Virgin Black – Requiem Pianissimo

Requiem – Pianissimo is both opening and resolution. This long-awaited release presents the first section of Virgin Black’s three-part requiem but it also brings the trilogy to a close, completing the two-hour and thirty-three-minute masterpiece more than a decade after it began.

Although Pianissimo opens the requiem series, to me this album begins in what feels like mid-conversation, as if carrying on from an unfinished pause, from a sentence left hanging (for ten years). The first half-minute builds toward an emphatic statement – but one that might have been half uttered before the album began.

Of course, I’m primed to hear the whole album now as if it resumes rather than introduces the requiem series. But as each piece unfolds, the sense of continuation doesn’t fade, that feeling of carrying on and developing an idea already in motion. And I’ve only made it more intense for myself, compounding the growing familiarity of an artist’s sound and of repeated motifs by listening to Pianissimo over and over in the short time I’ve had it within reach. This album responds to a question I’d forgotten, or forgotten how to recognize – not with an answer but with an invitation to wonder in company.

For those of you who are already Virgin Black converts, I can tell you that Pianissimo is everything you hoped it would be. Where Fortissimo conveyed some of the band’s heaviest, doomiest moments in metal terms, and where Mezzo Forte fused metal with orchestra and choir in a way the term “symphonic metal” could never capture, Pianissimo uses orchestra and choir to express supremely heavy imagery and emotions. Superficially, the only obviously Virgin Black element is Rowan London’s distinctive voice, as penetrating and as haunting as ever. But the entire work bleeds black and the compositional hand of London and Sesca Scaarba (formerly Samantha Escarbe) can be felt through every twist and turn.

Pianissimo plays out as if there had been no ten-year interruption. I won’t say that it was worth the wait, because this album was recorded in 2006 and the wait has had little if anything to do with what we hear as the glorious end result. But no wait, however long, could diminish Virgin Black’s accomplishment, or my appreciation for it.  I hope you give yourself the chance to appreciate it too.

Requiem – Pianissimo, the long-missing first section of Virgin Black’s requiem mass was recorded in 2006. The score was composed by Virgin Black’s Sesca Scaarba (formerly Samantha Escarbe) and Rowan London, and performed by The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bruce Stewart, with Adelaide Stamford Academy Choir.

You can preorder the album in digital form through Virgin Black’s Bandcamp page. For more information and other merchandise, visit the Virgin Black online store.

Laura is associate editor of and co-host of weekly metal show Kill Eat Exploit the Weak on CFMU 93.3 FM. She loves doom, prog, cats and basketball, believes in equity and social justice and is not cool with any form of discrimination, marginalization, harassment or oppression.