Lessons of the Dead
Gothic Metal duo consisting of electric upright bass and voice. We write songs about the macabre.
Leanna Renee Hieber is a gothic author. Her books are delightfully dark and spooky and peopled with decadent Victorian characters. These books are so incredible and I highly recommend them! So when Leanna approached us to do a theme song for her series, The Spectral City Series, I got so excited. I read carefully through The Spectral City (book 1) and paid attention to which phrases jumped out at me, almost as if the lyrics were in spectral form and I could channel them the way the main character Eve and her close circle of friends (also mediums) channels the spirits. We used a lot of musical parts (layers) to depict the realities Eve has to navigate, whether spectral or corporeal, so listen for the different bass and vocal parts, along with other musical ghostly apparitions.
Lessons of the Dead 2:420:00 / 2:42
"Marley was dead, to begin with..." So opens one of the most famous ghost stories of all time. In the bleak midwinter, Victorians liked nothing more during the holiday season than to light a candle and tell ghost stories.
Valentine Wolfe has always had two distinct elements to our musical style: heavy metal and, perhaps less apparent, dark ambient soundscapes. Dark Ambient Soundscapes are instrumental/wordless compositions that place emphasis on tone, atmosphere, or creating the sensation of dark acoustic environments (abandoned buildings, mausoleums, underground caverns). Winternight Whisperings is an album that revives the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas.
The Haunting of Mary Shelley
Dolorosa Lachrymosa is Dark Ambient, neo-classical Gothic music featuring the haunting of vocals of Sarah Black, conceived as a video game soundtrack, inspired by games like Bloodborne.
Grief and Tears
Dolorosa Lachrymosa was composed and recorded during the winter of 2017-2018. The dark ambient album features Sarah’s vocals, a smattering of synthesizer textures, and not much else; we both feel the results are quite impressive.
Sarah recorded the project at Studio Valentine Wolfe, located as of this writing (March 21, 2018) in Greenville, South Carolina. Sarah uses an Audio Technica AT2020 into Logic Pro X via an Apogee Duet, and mixed the project with a bit of input from Braxton.
All songs composed and performed by Sarah Black. Produced by Sarah Black Input and encouragement provided by Braxton Ballew Mastered by Corwyn Bellavich.
Sarah writes: I have always wanted to write a video game soundtrack. I started Dolorosa Lachrymosa with no actual video game in the works. I had a story idea, but that was all. I decided to go ahead and start writing the music for it anyway and figured if a game comes out of this eventually that will be awesome, but if not, I still wanted to do the soundtrack. Then I met a young man at a convention where his parents were musical performers and he said he might like to help me make this game! So there may be a game in the works! Here is some of the story he’s written as a guide so far:
The angelic and demonic have been at war for longer than anyone can remember. Once, both sides were in mutual peace, but it is nearly impossible to imagine that now. The mortal world has been ravaged and humans are scattered, scared, and in hiding. They cannot take sides as they are weak.
The angels originally had a natural affinity for humans, some still do, but the many outweigh the few. Morals are pitifully useless, caught in the middle of a war they cannot participate in, yet their deaths spawn the ageless fighters that surround their lives. With that knowledge, many human camps have been made to condition and train mortals so when they die- they are almost always set to one specific side.
When mortals die, they are given the choice to either become immortal, become reincarnated, or pass on to the, “other side”.
Immortals start as either demons or monsters. Angels seek out fresh demons and recruit them if they are willing. Demons and monsters live forever and need no sustenance until killed. Because what they have become is their soul, they are fully destroyed when killed.
I am very excited to be writing this music! So far I have written several cues that I think make for good “Angel” cues because of all the vocal layering and the soothing atmosphere. I still need to write more fight scenes so that is what I’ll be working on next!
If the names of the tracks seem familiar to you, it is because I am using names of Angels and Demons from various lore and literary sources. I am trying to really match up the atmosphere of the track with attributes normally associated with those names. Obviously, in the game, these tracks might be paired up with different characters. But for now, just enjoy the atmospheric music!
