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Mistress Of The Dead : Wooden Coffin Box (15CD Compilation)

An almost unbelievable act of dedication to the early '00s Czech Funeral Doom band, this complete Mistress Of The Dead compilation is perhaps the ultimate package.

Much as I have been known to bang on about the joys of life in the analogue and pre-internet dark ages, one thing that has definitely improved since then is packaging. Not that there weren't some very nicely presented albums back in the day - gatefolds, foldouts, cut-outs, inners and outers all played their part in creating some luscious design works. The snag - they were generally reserved for the most popular of acts (who could shift the gold and platinum disc numbers to justify tooling up a pressing plant for some extravagant project) and any re-issue would almost certainly be as a budget single-sleeved affair, while compilations - as a rule - were pretty bland affairs. If you were lucky, you might get a boxed version - though those were more usually found in the classical music section - if you were unlucky, it'd be something like Status Quo's 'From The Makers Of...' 3LP-in-a-circular-tin (fucker wouldn't even stay in place on a carefully-crafted and levelled shelf, never mind what else you could improvise at the time!).

Now, of course, economies of smaller-scale formats - along with more affordable, independent means of manufacture - have ushered in far more regular forays into limited and special editions, themed re-releases - such as the card-sleeved mini-LP 'Original Album' boxsets - and luxury 'anniversary' sets. It's quite possible, even likely, for repackaging to exceed the quality of the originals, and for almost any band or label, however obscure, to put together a small print run of as comprehensive a work as they like. I love that kind of thing, from the luxury of the complete 40/50 year Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd sets to the intricately handmade one-of-only-ten Doomed wooden box limited editions. Even so, in my own 40-odd years of record collecting, I have never seen anything quite like the disproportionate labour of love that has gone into this complete resurrection of obscure Czech solo Funeral Doom project Mistress Of The Dead.

For a start, it's a bloody enormous (45cm) hand-made miniature coffin - replete with last-resting-place silk padding and discreet magnetic catches, which is just beyond cool in terms of representing the band's deathly fixation with mortality - stuffed with an eye-watering 15 official CD re-releases, all in matching digisleeves. Also in there is a 50-page hardback book containing the album artwork and lyrics, plus an exclusive compilation CD (these are also available separately as a digibook package). If you really wanted to be pedantic, you might note the slight flaw in the enclosed "Sertificate" rather than "Certicate" of ownership (though I do remember somehow losing the entire mastering credit when we released our own site album, so I'm not going to get too excitable about a single simple proofing error). Basically, though, it's everything and more that the band ever produced, in an exquisite housing, limited to just 100 copies - and all credit goes to GS Productions for having the vision to come up with it.

OK - perhaps the most common criticism I've seen of Mistress Of The Dead is that it's one of those projects which retreads similar ground, time after time. To which I'd simply reply - "Of course it does!". Just take a look at the release dates, and read our interview with Vlad Cristea Vales to understand exactly why that is. It's a solo band that had a very specific focus, driven by a very specific muse, and actually created almost all of their compositions within a very narrow and productive window spread over no more than a couple of years. You get different angles and views, certainly, but they're all focused around the same events, the same spiritual nexus and the same physicalities, in a genre that relies more on repetition and incremental change than innovation or radicalism - really, why would you expect anything other than a convergence of output towards the same cathartic goal?

So, that steely, somewhat monomaniac, focus is really the core of the band's entire output, explored through lengthy bleak, forlorn and tormented slabs of pure Funeral Doom in the vein of Until Death Overtakes Me and Worship. Different releases mix slightly different proportions of each, offer slightly more or less in the way of ambient textures and keyboards, or ratio of whispers to growls, but all centre somewhat implacably around harsh-edged guitar lines and dully funereal percussion. For solo home-recorded releases, the attention to detail and the production quality are both consistently excellent - it's in no way difficult to recommend owning some Mistress Of The Dead releases: whether that needs to be all of them is a little more complicated. Not for collectors or completionists - it's something of a no-brainer, given that this is far and away the cheapest, easiest and most stylish way to obtain all of the band's back catalogue, compared to hunting down the originals or splashing out on the re-releases individually. However, it's also true to say that whilst there are some sublime moments spread throughout each of the albums, taken as a whole, they're not so significantly different that a more purist, essentialist - or even space-constrained - listener would necessarily want to plough through all 15+ hours of recordings looking for their personal high spots. If I had to express a preference, for the moment, it'd be 'Warnings From Beyond', 'I Know Her Face From The Tombstone', 'White Roses, White Coffin' and 'Henriette's Message From The Other Shore'. Plus the Quercus split, because, well, Quercus.

