Review: SkepticismCompanion

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A closer look at the latest offering from funeral doom legends and pioneers Skepticism.

It’s the 30th anniversary of funeral doom pioneers Skepticism. 30 years since first they took the fun out of funeral and the pace remains as slow as ever. In music, as in life. Companion is the group’s 6th full length release, and arrives 6 years after its predecessor Ordeal. (Although the hastiest little orcs got to enjoy a special re-release of their 2008 masterpiece Alloy, coupled with 1999’s equally masterful mammoth Aes, both on vinyl for the first time for the wax-huffing troupe.) And let us not forget 2018 saw the long overdue re-release and remaster of their legendary debut Stormcrowfleet, restored to its rightful might, as “The Gallant Crow’s” originally cut intro found its way back in. In a way there’s been an abundance of Skepticism material released as of late, a relative abundance in the very least, culminating now with Companion.

Some things never change. The line-up of Skepticism is one such thing. Though technically their debut demo featured the talents of Tobias Kellgren as second vocalist, every member in the band now is original. Without enduring friend- and companionship, the years of toil, and the shared strength of vision which the years have honed, Skepticism would be a radically different group.

Another such thing would be the 6-song tradition on each album. Although, since the group wasn’t satisfied with merely pioneering funeral doom, they also decided to pioneer record release parties. Which is to say that they were likely the first ever band to play a release party for an album before a single note of it had been recorded. Ordeal was, in fact, recorded at said release party, in front of the audiences eyes, resulting in the evening’s encore – ’95’s “Pouring” and ’98’s”The March and The Stream” appearing on the record as well.

Things that never change come in threes, for the band’s sound makes a third—although, as implied above, this hasn’t been a stagnant puddle, but a very slowly moving molasses. Development and refinement that occurs as a group of people with an artistic trust in each other creates music without setting the boundaries of their expression so tight as to not allow for individual expression—as opposed to hiring new, younger people to replicate an older, thoroughly explored and tightly-set sound.

Of course, when your sound is as unique as Skepticism’s, you stand out even among the niche genre of funeral doom. Their sound is dominated by organs, and entirely lacking in bass, the absence of which gives Companion a sharp, airy and uniquely lightweight sound, despite its ability to crush any living things beneath itself. If I were forced to capture it in one word: oneiric. Their groove is very distinct, and I can’t help think it’s at least partially thanks to their tendency to record their albums’ basic tracks as Companion‘s were, with the full band playing live in free tempo. This very tendency would likely be the catalyst of the band’s habit of breaking the limits of their genre.

You won’t be finding the blood-frozen-solid-in-your-veins-as-all-time-comes-to-a-halt slow riffs of Disembowelment, or the mind-melting guitarmony erections of Mournful Congregation, nor the lead-ridden stomp of Shades of Deep Water. Skepticism breaks the rules, as they break the tempos, some riffs wouldn’t be entirely out of place on a death/doom record, there are solos buried as they may be and often the tempo rises from slow to mid. All this is just to say that Skepticism knows what they’re doing and can’t be bothered with the squabbles of those who would contain them in any box that wasn’t simply “Skepticism”.

Having decided on “oneiric” as the albums description proved fitting, as research* unveiled it conjoined with the record beyond the feeling emanating from it. “The Passage” was based on a dream drummer Lasse Pelkonen had, in which he found himself going through an old record store’s back room and onto a stage, performing an unusual riff and a beat, with a clone of himself. That very riff became the opening riff of  “The Passage”. Guitarist Jani Kekarainen also described “The Inevitable” as having the feeling of a developing sleep paralysis.

Which reminds me of a 4th thing that never… ah, bollocks. All of the things that I’ve listed so far have factually changed. At least to some degree. And I guess there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, maybe something you might relate to art and Skepticism by and large as well? Something along the lines of not being able to fight time and any attempt only creating a void of stagnation, a seemingly endless well of nostalgia that can never reach those same heights because it will ultimately always lack the reasons the original reached the heights it did. At worst, it can give way to mindless self-parody. I don’t know, I was never very good at reading between the lines.

Besides the idiosyncratic approach to their craft, there are many smaller things that make Companion so endearing a release. Matti Tilaeus’ unique growl will certainly take some getting used to for a new listener, as well as the “snare drums without snares” and reverb-drenching that already separate their sound.

There’s also the aesthetically very pleasing tracklist. Both halves of the album are composed of three tracks, opening with a short-titled song (“Calla” & “Passage”), followed by a mid-length song name with a definite article and the letter I (“The Intertwined” & “The Inevitable”) and closing with a longer, multi-word song-title either referencing or hinting at their previous songs – “The March of the Four” & “The Swan and the Raven”, interlinked to older songs like “Raven and the Backward Funeral”, “March Incomplete”, “March October” & “The March and The Stream” etc.

I had trouble deciding how I felt about Ordeal, and I’ve had trouble deciding how I feel about Companion. In fact there’s something about how Skepticism conducts their business that consistently makes it difficult to get into their latest offering and it takes quite the effort to break the barrier. But having already given myself quite some time with it I think I am ready to proclaim in this place and in this time, I love it.

4/5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL

Keep up with Skepticism on Facebook, and go tell Svart Records we said “Hi”. Maybe also buy the album from their webshop. Or just plain visit the band’s Bandcamp page.
*I read it from their Facebook page

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