I have been having fun working on these Dolorosa Lachrymosa cues by myself while my bass player has been busy with symphony stuff. But now I am starting to miss metal! As fun as it has been to write atmospheric vocal layers I will be so excited to get back to writing some metal! I think I am nearing the end of this soundtrack project. Although what I’m going to release will just be a soundtrack for now. There may be a game to go with all this sometime in the future and at that point I will possibly need to make some changes to these cues. I ended up writing way more calm and soothing music than what could work better for fight scenes. So the game will either have really boring fight scenes (which will be the fault of my music) or else I’ll need to really beef those up. I still have a couple more ideas I’d like to try out and then I need to work on some editing. But once this is all ready, I would love it if some writers would take a listen and see what this music does for the writing process!
Braxton writes: gaming has been a lifelong, if not sporadic, activity for me, beginning with my older sister’s Atari 2600 all the way to my PS4, which works great for my filthy casual needs. The atmosphere aspect of our metal songs has struck me as not too far off from the music I hear in video games. In particular, Bloodborne, Witcher 3, and Horizon: Zero Dawn have all had music that is compelling enough to listen to outside the context of the game.
Especially Bloodborne. Once I’d played that recording, I could tell the wheels started turning. One amazing thing about Sarah is that (channeling the lyrics of Rush) she “can’t stop thinking big”.
In this case, this means while she wanted to write a video game soundtrack, not allowing the minor fact that there is not (again, as of this writing) a game to go with the score stop her from creating the music she wanted to hear.
While we never intended to leave the bass off this project, and indeed, we discussed adding some of the ambient bass you may be familiar with, I really felt it wouldn’t add that much to what she’d written. So perhaps my contribution was mostly stepping back and encouraging her that her finished cues were more than enough.
In the very early stages of Valentine Wolfe, I’d hoped it would be a process, a way of doing things (I’m indebted to King Crimson for the concept), and while my sound might be absent, I believe Valentine Wolfe is ultimately an expression of that process from both of us.
So when Sarah decided and suggested we put the album out under the Valentine Wolfe banner, that really seemed to be the correct thing and made a lot of sense to me. I hope it does for you, too.
Besides, I love her voice. And I think on this recording, you will, too.
Enjoy Dolorosa, Lachrymosa.
Sarah and Braxton, Valentine Wolfe
Ophaniel 2:460:00 / 2:46
Helel 2:330:00 / 2:33
Maalik 2:270:00 / 2:27
Abaddon 2:240:00 / 2:24
Ariel 2:420:00 / 2:42
Cassiel 3:530:00 / 3:53
Ecanus 1:420:00 / 1:42
Eleleth 2:030:00 / 2:03
Harut 3:350:00 / 3:35
Kushiel 3:360:00 / 3:36
Lavavoth 3:380:00 / 3:38
Murmur 2:180:00 / 2:18
Seraphiel 2:030:00 / 2:03
Raziel 2:500:00 / 2:50
Saleos 2:120:00 / 2:12
Samael 2:420:00 / 2:42
Nuriel 3:010:00 / 3:01
Baradiel 2:580:00 / 2:58
The Elegiac Repose
Nine songs of grief, mourning, and loss. Valentine Wolfe's newest effort fuses soaring female vocals and brutally distorted double bass, combining metal, classical, and dark ambient music.
Annabel Lee (Epic Version)
Two classically trained musicians combining ambient solo bass, brutal distortion, electronica, and 18th century opera to tell a story of the macabre.
Re-composing Annabel Lee
“Sure, we’ll do it!”
This is a phrase that, in the years we’ve been performing as Valentine Wolfe, have gotten us into no end of trouble. But more often than not, fun trouble.
Which was our mindset when we opened the old Logic files from 2012-2013 (Annabel Lee was the first song written for Once Upon A Midnight), and started trying to figure out how we were going to accept the challenge set before us., namely, take our version of Annabel Lee from a short 3-4 minute song and turn it into an epic, 9-10 minute song.
The first thing we had to do, then, was to figure out where the song could be expanded, and if the expansion would support the material already written.
The second thing was to determine how much of the old material would need to be re-recorded.
Some backing vocals and some texture sounding bass parts survived, but the lead vocals, distorted double bass parts, bass solos, and introduction were all completely re-done, along with the synth bass and drum programming (we kept the double kicks at the end).
