Review: Lantern – Dimensions
Catacomb tyrants return to their throne.
The late 2000’s was one of the most important periods for death metal. Coming off of a glut of bands centred around increasingly narrow interpretations of brutality, melody, and technicality, a wave of death metal seeking to wipe the slate clean and reintroduce the metal public at large to the more sinister and atmospheric face of the genre. 2008 kicked off with titanic releases such as Graves of the Archangels by Dead Congregation, Cruciamentum’s Convocation of Crawling Chaos, Necrovation’s Breed Deadness Blood, and Mitochondrion’s Archaeaeon. 2009 proved even stronger with The Chasm’s Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm, Funebrarum’s The Sleep of Morbid Dreams, Ulcerate’s Everything is Fire, and Denial’s Catacombs of the Grotesque. It was in the midst of this multi-spectrum rebirth of unearthly evil that a Finnish band would emerge, and rather than resurrect the now familiar murk that would become the basis of the now infamous Pacific Northwest sound or join the emergent “cavernous” wave of blackened ritualism, Lantern chose a path like few else.
In 2011, Lantern would rerelease 2010’s Doom-Scrawls as Subterranean Effulgence and caught the then burgeoning “(new) old school death metal,” or OSDM, movement by surprise, gaining a cult following with their unusual take on the idea of blackened death metal. Most of these fusions tend to be associated with run of the mill “Norsecore” or Behemoth, the near-ambient Grave Miasma or Portal type bands, the Gorguts and Deathspell Omega style dissonant acts, or what is now known as war metal, but Lantern’s was more specific and anachronistic in configuration. While their Finnish death metal elements were familiar to many who’d studied well the works of Disgrace, Convulse, Purtenance, Demilich, Demigod and so on, their black metal came from a wider range of sources. Mortuary Drape, Mystifier, Master’s Hammer, Varathron, Sarcofago, Necrodeath, early Samael, Amen Corner – Lantern delved into a hidden history of the genre generally associated with the lawless uncodified mayhem of the first wave.
This marriage of primitivity resulted in a sound that was at once viciously atavistic but somehow too clever to merely be a retread. It was further elaborated on their well received 2013 debut, Below, which delved even deeper into murky, and ominous realms 2017’s II: Morphosis streamlined these processes and added a thrashing approach to guitar work giving them even more forward drive. Three years and one short EP later, this newfound straightforwardness takes us to their most direct and even melodic album as well as their shortest. With two colossal works under their belt of skull-goblets setting new standards for the widening realm of black-death fusions, how does Dimensions compare?
Lantern’s sound on the surface hasn’t undergone a massive change. Their riffing is still characterized by a careful balance between surging tremolo lines and crunchier thrashy riffs out of which winding melodies emerge to add a sense of alien spaciousness. The emphasis on melody has been increased considerably in this case, resulting in a sound that expands like some sort of living graveyard fog with multiple iterations of simple but vibrant melodies backed up by hammering palm muted riffing. A steady march of pounding slower-paced blasts keeps up with militant obedience, providing simple effective cymbal and compact rolls to break up individual portions. Commanding this grave-desecrating horde is vocalist Necrophilos, choosing an open-throated howl with a hollow, slightly reverberating timbre that adds a nightmarish clarity to their already monstrous sound and is their biggest difference from death metal norms. With all these factors combined, Lantern’s sound continues to demonstrate a highly creative take on atmosphere that relies not on pure aesthetic abstraction or obscuring production, cleverly fitting every technique to express their ghoulish desires with a clarity that by no means lessens the impact of this album.
II: Morphosis showed Lantern becoming more straightforward without lessening their aura of rancid decay and wraithlike malevolence, and it has only grown more savage here. I do not mean merely in terms of the riffs being excellent but also the fact that there’s a lot in each song and they’re delivered with more aggression than ever. Like some corpse-feeding flower blossoming at dusk, Lantern’s songs worth through these ladder-like arrangements of riffs with each set exploring differing aspects of their sound through a wild, traumatizing series of shifting nightmare landscapes. Staccato power chords race alongside the drumming to set up a backdrop of stampeding evil. Connecting them are flourishes of swarming melody bridge individual portions and flesh out them out, occasionally letting them peak in moments of feverish violence.
Like echoing mantras from possessed monks, tremolo lines arch and creep at once blurring into the background but contorting and bending into shapes too unsettling to ignore. From this mortuary’s worth of demonic knowledge spills an internal dialogue between these constituent parts, building off of one another’s tension and perverse promises. Moments of hounded, hunted terror transition into those of ghostly flight and the shimmering glow of these echoing melodies is juxtaposed by moments of ringing chords calling out in those hellish depths. Atmosphere and structure are closely intertwined in Dimensions, and every new riff takes you to new putrid depths or unearthly domains, constantly building on and fleshing out different facets of some grand occult puzzle. The relative simplicity on the surface belies a sprawling necropolis filled to the brim with all kinds of varied components, some hearkening back to the days of extreme metal’s tumultuous origins but all combined in towering, architectural arrangements too deliberately sculpted and shaped to be mere mimicry.
In spite of its ominous nature, Dimensions has a clarity that you would not typically expect. With its emphasis on melody many of its individual portions have a stronger sense of defined shape and function and they aren’t above crunchier moments that elsewhere would sound cheap and block-headed but in these six songs build and move tension and theme with steady energy. The lead guitar while not as flourishing as some of the recent trad/power metal bands plays an excellent role in contributing to this sense less so of hooks and catchiness and moreso moments of striking, invigorating intensity. All of this comes to a head in their lengthiest song yet. At 14 minutes, “Monolithic Abyssal Dimensions” is a roller coaster ride through the entire demonic arsenal they’ve been honing for the last 13 years. From the triumphant march of its opening verses to the decadent choirs of ghostly midsection harmonies unto the claustrophobic and reverberant tremolo riffing that climaxes its final minutes, this song best sums up all their strengths up to this point in the kind of epic songwriting absurd on paper but too monstrous in its impious pride to ignore. This is the finest hour of their career, a colossal summation of every horrific secret they’ve unearthed stitched into one titanic deformity.
Other than its short length with the two minute “Portraits” being a grittier interlude in essence, there are no real glaring flaws for this album. It sets out with very specific objectives within a relatively short timeframe and never at any point rests on any particular sonic trope or practice, preferring versatility to specialization. In a time when OSDM has lost a lot of the lustre of when the movement first began, Lantern have stuck to their guns, and rather than falling into predictable patterns used the gaps between each release to further refine and build upon the ideas they debuted with all the way back in 2008. Dimensions is a reminder that “old school” and “redundant,” contrary to the criticisms of people who only started caring about death metal when the major publications jumped on it, are far from synonymous. Warping the heritage of two venerable genres into a form that is distinctly a product of death metal’s new funereal age, Lantern make it clear they are the current kings of both the Finnish sound, deftly avoiding the usual domains of black-death fusions while simultaneously existing in the heart and at the fringes of their homelands distinct sound.
Four out of Five demon portals disguised as outhouses.
Dimensions releases on June 24th. You can order the album at the Dark Descent bandcamp.