Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows (Latin: "Eternal Sleep"; often referred to as Sopor Aeternus or Sopor) is a darkwave musical project based in Frankfurt, founded in 1989 by Anna-Varney Cantodea. Since the project's beginnings, Anna-Varney's music has gained notoriety for being extremely personalized, melancholic and pessimistic, drawing on a number of different musical and visual styles.

Anna-Varney Cantodea

Her name comes from the common name Anna, as well as the Latin word cantodea, a composed neologism meaning "I sing the goddess". Cantodea had been using the pseudonym 'Varney' prior to 1997, with that name coming from the Victorian Gothic horror story Varney, the Vampire or the Feast of Blood.

Reportedly, Cantodea suffered beatings at the hands of her parents, and peers in school. At the age of six, she was subject to an out-of-body experience whilst under sedation due during a tonsillectomy.

Cantodea seems to be voluntarily isolated, as she has spoken of fear, disgust, or sadness when in the presence of most individuals. She has stated that she does not perform live "in front of humans." Despite this, she currently seems to be acquainted with the pagan and occult author Raven Digitalis, who is one of the "managers" of the official Sopor Aeternus MySpace profile. She has an affinity for author Edgar Allan Poe, recreating his poems through songs on several occasions; and is also an avid supporter of several activist philosophies, including euthanasia, LGBT rights, veganism and vegetarianism. Cantodea is a very spiritual person, with devotion placed on the Roman deity Saturn. Saturn's astrological symbol is combined with that of Jupiter's to create the Symbol of Jusa, an icon created by Cantodea that reflects her spirituality and has become an insignia for herself and her music. Much of the artwork presented in Varney's albums include astrological imagery.

History

1989 - 1995:

Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows was founded by Anna-Varney Cantodea (then known as Varney) and Holger in 1989, and started out as a neue deutsche todeskunst musical project. The two had met in Frankfurt, Germany, in a Goth club called Negativ. The two had met on one of Cantodea's rare outings into the public world. Cantodea and Holger worked together with what little money they had to purchase musical equipment and recorded three demo tapes: Es reiten die Toten so schnell..., Rufus and Till Time and Times Are Done. The three demos were recorded between 1989 and 1992, with Es reiten... being the only publicly released cassette. They are collectively referred to as "Blut der Schwarzen Rose" (German: "Blood of the Black Rose") or "The Undead-Trilogy". Shortly after the cassettes were created, Holger left Sopor Aeternus.

In 1994, Varney was able to sign with Apocalyptic Vision to release her first album, ...Ich töte mich.... The album, like the demo tapes before it, showcased darkwave music with a neo-classical bent, punctuated by Varney's tortured voice and the recurring imagery of death, despair and vampires. It is unknown if Varney received financial assistance to produce the record.

1995 - 2003:

Sopor Aeternus' second album, Todeswunsch, was an abrupt change in direction. While the album retained qualities of darkwave music, the album was stripped of its heavy use of synthesizers and drum machines. A companion EP, Ehjeh Ascher Ehjeh, was released later that year. Varney would also record four songs for an Apocalyptic Vision compilation, Jekura - Deep the Eternal Forest; two of the songs appeared under the pseudonym White Onyx Elephants.

Sopor's third album, The Inexperienced Spiral Traveller, was released in 1997 alongside a remix album, Voyager: The Jugglers of Jusa. It was around this time that Varney changed her name to Anna-Varney Cantodea; Anna being a common female name, and cantodea, the Latin word for "I sing the goddess" (whereas female singer would be "cantor deæ").

1999 saw the double concept album, Dead Lovers' Sarabande (Face One); a project dedicated to the memory of Christian Death frontman, Rozz Williams. Dead Lovers' Sarabande chronicled a nameless protagonist's seemingly futile quest to re-unite with her deceased lover. The album was released in two parts throughout the year, and was the first to be released on vinyl as well as on CD. The following year saw Sopor's sixth album, Songs from the Inverted Womb.

2003 - Present:

In 2003, producer John A. Rivers was brought aboard to produce the seventh album, Es Reiten die Toten so Schnell. Rivers would go on to produce all new Sopor Aeternus' albums. During the following year, the first six Sopor albums were remastered by Rivers and repackaged with new artwork as a lead up to their eighth album, La Chambre d'Echo. Where Es Reiten... started to re-introduce synthesizers into the group's sound, La Chambre d'Echo became the first album in a decade to prominently feature synthesizers and drum machines, in a nod to Sopor's first recordings. The companion EP, Flowers in Formaldehyde, as well as the career-spanning rarities box set, Like a Corpse Standing in Desperation, followed.

Musical Characteristics

The sound of Sopor Aeternus is rooted in renaissance and baroque music, with main use of brass instruments, woodwinds, strings, pipe organs, bells, and guitars. While earlier works used drum machines, later albums feature live percussion. Cantodea's work has shown a progression towards livelier arrangements and more wall of sound production, compared to earlier works; more recent albums have also employed a slightly more mainstream sound, incorporating electronic and slight gothic rock sentiments. Though considered by genre a darkwave band, Cantodea has stated that she ignores this notion and simply creates "...-music for dead children and otherwise wounded souls, that is all." On several occasions, Cantodea has re-recorded and recycled elements from previous songs; other times, motifs are used; the most notable example is "Birth - Fiendish Figuration", which has been re-recorded at least four times.

Cantodea has clearly stated that she creates her music about herself, solely for herself. Major themes include death, unrequited love, karmatic pain, loneliness, sadness, spirituality and failure; more recently, Cantodea has featured occultism, sexuality and romance into her lyrics. A strong recurring theme is transexuality, especially the removal of male genitalia. Several albums feature Cantodea nude with a vagina (which was edited in in post-production.) Many allusions to spirituality and Roman deities appear in her lyrics; aside from Jupiter and Saturn, Morpheus, Hades, Uranus and Charon have been addressed by name. Other supernatural figures mentioned include the Sister of Self-Destruction, the Goat, the Old Man and the Lord of the Darkest Side.