The main expansion point chosen, as you’ll hear, occurs right after Edgar Allan Poe expresses his feelings of rejection from Virginia “Let me have under her own hand a letter bidding me goodbye”.
We linked what happens next with material that was hinted at in the new introduction.
All said and done, Sarah set the entire poem of Annabel Lee, which now forms a mammoth middle section of the new version of the song. Sarah’s melodies are clearly in the home key of f-minor, but are very open ended harmonically-this makes the whole section feel rather unsettled, with the reprise of the original material coming back as an epic arrival point-the musical version of a dreamer awakening from a deep sleep.
There’s also a pretty nice new bass solo/bass duet with the vocals in there, too.
Texture wise, we added more undistorted double bass as a background item (it’s a detail-listen close and you’ll hear it), and combined it with a King Crimson inspired soundscape (with some distortion).
We’re not sure if we’ll ever play it live; the only thing we are sure of is that it would be very difficult to play live (there’s some trickier than they sound time shifts in the middle section; Sarah set Edgar’s words with maximum fidelity and no small amount of virtuosic skill).
However, when it was all said and done, we’d written a song over 12 minutes long, making it the longest Valentine Wolfe song yet written. And it was amazingly epic and gratifying to do. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did making it for you.
0:00 / 12:30
Two classically trained musicians combining ambient solo bass, brutal distortion, electronica, and 18th century opera to tell a story of the macabre.
Formed in 2006, Valentine Wolfe is the combined effort of Sarah Black and Braxton Ballew. Imagine Sarah Brightman being backed by Francois Rabbath blowing through a Marshall stack at midnight. Having dubbed their music "Victorian Chamber metal", the duo have synthesized a love of metal, classical and industrial, infusing them with a Victorian sensibility that evokes the likes of Bram Stoker and Edgar Allan Poe.
The ethereal soprano vocals of Sarah Black--which call to mind not only the aforementioned Brightman, but also Dianne van Giersbergen of Xandria and Tarja Turunen--are buttressed by the thunderous growl of Braxton's electric upright bass, and the two coalesce over pounding rock and electronic grooves punctuated by a maelstrom of synthesizers, keyboards, samples and sound design.
In addition to their gothic metal stylings, their post-graduate backgrounds in music (Sarah has an MM in Composition, and Braxton a DMA in Double Bass) has afforded them multiple opportunities to broaden their musical horizons in recent years, having been contracted to lend their unique sound to theatre productions; composing and performing the scores for Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest (Warehouse Theater), The Winter’s Tale (Furman University), and Twelfth Night (The Distracted Globe), the voice of The Angel in the Warehouse Theater's production of Angels in America, silent films and short horror films (most notably, Your Cold Black Heart).
Drawing inspiration from all things Victorian, including literature, poetry, and history, and blending them with their musical proclivities and sensibilities and new media (such as Game of Thrones-- which they recorded several songs based on the source material--and Penny Dreadful), their music has found particular favor amongst the Steampunk set.
But in a genre dominated by airships and gearwork, tophats and goggles, they follow the back alleys of streets lit with yellowed gaslamps, casting shadows long against the walls; where Jack the Ripper stalked his victims, where Dracula walked with Mina. Together they've provided the drama and the grandeur of the gothic at conventions all up and down the East Coast; rocking con raves with Industrial metal for a pre-industrial age, where the glowsticks are filled with absinthe.
Krampusnacht 2:470:00 / 2:47
A Child's Bestiary
We've created a musical Cabinet of Curiosities, featuring all manner of beasts, creatures, fiends, and oddities.
A Child's Bestiary: Nine tracks of macabre oddities from the imagination, an exploration of a grotesque menagerie, lurking under the guise of a child's innocent rhymes.
Enter the Bestiary with A Taxidermist's Toybox, a track inspired by surreal horror of the television show Hannibal. My Black Hen is a witches scene, our very own version of a Hexensabbat. Wynken Blynken and Nod are here, the beautiful lullaby taking on a tragic and ghostly interpretation, inspired by post-mortem photography. Then Alfred, Lord Tennyson provides the lyrics for our next creature, the mythical Kraken.
