Review: Skepticism – Ordeal
The Finnish funeral doom legends return.
Skepticism have been more or less quiet for seven years now, the time that has elapsed between Ordeal and its predecessor. In case you aren’t familiar with the band, they are considered one of the creators of funeral doom. A genre that thrives on songs that’d exhaust even Dream Theater, drawn-out chords and a strong presence from keyboards, usually organs. Not all bands have keyboards and some have incorporated melodies into their songs, but Skepticism fell into the former category. I say fell because I haven’t kept up with them after they released Lead And Aether, the follow-up to the semi-legendary Stormcrowfleet. And if you are like me, you might find yourself a little surprised at the musical direction of Ordeal. The drawn-out chords, dominating organs and bombastic drums are all there – this is a funeral doom album – but everything has taken steps into new directions. Songs are less dirge-y and the tempo has occasionally been raised above 15 bpm (thank god, only occasionally), but the changes go deeper than that.
I’m not saying funeral doom lacks variation or that all the albums should sound the same – take the new Shape of Despair for example; it manages to sound like a SoD album without ever sounding exactly like its predecessors. What I am saying is: Ordeal uses the same bricks Skepticism has always used, but the outcome doesn’t sound like the same band that recorded Stormcrowfleet at all. The hallowed debut and its follow-up, were permeated by a unique feel and atmosphere that is unfortunately no longer present here.
Having listened to Ordeal a few times and looking back, there were hints of things to come, or at least it’s easy to see them in retrospect. Eero Pöyry’s organs never hovered over the songs like a carpet of sound with no other purpose than to create thick layers of atmosphere, instead driving them onward while reaching for a certain grandeur. Which is something you will find plenty on Ordeal. As if Pöyry was trying to forge symphonies without the means of orchestration. And rather than attempting to emulate one, he chose to take only the arrangements from symphonic metal, as best heard on “Momentary”, which works well in Skepticism’s favor.
Most of the changes are, like Pöyry’s playing, found on the individual performances. The drumming is moving the songs along and never feels like it’s there only to enhance the most bombastic of moments, like it occasionally did on Lead And Aether. The addition of a second guitarist doesn’t attempt to make up for this loss of bombast but brings variation and vividness to the songs. Alone all of these changes are small, but put together, the effects are impossible to miss.
Where once everyone in the band was doing their best to have the whole convey an emotion, they don’t seem content with it anymore – now each instrumentalist seeks to convey that same emotion on their own as well. Each instrument is given room, but almost every song has a moment where it feels too full.
Not everything sounds better than ever though; Matti Tilaeus’ vocals have grown much weaker, which seems to be at least partially deliberate. On the two older songs heard at the end of the album he adopts a lower growl reminiscent of his older style. Especially unfortunate is that we don’t get to hear his despaired shouting on anywhere else than “Closing Music”, for it fits the overall vibe of the music perfectly.
Looking back at Stormcrowfleet, it feels like everyone had a clear role working towards the vision of one man, whereas Ordeal feels like a well-rounded, balanced band effort. The group is still working toward a single vision, but there is more room for individual expression. It’s comparable to an actor who used to simply read the lines he was given and now has learned to interpret his character.
It’s worthwhile to mention that Ordeal was recorded live. The production is clean, clear and (a little too) full. And the bottom end is lacking, leaving the guitars thin, an issue the second axe couldn’t salvage. Even though the band claims that the songs are simpler than before, I’m not convinced. Notably, the addition of a second guitar and the grandiose keyboard arrangements are certain to slightly undermine this new-found simplicity as well. In fact, only the increased tension in everyone’s performance, the obvious nervousness of a band that doesn’t perform very often and the occasional audience noises heard between some songs remind that what we have here isn’t a traditional studio album, but a live recording.
I am tempted to give Ordeal a below average score as it certainly didn’t stand up to my expectations, but then I look at AHAB’s The Giant. In many ways Skepticism has done with Ordeal what AHAB did on their third album. Similarly, I was immensely disappointed by it at first but it grew on me a bit. Looking at Ordeal as a lone album helps. I love the music here but I am disappointed in the execution.
3.5/5 Toilets Ov Hell
PS. I apologize if you are offended by the quality of this text but writing it was pure agony.