an unusual way. The song might sound confusing at first, but its fresh originality makes it a strong grower. This track is already very good, but there are still so many better songs here.
“Für immer” is a slow, dark tale with a grand and almost relaxing chorus. My first personal highlight is the enchanting “Grausame Schwester” with its female choirs, the beautiful folk melodies, the majestic chorus, and the vibrating use of dubstep elements in the verses. This song perfectly represents the entire album. The more aggressive and chaotic industrial metal track “Warte, Warte” surprises with elegant symphonic elements in the chorus and sounds like a courageous mixture of Krypteria and Samsas Traum. “Dein Kapitän” employs a similar strategy and convinces with a melancholic chorus. “Arme Ellen Schmitt” includes minimal oriental folk elements, a few classical passages, and smooth vocals that create a fascinating mixture. This track is probably also one of the catchiest on the entire album, and should have its place in future live sets. My favorite track here is probably the emotional and epic “In Kaltem Eisen” because of a particularly good vocal performance and what is maybe the most interesting story on this release. “Haus aus Schmerz” is a close second favorite. It comes around with more pleasant oriental folk sounds in the vein of Arkan, nightmarish dubstep sound effects in the key of Skrillex, and a truly sinister atmosphere that is not a far call from The Vision Bleak. Only the uninspired chorus keeps this track from being the best on the album.
This conceptual record grabs my attention from the first seconds of “Ad Mortem Festinamus” and never lets go until the nightmarish closer “Coda”. The album works very well as an entertaining whole, but the single songs are also incredibly strong. Regular and occasional fans alike should purchase this release because the six men and one woman are back for good. If you didn’t know this band before, I would say that Mitgift is a great effort to start your journey with. If you care for atmospheric folk or symphonic metal music and don’t mind a few industrial riffs and dubstep elements, this discovery will hopefully impress you as much as it has me.