That said, I do fall into the completionist/collector category, and it suits me to have the choice of dipping into any of the other albums on a whim. More than that, though, I find the sheer dedication required to construct such a massive sonic monument around Vlad and Henriette's tragic story to be strangely compelling in its profound and extreme tapestry of unending loss: encapsulating perfectly the bleakest beauty of one of the more significant strands of Funeral Doom. To me, that's an absolute bargain, and worth every penny: as a package, it's just perfect.

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Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
CD01: 'Warnings From Beyond' (2004)
1. Darkened Tears Of Weeping Madness
2. A Sorrowful Stream
3. Bliss Of The Dead
4. Postmortem Purgatory
5. Nameless Seeker
6. Dying Candle And Forgotten Withered Rose
CD02: 'Beneath Funeral Flowers' (2005)
1. Beneath Funeral Flowers
2. Oh Dead Why Do I Envy You?
3. The White Sadness
4. Journey Into The Light
CD03: 'Martyrium' (2005)
1. Torturous Reincarnation
2. Martyrium
3. Raven's Lullaby
4. Under Rotting Veil
5. Weeping Hermit In The Black Frock
CD04: 'Sepulchral Grief' (2005)
1. Mysterious Horrors Of Parallel Universes
2. A Funeral Bell
3. Old Astral Tree
4. A Grieving Darkness
5. ...And Her Dying Beauty
CD05: 'The Blackened Cross' (2005)
1. Goddess Of Sadness
2. Return My Love
3. The Blackened Cross
4. Dying Embrace
5. Mistress Of The Dead
6. A Drowning Flower
7. A Weeping Statue
CD06: 'The River Of Quietest Death' (2005)
1. The River Of Quietest Death
2. Dimensions Of Cruel Unexistence
3.Master Of Damned Tyrants
CD07: 'Buried' (2005)
1. Buried
2. Cemetery Rain
3. Vortex
CD08: 'Dying Alone/Plorat Et Devorat' (Split with Quercus, 2005)
1. Dying Alone
2. My Desperate Prayer
3. Enchanted By Metal (Quercus)
4. Plorat Et Devorat (Quercus)
5. Dust Of An Endless Old Age (Quercus)
CD09: 'Cryptic' (2005)
1. Take Away
2. Grey Light Of The Sentenced
3. The Saddest Autumn
4. Cryptic
CD10: 'I Know Her Face From The Tombstone' (2006)
1. I Know Her Face From The Tombstone
2. Embracing Silent Death
3. Only Ashes And Remembrance
4. Tragical Smell Of Grave Flowers (...Is Weeping For Your Death...)
CD11: 'Weeping Silence Of The Dead' (2006)
1. Weeping Silence Of The Dead
2. I've Brought You Flowers
3. Her Eyes Stopped To Cry
4. Most Torturous Depth Of Looks Of Cemetary Statues
5. ...And Her Silence Is Telling Me (Outro)
CD12: 'Funeral Within Me' (EP, 2007)
(Originally released as half of 'Funeral Within Us', Split with Funeral Of My Soul)
1. Reflection Of Red Rose In The Black Marble Tombstone Beside Her Face
CD13: 'White Roses, White Coffin' (2007)
1. My Beloveth
2. The Fading Light In Her Dying Eyes
3. She Gave Me Her All
4. White Roses, White Coffin
CD14: 'Henriette's Message From The Other Shore' (2011)
1. As I Walk Like A Wraith...
2. Henriette's Message From The Other Shore
CD15: 'Beloveth Forever In My Thoughts' (Unreleased, 2013)
1. Daffodils
2. Only Ruinous Silence Of Blissful Memories Remained
3. Beloveth Forever In My Thoughts
CD16: 'History Of Tragedy' (Compilation, 2018) 1. Postmortem Purgatory
2. A Drowning Flower
3. A Grieving Darkness
4. The Saddest Autumn

Duration : Approx. 999 minutes

Visit the Mistress Of The Dead bandpage.

Reviewed on 2019-01-04 by Mike Liassides
Aesthetic Death
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