Doomthousandnineteen: Year-End Roundup (For 2019 – In 2020!)
Yeah, I’m late with this. Water is blue, climate change is stripping us from all the snow so I literally had a green Christmas and the parsley on my balcony began sprouting on December 23rd. Tell me something new.
I haven’t kept up with my journalistic duties as of late, and to be frank, I don’t intend to entirely rectify this matter shortly. Yet, I’ve no desire to completely neglect them either, so despite the fact we’re past list season, we’re looking at the latest doom metal from Ataraxie, Fvneral Fvkk, The Lone Madman, Esoteric & Isole. Just in case you missed some of it, and we both know you did.
An unnaturally heavy album consisting of four monumental (by virtue of length alone) pieces of death/doom. There’s not too much in the way of riffs, but it’s all made up for with pure sonic devastation, soul-shaking tones, crooked melodies and an unrelenting, suffocating atmosphere. The compositions are extremely drawn out, but the length has been treated as an additional instrument, a tool of songwriting in itself, not a byproduct of it. Means, not an end. The three guitarists weave genuine, even interplay between them, one section poses a question, the next expands on it and the third may bring an answer. There is a similar relation of continuity to the songs themselves, even though there are no direct callbacks. Though Résignés often dips to the funeral pace, it never feels less than lavish, every inch of these massive compositions is crammed. And where crushingly heavy despair may be contrasted against somber picking and the pace of an eon against blast beats, it is never done in the most obvious way. Ataraxie makes music that is extremely demanding even by the standards of demanding metal music, but with patience they have such sights to offer.
Nevermind the name, Carnal Confessions is a brisk three quarters of an hour’s worth of epic, despondent, gloomy-as-all-hell, riffier-than-your-mother-in-law, bleak doom metal about state and church (“silently”) approved sexual abuse conducted by the clergy. Heavy shit. The rhythm work is powerful but sparse, but guitarist Decanus Obscaenus is more than up for the task, bringing one morose riff after another, and some understated, excellent leadwork while vocalist Cantor Cinaedicus fills every moment with his heartrending croon, which is my only complaint really—he’s an excellent fit, but I could do with more moments that weren’t so full of him, as Fvneral Fvkk has a knack for making even the sparsest moments in their minimalist songwriting sound out of breath and room, even if it is mostly in a good way. If emotionally destructive material, Solitude Aeternus and a whole lot of riffs sound like a good time to you, don’t pass up on Carnal Confessions. It’s even got the hallowed W seal of approval (and Leif’s too, but like I always say, never trust a bear).
Back in 2016, The Lone Madman presented themselves with an EP of modern, epic doom metal following the trail marks left by Reverend Bizarre but with more emphasis on ominous guitar melodies. Even back then, there was no attempt to outright replicate anyone else’s sound, and on Let the Night Come, the foursome plays to, and expands on, their strengths while trying to carve their own, personal niche out of it. There’s more depth and power to Turkka Inkilä’s vocals and a newfound richness to the songwriting, while the band spends less time building towards the next riff, leaving more room for quieter, introspective moments and melancholic leads that don’t as obviously foreshadow the next turn, but work as individual moments.
“Häxan,” the only one of the album’s 4 songs running under 10 minutes, highlights The Lone Madman’s knack for re-purposing a single motif—in this case, a classic 80’s doom riff. It forms the basis of the song and appears in several variations, even through the out-of-left-field flute solo, transferring from one instrument to another, only completely subsiding in the songs emotional climax. Inkilä’s haunting vocals take a far more aggressive tone here, eventually driving the entire composition into dissonance, breaking tensions and discordance. In contrast, the closer, “House of Mourning” features a far more serene Inkilä channeling his best Hamferð over a pained and plaintive lead and onto some of the band’s briskest material. But tempo only ever rises momentarily on Let the Night Come and before you know it, the band’s sunk back into the gloom. Though sink is perhaps not the best word here, as there is always something contrasting the the deepest abyss, a single instrument or a vocal line is so at peace, it is at war with the bleaker side of the material. Add the excellent arrangements, rich texture and honed songwriting and The Lone Madman’s debut full-length is a thrill ride that won’t let go.
Even among their peers within the ranks of funeral doom bands, each of which could be truthfully described as “challenging” to one degree or another, Esoteric stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Their brand of funeral doom is littered with double albums, half-an-hour long songs and an almost absurd amalgamation of psychedelic depression that’s challenging compared to even them (does it smell of a theme in here, or is it just me?) The Brits have the musicianship demanded of anyone willing to write such lengthy songs, and couple it with the much rarer narrative skill to craft the depth and immersion that they warrant. They also have a rarer skill to sound both genuinely aggressive and miserable. Sure, there’re plenty of bands that can do both downcast and hateful, but very few of them manage to mix the two simultaneously like Esoteric does.
Though at first glance A Pyrrhic Existence shares the atmosphere-and-texture-above-riffs mentality that is common in funeral doom, beneath its surface, it riffs surprisingly hard with drawn-out motifs and thick textures. Greg Chandler’s dramatic performance varies between pained, high screams and a brutal, guttural roar while the constant (within the pace of this record) shifts in tempo and all-encompassing psychedelia is woven by the three guitarists. The bass occasionally cuts through to give yet another thing to follow but can sometimes be masked by the guitars. However, they form the rigid backbone without which a record as chaotic, adventurous and full as A Pyrrhic Existence would collapse beneath its own weight.
Talk about gargantuan riffwork in sadboi music. Actually, I don’t think there’s much talk of that going around, since sadboi music isn’t usually the most riff-friendly format. That’s not to say that Isole wrestles in a league all their own; in fact, they’re heavily indebted to acts like Candlemass, and Solitude Aeternus, but veiled by a similar constant of sorrow that can be seen and heard on November’s Doom‘s material. Simultaneously, Dystopia is classic doom through and through, with big hooks, big riffs and big songs. From within their somewhat narrow and slightly unusual arsenal of influences they’ve crafted more variation than the premise suggests.
These influences range from “Written In The Sand’s” spot-on Marcolin-esque chorus to “You Went Away’s” My Dying Bride re-enacting Beyond the Crimson Horizon, and from “Galenskapens Land’s” channeling of Katatonia to “Forged By Fear,” where the interplay between bass and guitars placed against a double-bass beat reaches a potency reminiscent of Ereb Altor, a Bathory-worshiping viking metal band that is no stranger to big moods either. (Ereb Altor also includes two members of Isole, so no surprise there.) Much of this record, especially the sudden and brief moments of growled vocals, are akin to what the aforementioned November’s Doom might have gotten around to doing, if they had been through a rigorous school of classic doom. Though their influences are manifold and picked from a tapered plate, Isole rises above their sum.