Since 1990, Tiamat has evolved from a garden-variety death metal band into a unique outfit producing what can variously be called symphonic, progressive, gothic or black metal. That's an odd combination of labels, but read on.
Their 1994 release Wildhoney remains the jewel in their discography, but – although very different – Prey probably ranks a close second. It is far superior to their recent Judas Christ. The best way to describe their sound is to examine the first track, "Cain":
After a few seconds of chirping birds an acoustic guitar picks a simple refrain for about 3 bars. Moody and elegant. A lead guitar joins the mix for 3 bars, picking complementary mid-range notes at a faster tempo. The full electric set bursts in with crunchy riffs, drums and bass and all the while the two original guitars are still crystal clear. Then there's a short peal of church bells, the music pulls back and the vocals enter. The singing is in low-registers, melodic, somber, and held back in the mix. The atonal yet strangely melodic vocals are Tiamat's signature sound – an unusual yet sophisticated sound, very dark but relaxed in its delivery and a bit Floyd-like. The occasional female vocals are particularly good and should be used more often.
But the standout track is the closer "The Pentagram" which is based on the poetry of Aleister Crowley and had to be approved by a group called the Ordo Templi Orientes. Crowley was known as the "Master Therion" (yes, same name as a compatriot goth band), and was a religious bigot in Victorian England. He wrote controversial poetry, and practiced what was known as "the black arts", but was really an uninhibited explorer of spirituality, seeking links with ritual magic. Which sounds like a bio of bandleader Johan Edlund:
The name "Tiamat" is lifted from mythology emanating from Mesopotamian religion – the Sumerians then the Akkadians. (The band's first album was called "Sumerian Cry".) Tiamat's music is neither religious nor sacrilegious – yet like its mythological namesake, it is rooted in the exploration of spirituality; and like Pentagram poet Crowley, Edlund's songs explore comparative religions and a distrust of the organized Christian church.
And if that sounds deep and introspective, so is the music. It is not heavy metal – it is mellow and elegant and meaningful and should be required listening for any progressive metal fan.