Corvidae is a sinister nursery rhyme that inspired the entire creation of this imaginary exhibition. We then return to previous inspiration with Silent Siren, a Hans Christen Andersen tale, familiar to most of you, but much more aligned with the source material. And what would our bestiary be without fairies, especially one that some say enables perception of all these wonders? La Fée Verte, or The Green Fairy, appears with promises of exotic dreams and visions…
The next tale, Peter the Wolf, features a young boy named Peter, his grandfather, and his own animal nature lurking beneath the surface.
And our final beast is the Ouroboros, circling around itself and bringing our collection of songs to a close, with some words from our favorite poet, Edgar Allan Poe.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past
The Victorians had a tradition of gathering round to tell each other ghost stories and we've tried to capture that atmosphere using just voice and electric upright bass as our medium with which to commune with those Christmas spirits!
“Marley was dead, to begin with.”
This is the opening to my favorite Christmas Story, Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. When I was a child, the fact that it is a ghost story wasn’t immediately obvious to me. But I loved it. I had storybook and record of the tale, and I generally would listen to side one (the ones with all the scary bits in it) over and over instead of turning the record over for the happy ending. And when the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol started coming on television, I never missed it, looking forward to the fog, the lanterns, and the ghost hearse. Especially the ghost hearse. A Christmas Carol was scary, and not like a horror movie, and while young me didn’t quite understand the distinction, I knew I loved this story the most.
It is easy, therefore, to imagine my delight in finding out that a cultural tradition around Christmas involved families gathering on the 24th of December and telling ghost stories. The notion of passing Christmas Eve in sheer terror of the return of the dearly departed sounded...well, fun. And instantly brought me back to memories of cold winter evenings and the spectral visage of Jacob Marley.
So in the spirit of the Ghosts of Christmas past, we’re offering you ten tales for your musical enjoyment this season. There’s nary a reindeer or a kindly old elf to be found, but there are memories and echoes of the past abounding, both in the texts and textures of the music.
Musically, we challenged ourselves to write an entire work with only my double bass and Sarah’s voice. I’ve been fascinated with the notion of using delay and reverb (short for reverberation, meaning an audio effect that mimics physical space) to create musical ghosts, that is, music that plays itself and exists as its own shadow.
And with the dark nights of December upon us, it seemed we had the perfect opportunity to conjure up our ghosts. They are mostly traditional songs, but Sarah wrote her own melodies for three of them, and all of them have been manipulated to create our own spectral atmosphere.
So turn the lamps down, light a candle, and lock your doors. There will be time enough for the bright songs of the morning to bring comfort on Christmas Day. But on this dark eventide, the bumps in the night are not reindeer…
The Nightingale: A Gothic Fairytale
This story is based loosely on The Emperor and the Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen and is set in a Poison Garden. The soundscape of music features haunting, ethereal female vocals and virtuosic bass layers.
Braxton Ballew and Sarah Black have been composing and performing music together as Valentine Wolfe since 2006. Their scores have been heard in productions of The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest (Warehouse Theater), The Winter’s Tale (Furman University), and Twelfth Night (The Distracted Globe). Both hold graduate degrees from the University of Georgia, where they studied electronic composition with Dr. Leonard V. Ball. In addition, Sarah completed her Masters degree in composition studying with Dr. Adrian P. Childs. She currently studies voice with Lisa Barksdale from Furman University. Braxton holds a DMA in Double Bass Performance and has studied with Milton Masciadri, Albert Laszlo, and James Barket. He is the Education Director of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and a member of the double bass section.
Their gothic metal music is heavily inspired by all things Victorian, including TV shows like Penny Dreadful and of course literature and poetry from that time period. The lyrics to Darkling, Listen off of The Nightingale are taken almost directly from Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats. The story of The nightingale is based loosely on The Emperor and the Nightingale by Hans Christian Andersen. They have chosen to set their version of this old story in a Poison Garden which they modeled on the Alnwick Poison Garden.
Braxton plays an electric upright bass for their gothic metal projects and it is similar to the bass he uses for his orchestral performances but with one big difference. His electric upright bass has a high C string that allows him to sound like a cello or even a violin in some instances. He loves to push the boundaries of traditional bass playing and create new worlds and soundscapes with his instrument. All of the layers that sound like a guitar or cello or bass are performed with his electric upright. He runs his sound through a Blackstar amp at this time and uses a Boss RC300 looper pedal.