Review: Lethean – The Waters of Death
The solemnity and beauty of some strains of epic heavy and doom metal is unmatched by almost anything else to be found in the genre. Often, that comes forth in the form of individual songs in a more pounding overall piece in that style, while songs tend to be relatively simplistic and focused on repetitive mid-paced rhythms calling back to giants like Manilla Road or Manowar. Powerful and often gruff vocalists howl like the barbarians that they pretend to be, or adopt the persona of an ancient wizard to croon over the instrumentals.
In Lethean, not much of that is the case, at least with any consistency; the care that clearly went into crafting each song is immense, and even as massive sections of Poledouris-esque (if he’d written on guitar, at least) epic rhythms come to the fore, somber leadwork soon sobs over the other instruments to take the songwriting back to a more reflective sort of glory. Songs are long enough to give the thematic development of each piece plenty of room to grow but don’t focus exclusively on sounding smart, with plenty of space given to glorious gallops or chunky doom rhythms. The guitar playing is fantastic and does a great job of showcasing multi-instrumentalist James Ashbey’s skill without becoming overbearing; as I said before, he’s as happy to play easy bits as he is hard ones and is clearly more focused on writing good music than he is on showing off. Also nice to hear is that Ashbey is unafraid to play outside of heavy metal as is necessary, alternating in clean guitarwork or doom metal sections as the songs call for.
Ashbey also plays the bass and drums in Lethean, and despite taking on so many roles, none of the instruments suffer for it. The bass is clear when it’s appropriate to be and perfectly fits in the mix where you’d want it to, giving a lot of weight to heavier sections and some extra expression to more somber ones. The drumming is not virtuosic but perfectly fits the music, and is complimented well by good recording and a place in the mix that lends it a lot of strength. The entire package is finished with an extraordinarily skillful performance by vocalist Thumri Paavana. She soars over the instrumentals in a way that’s almost bizarre initially due to her approach being better suited at first listen to a place in something a bit more classical (and less guitar driven), but the songs are clearly written with her voice in mind and after a bit of an adjustment I couldn’t imagine these songs without her. Her range, skill, gloriously full tone, and powerful emotional outpouring perfectly completes The Waters of Death to result in an album that, while not straying particularly far from the mold of epic heavy metal, is a fairly unique offering in a genre that doesn’t tend to have many albums that do something significantly different from each other. The closest comparison that I can think of is to take a classically trained singer, put her in Argus, and ask them to channel the melancholy of Warning, but that doesn’t do Lethean justice at all. If you want to experience it, you’ll just have to listen for yourself.
As a final note, the cover artwork for The Waters Of Death is absolutely stunning and perfectly fits what the music sounds like in a way I could not have anticipated when I first saw it. Mad props to Stefan Bleyl for painting it. Fans of epic heavy metal take note- anyone into the stuff should be into this, and I’m sure plenty of others would as well if they have any passing interest in heavy metal.