Music / Sopor Æternus & the Ensemble of Shadows
Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows is a German neoclassical darkwave band, whose sole constant member is singer Anna-Varney Cantodea. Formed in 1989 by Cantodea and Holger, the band has released 10 studio albums and six EPs, or "sister albums
". At the time of the project's start, Cantodea was living in complete isolation, afflicted by severe depression and close to blindness, and claims to have been "given" the music in her dreams by spirits, the "Ensemble of Shadows", thus forming Sopor Aeternus. Holger would leave the band after the demo recordings, but Cantodea would continue under the name.
The band's sound is based upon the doom and gloom synthpop sound of darkwave, with heavy influence from Medieval and Neo-Medieval, Renaissance and chamber music. Lyrical themes in the band's early songs focused on the extreme pain of her life, the occult, her own spiritual discovery, and vampires. Later works embraced her own coming to terms with her transsexuality, love and sex, and Cantodea began to showcase a newfound humorous side to her work. Much of the band's imagery is a ghostly pale Cantodea, nude (and with a vagina airbrushed on) in forests, caves and crypts. Post 2005, Cantodea can be seen in elaborate dresses and gowns in a variety of settings. Fans generally refer to these phases as "Varney", and "Cantodea" or "Anna-Varney", due to the vast differences in presentation.
Cantodea recorded two songs under the name White Onyx Elephants for the compilation album Jekura - Deep the Eternal Forest
. She also recorded an album with Constanze Fröhling under the name of Nenia C'Alladhan.
- Es reiten die Toten so schnell…note (1989; demo)
- "...Ich töte mich jedesmal aufs Neue, doch ich bin unsterblich, und ich erstehe wieder auf; in einer Vision des Untergangs..."note (1994)
- "Todeswunsch - Sous le soleil de Saturne"note (1995)
- Ehjeh Ascher Ehjeh note (1995; sister EP)
- The inexperienced Spiral Traveller (aus dem Schoß der Hölle ward geboren die Totensonne)note (1997)
- "Voyager" - The Jugglers of Jusa (1997; sister/remix album)
- "Dead Lovers' Sarabande" (Face One) (1999)
- "Dead Lovers' Sarabande" (Face Two) (1999)
- "Songs from the inverted Womb" (2000)
- Nenia C'Alladhan (2001; side project with Constanze Fröhling as Nenia C'Alladhan)
- "Es reiten die Toten so schnell" (or: the Vampyre sucking at his own Vein) (2003)
- "La Chambre D'Echo" - Where the dead Birds singnote (2004)
- "Flowers in Formaldehyde" (2004; sister EP)
- Like a Corpse standing in Desperation (2005; rarities box set)
- Les Fleurs du Mal – Die Blumen des Bösennote (2007)
- Sanatorium Altrosa (Musical Therapy for spiritual Dysfunction) (2008; sister/remix album)
- a Strange Thing to say (2011; sister EP)
- Have you seen this Ghost? (2010)
- Children of the Corn (2011; sister EP)
- POETICA - all beauty sleeps (2013)
- Mitternacht - The Dark Night of the Soul…note (2014)
Tropes applying to Anna and her music
- Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: Earlier albums were prone to this. Cantodea's grasp of English increased in the 2000s.
- Song titles are prone to this because they follow Germanic capitalization rules, even when in English, resulting in song titles like "The House is empty now" and "Do you know about the Water of Life ?"
- Canon Discontinuity: Averted. Despite hating Spiral Traveller and "Voyager", Cantodea has reissued both albums.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Cantodea habitually says that she loves people in the past tense, after they have died. When covering Lionel Richie's "Hello", she only utters the "I" or "I love you" before trailing off.
- Compilation Re-release: Like a Corpse standing in Desperation collects the demo tape, Ehjeh Ascher Ehjeh, "Voyager", the at the time oft-bootlegged "Flowers in Formaldehyde" alongside the White Onyx Elephants songs, the The Goat single and other rarities into a 3 CD + 1 DVD boxed set. Like a Corpse was released so that fans did not have to pay high prices for copies of albums that were most likely bootlegs.
- Concept Album:
- Dead Lovers' Sarabande: A woman tries to resurrect her dead lover (Face One); when she proves herself unsuccessful in doing so, she learns how to cope with her loss. (Face Two)
- "Songs from the inverted Womb": All of the songs are dedicated to a dead boy named Little Seven, who is referred to throughout the album.
- "La Chambre D'Echo": The album was inspired by Der Narrenturm, a mental hospital and laboratory of human experimentation in Germany that is now a museum.
- Les Fleurs du Mal: Does Not Like Men.
- Contemptible Cover: Es Reiten die Toten so schnell features a nude Varney on the cover, standing in a crypt. The vinyl cover for "La Chambre D'Echo" features Varney laying down nude in a crypt.
- Cover Version:
- The music of Cat Stevens' "I Think I See the Light" was used for "Todeswunsch (vers.)"
- Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" from Paranoid and "A National Acrobat" were covered for a compilation, as "Diô N'arâp (The unability within Time)" and "Tabor C'âlan O'itanâ (My Womb is barren, but I can conceive)", respectively. The bassline from their song "Under the Sun" was also quoted for "Shadowsphere (The Monologue-World and the subconscious Symbols)".
- Kraftwerk's "The Model" from The Man-Machine received a Translated Cover Version as "Modela est", which was sung in Latin.
- Have You Seen This Ghost? featured three covers: "It Is Safe to Sleep Alone" ("Sleep" by Marianne Faithfull), "Hello" by Lionel Richie and "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler.
- Deadpan Snarker: For living such a bleak life, Cantodea has a rather sharp wit about her.
- Consider "A little Bar of Soap", for starters.
- The warning sticker on A Strange Thing to Say reads, "This package contains SOPOR material. It's naturally fabulous, but shows NO signs of humour."
- The artwork for Nenia C'Alladhan features Varney's head Photoshopped into the Fruit of the Loom logo, bearing the inscription "Fruit of the Tomb".
- Distinct Double Album: Dead Lovers' Sarabande. Not only were the two albums released separately, but the sonic palette is different: (Face One) focuses more on chamber strings, while (Face Two) features numerous arrangements for horns.
- Some of her sister albums could also count, such as Spiral Traveller and "Voyager", and Les Fleurs du Mal and Sanitorium Altrosa. They do share some variants of the same songs but are otherwise separate beasts.
- Does Not Like Men: The theme of Les Fleurs du Mal.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Cantodea's later look, complete with elaborate period gowns.
- Genre Shift: "…Ich Tote Mich…" was a standard synthesized darkwave album, with production values akin to that of Black Metal. "Todeswunsch" was an abrupt switch to Medieval/Renaissance-influenced folk, using real instruments played by session musicians. The synthesizers made sparing return from Spiral Traveller until inverted Womb, which was influenced by progressive rock. From Es Reiten die Toten so schnell onward, it's been straight-forward neoclassical darkwave, with touches of Electronic Music and chamber music throughout.
- I Am the Band: A man named Holger helped her record demo tapes. Since the first LP was released, everything has been solely composed by Anna-Varney, with all other musicians being session musicians.
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: Dead Lovers' Sarabande was the first album to get packaging differences upon release. "Es Reiten die Toten so schnell" took things up to the trope's namesake, with 1999 copies of a boxed set edition and 666 copies of a vinyl edition. The vinyl came with a poster, T-shirt, postcards, Sopor-branded communion wafers and even authenticated graveyard soil.
- Later albums received a near-equal level of treatment, with elaborate photo books, exclusive t-shirts and gifts.
- Long Title: Several of Sopor's songs are reflective of this trope, but Spiral Traveller excels at it. Aside from the name of the album — a title only outdone by Sopor's debut album — only one of the fifteen songs has a short title: "Memalon". The next shortest is "May I kiss your Wound ?"
- New Sound Album:
- As mentioned under Genre Shift, Todeswunsch was an abrupt switch from darkwave to Neo-Medieval music.
- "Es Reiten die Toten so schnell" marked the prominent resurgence of synthesizers into Sopor's work, and cemented the current sound of the band.
- Nobody Over Fifty Is Gay: Averted. Cantodea is transgender, and although no birthdate has ever been officially given, is assumed to be around sixty.
- No Title: "...Ich töte mich…" originally had no title. Since the quotation was printed on the back of the CD case, everyone simply assumed that it was the title. It was later adapted as the title when the album was reissued.
- Professional Killer: This is the nature of the "friend" mentioned in "A Strange Thing To Say".
- Re Arrange The Song: The entirety of the demo tape was re-recorded and entirely re-arranged for Es Reiten die Toten so schnell. "Reprise" went from being a dialogue sample to its own original composition for this album.
- Several songs have been re-recorded for inclusion on later albums. "Birth - Fiendish Configuartion" has been re-recorded at least four times; "Tanz der Grausamkeit" was recorded thrice.
- Record Producer: John A. Rivers, producer for goth/post-goth rock bands Love & Rockets and Dead Can Dance, produced "Es Reiten die Toten so schnell" through to Sanitorium Altrosa. Cantodea took the reigns back after that.
- Shout-Out: The name Varney comes from the first vampire story, Varney the Vampire. A song is named after its subtitled, "The Feast of Blood".
- Cantodea has turned several of Edgar Allan Poe's poems into songs. They were all re-recorded and paired with additional songs for the album POETICA.
- Transsexual: Anna-Varney is male-to-female, but refuses hormone treatment or surgery for "spiritual reasons."
- Vocal Evolution: On the early albums and demos, especially "…Ich Tote Mich…", the vocals were very tortured, unprofessional and alternated between near-crying and singing fairly often. On the newer albums, she sings much more professionally, sounds more feminine, and has less of a pronounced accent. Cantodea had a habit of recording only one take of the vocals early on, and used it regardless of quality. This changed around the time Dead Lovers' Sarabande was being recorded.