Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows
I love Anna-Varney Cantodea and her music, and she is an interesting fellow.
Yes, I did say fellow as Anna is actually a Transexual (transwoman), a man who dresses as a Gothic Lady, and lives like a woman, but has decided not to take that final step of having a sex change due to spiritual issues.
But don't let that stop you from listening to her music, as it's one of the better Darkwave bands you will ever experience in your life. In this review I plan not to review any particular album but just draw attention to some of my favourite songs, as well as give a small biography of this wonderful musician.
Anna started her musical project in 1989 as a way to deal with her depression in regards to her sexuality and gender issues along with an outlet to express her love of the Gothic Horror stories of Edgar Allen Poe and vampires. Other themes included such topics as unrequited love, occultism, isolation and romance. The Varney part of her name comes from Varney the Vampyre, the old Penny Dreadfuls of the Victorian Era and Cantodea means 'Female Singer' in Latin.
The Ensemble of Shadows are Anna's muse and are a group of mysterious shadow/spirits that came to her during different periods of her life, firstly while on an operating table when she was a child, and later an an adult when she became overcome with sickness that almost caused her to go blind. They frequent her dreams and offer her comfort and musical inspiration, and after one of her rare outings into the real world to a German Goth club called Negativ, she met Holger and Sopor Aeternus and the Ensemble of Shadows was born out of a dark, melancholic void.
Anna's early work is dark, depressive, filled with pain and I think it's her best work, though throughout her career she has failed to disappoint, let alone sell out. She sings about vampires, death and her confusion about her gender, and also sings several of Poe poems such as The Innocence of Devils (Alone), The Sleeper and The Conqueror Worm. Poe seems to resonate with Anna more than most other artists, which could explain the wondrous yet hypnotising adaptations of his poems into song form. I believe that The Innocence of Devils speaks to Anna more than any of his other poems (besides the Sleeper for obvious reasons) when we look at the following verse:
From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone
Hidden behind merciful shadows, beyond the cruel daylight,
living to hunt and kill, we are the... damned children of the night.
Dragging our immune existence through thousands of centuries
and from dusk to dawn we suffer from our immortality.
Vampires for Anna are crypt-dwelling, corpse stealing horrors that live throughout eternity in pain and suffering secluded from the pulse of life and the joy of the sun. But for Anna it's not all gloom and doom, she generally loves the aesthetic of this necromantic creature as indicated in these later lyrics:
"I'm the resurrection-man, who steals his own corpse
and abducts himself to the beloved catacombs and vaults"
Other songs worth mentioning are the epic Hades Pluton, a beautiful song about a dark journey to the Underworld, and the folkish and haunting Shadowsphere about the world of shades. Anna's work could be described as baroque, classical and folkish with darkwave and Gothic influences. Most of the music is orchestral such as brass, strings and woodwind, and along with Anna's haunted and tortured style of singing makes for an experience like no other in the world of music.
In regards to Spiritualism, Anna reveres Saturn, the Ancient Roman God who devoured his own children when he become aware of a prophecy that one of his children would destroy him. Upon further investigation I believe that this reverence could be a form of dark humour for Anna.
Firstly Saturn is a metaphor that "indicates a tyrannical, domineering parent who seeks to mold his children in his own image and force them to live by his standards. Children often become swallowed up by such domination." Such could have been the case in relation to Anna's father or mother. Additionally, Saturn also represents feelings of isolation, sadness, depression, three events that Anna bears deep scars from due to her childhood and sexual confusion.
Besides the songs sampled I recommend the following albums for investigation:
1. Es Reiten Die So Toten Schnell (For the Dead Travel Fast)
3. Songs From The Inverted Womb
4. Flowers in Formaldehyde
5. Dead Lovers' Sarabande Face One and Two.