It seems that Belle Morte isn't only the name of a symphonic gothic metal band from Minsk, it's also the stage name of its lead singer, who writes the lyrics and music too. Now, she certainly isn't the only musician here, because My Little Demon is a duet with a male voice, but I can't find anything to detail who else is here.
Metal Archives only lists Belle herself, but she's not alone in the band photo. Looking at the Belle Morte website, I find pictures of two people, five people and six people, along with a note that she's collaborated with the Norwegian melodic death metal band Addendum, which is a one man project. So, I have no idea who's on this, but I'm guessing that it's the lady known as Belle Morte and a gentleman called Priest who is also Addendum.
[Note: Belle kindly let me know that this started as a two piece studio project but is now a six piece band. As suggested, she's the vocalist and songwriter and the rest of the band is as follows: Ilya Rogovoy and Ilya Petrashkevich on guitars, Sergey Butovsky on bass and backing vocals (that's him on My Little Demon), Rostislav Golubnichiy on drums and Maria Shumanskaya on keyboards. Butovsky is also the producer. Thanks, Belle!]
From that rich cello and flute in the introductory piece, we know that this is going to be dramatic. Yes, it has a very similar sweeping refrain to Adele's theme for Skyfall, but it rolls neatly into the opening song proper, Who are You, which is at once heavy and delicate, that neat balancing act that's up there with my primary reasons for listening to gothic metal. It's a good opener and If Only You Knew isn't a bad follow up, a little more modern and a little more industrial, but To Get Her is easily the standout here and Belle clearly knows that because there's an acoustic version of it included at the end of the album.
Circumstances have led to me listening to this over and over for a couple of weeks, as I get other work done that's prevented me knocking album reviews out, and, every single time I enjoy this album just a little more, but To Get Her always stands out from everything else. Mostly it's the vocal line, but it's a peach of a track from an instrumental standpoint too. It's notable to me that it's just as effective in a bonus acoustic form, something that rarely happens. The piano and violin stand out nicely in this take and a male counterpart behind Belle's voice works too.
I should add that other songs do get close, especially in the middle of the album. I love how the music escalates at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast and that whole song has a wonderful flow to it. My Broken Things is an elegant dance of a track. It felt strange sitting still in a chair, because it felt like I was being whirled around a dancefloor at a gothic ball, a memorable experience given a few shifts in tempo. Beauty Meant to Kill plays out like a mediaeval folk song. Also, the closer, My Legacy, may well be the catchiest number here, just to take us home right.
I liked this on a first listen, but it didn't really pop for me until a second time through. Over two more weeks, it's improved a little more without becoming an undying favourite. However, I can't underline enough how rare it is for me to be able to listen to an album, any album, this much without it tiring on me at some point. This works as an album to dive into and actively explore, but it also works in passive mode, as background. That's another reason it took me so long to write this one up, because it turned into an old friend and it's always hard to stay objective at that point. Let's just say it's one of the good ones, whoever's playing on it.