Ex Libris – ANN – Chapter 2: Anastasia Romanova
Dutch progressive metal band Ex Libris is always responsible for their words. As it was promised, a little more than six months after the release of the first part of the album “ANN, Chapter 1: Anne Boleyn”, here comes the second part of the trilogy, “Chapter 2: Anastasia Romanova”, devoted to Princess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II. Has Ex Libris managed to tell the audience about the life and tragedy of the royal family adequately?
As well as the first chapter, “Chapter 2” consists of three compositions that symbolize milestones in the princess’s life, although this time they are chosen more conditionally: Anastasia’s childhood and her feelings for her sick brother, the mysterious healer Grigory Rasputin’s appearance at the court and, finally, the events of February revolution, the exile and the subsequent execution in the Ipatiev’s house. And the same as in the case of Anne Boleyn’s story, Ex Libris could tell the world this story as well.
Musically, there are several changes in the second chapter. First of all, “Chapter 2: Anastasia Romanova” is more majestic and pompous, mostly due to the greater influence of classical music, in particular, Russian. A striking example of it is the powerful and hymn-like song “The Motherland”. In this composition we can hear’ Ex Libris traditional musical features, but they sound differently in this context.
Next there comes the disturbing song called «The Healer«, which transmits musically the unconditional trust to Rasputin, but at the same time — the fear of him. The marching, biting melody is set off by Dianne’s tender voice, and in her voice we hear the hopes and supplications for young Alexey’s recovery. And finally the album ends with a chaotic, but at the same time diverse song called “The Exile”. From a musical point of view, this composition can be divided into four parts: the main one is heavy and rich, telling about events after February 1917, after there comes a mild interlude — a kind of Anastasia’s memories; afterwards, the interlude turns into an emotional and hysterical prayer before the execution, and the song ends with choral singing, similar to a church choir, where the lines from the chorus “The Motherland” are repeated, and it can symbolize the subsequent canonization of the royal family.
Although the album is coming out in spring, it seems to be a winter recording in its mood. Ex Libris managed to convey the cold but majestic atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Russia. And besides the balalaika, there is a place for the Russian choir in these songs. The members of Ural Cossack Choir have decorated «The Chapter 2: Anastasia Romanova” with their wonderful voices. And along with the musical moves that are typical to classical music, the choir gave made all the songs sound very Russian-like.
This recording sounds very disturbing. The anxiety goes like a hunch all the way through the album. It is heard even in the major and majestic song “The Motherland”, and then it locates conveniently in “The Healer” finally to reach its climax in “The Exile”.
And when talking about the atmosphere of the chapter, we need to mention Dianne van Giersbergen’s vocal work. We can hear a little more of operatic vocals compared to the previous recording, and it is perfectly integrated into the music without overloading it. But the main thing here is really unprecedented emotionality. It is difficult to describe with words the range of emotions that the singer presented on this album. In some moments is seems that she literally dives deep into the image of Princess Anastasia. The prayer in the end of “The Exile” is the vivid example of it, and even if it does not cause tears of the listener, the goosebumps are exactly guaranteed.
In conclusion, I want to say that Ex Libris managed to surpass themselves. «Chapter 2: Anastasia Romanova» is really a multi-layered and complicated album. This recording requires more than one listening to hear all its details. Such albums are rare, but it only makes them more valuable. I hope that the third and the final chapter of «ANN» album will be released at the same high level.