Svart Records Roundup: The Death/Funeral/Doom Edition
Diving into the darkest, deepest abyss of Svart Records’ Warehouse Holdings Company Ltd.
WINTER – INTO DARKNESS
All the way back in 1990, New York’s Winter released their sole full-length, Into Darkness and faded into obscurity. With their glacial pace sledgehammer riffs, sultry and oppressive atmosphere and bassist John Alman’s Celtic Frosty vocal style (although the actual sound is much deeper), Winter was one of the very first examples of what would become known as death/doom. His vocals aren’t the only thing reminiscent of the Swiss either and especially when the band raises the pace from glacial to snail, echoes from the White Collar Criminal Wonderland can be heard.
Even with the now remastered sound, Into Darkness remains appropriately moldy and Chthonic, and not only is it an important milestone in the genre’s development, it still grinds many of its followers and zealots into dust. And not much changes for the packages second disc—the Eternal Frost EP, which in itself was a posthumous CD re-release of the band’s eponymous ’89 demo, sometimes also known as Hour of Doom, with an additional ambient track tacked to the end and “Hour of Doom’s” name changed into “Blackwhole” on the cover and booklet.
So it’s more of the same for another 25 minutes, which is hardly a complaint in this case. The sound of the demo is a bit clearer than on the full-length actually, though also less powerful, and Tony Pinnisi’s keyboards are nowhere to be heard. Though it should be said they play such a humongous role on the album that not everyone I know has delved into the vile depths of New York’s darkness and realized they were there before being told so.
This isn’t the first time Into Darkness has been re-issued, but with the remastered sound, everything the band ever recorded and a 32-page magazine for the LP and a “large” booklet for the CD, containing all the clippings, information, memorabilia etc. that you could possibly want from the band, this is the definitive edition of one of death/doom’s defining releases.
SKEPTICISM – ALLOY
Skepticism’s debut, Stormcrowfleet, guaranteed them a place in the funeral doom pantheon as one of the genre’s best known and most important releases. For 25 years since, Skepticism has trudged onward at their own, peculiar pace, without wavering. Recorded in 2008, Alloy was the band’s fourth album and bore all the hallmarks of their pedal-organ sound and all-encompassing gloom.
Sometimes considered a modern classic of the style, Alloy is, perhaps, richer in detail than the band’s legendary debut, as the band kept honing their craft. The guitars wash over as discordant chords, or chug to a marching beat, while the loud, reverberating snare, the crystalline crash of the cymbals and hollow toms keep me marveling how good everything sounds as Lasse Pelkonen proves himself one of the most evocative drummers in a style often dedicated to dragging simplicity while Pöyry’s organs and Tilaeus’ gravelly vocals command over it all. And the remastered (/mixed?), more open and better balanced sound leaves much more space for the bass that ties the performances together so well it has me asking myself: What the shit, they haven’t employed a bassist since ’95? Is this magic, or just Pöyry’s left hand?
This re-release marks the first time Alloy has ever been released on vinyl, and not only that, the B-side features their Aes ep, likewise first time on vinyl (yes, it’s on the CD too). Aes, a single, almost 30-minute composition, was recorded in ’98, “live” in one take. While it represents, or was at least meant to, Skepticism’s minimalist spirit, it’s also some of the most hauntingly beautiful music the group ever put to tape.
GÖDEN – BEYOND DARKNESS
In 2010, Winter returned with a goal to appear at next year’s Roadburn festival. This comeback lasted until 2015 when guitarist Stephen Flam suffered severe hearing damage and could no longer perform live, effectively bringing all hope of any future Winter material to an end. Göden is not Winter, but Göden is dramatic, grim, heavy and slow. And, in a manner of speaking, a spiritual successor to Winter.
The band was founded by Stephen Flam (here known as Spacewinds), responsible for the bass and some occasional keyboard duties besides his regular six strings; he’s joined by Tony “The Prophet of Goden” Pinnisi, who performed as a session musician on Winter’s Into Darkness, and as a permanent member during their reunion, on keyboards and the plentiful spoken word sections, which we’ll delve further into soon, and NXYTA (The Goddess of Light), otherwise known as Vas Kallas from Hanzel und Gretyl on vocals.
Göden continues on a similar path to Winter’s, but the death influence has been stripped down a degree or two. Göden is every bit as oppressive, murky and slow as its predecessor, into which it will inevitably, though perhaps unfairly, be compared, but it’s more pronouncedly a doom metal band. Kallas relies much on the dry croak she is best known for, but the drawn out nature of her performance gives them a very different sound from Hanzel und Gretyl, and she expands her repertoire to a lower register, and at times takes a spoken word stance, making for a very evocative execution on a comparatively narrow range. Flam’s riffs range from “Cosmic Blood’s” sludge groove through the 9-minute opening instrumental “Glowing Red Sun’s” droning funeral march. Elsewhere, “Komm Susser Tod’s” & “Genesis Rise’s” choppy structures recall his death metal past (along with the dissonant hints of “Dark Nebula”), while Pinnisi’s dramatic synths are rarely found doing much more than adding swathing chords for atmosphere. Though the room they’re given in the mix greatly pronounces their role on the record.
Beyond Darkness is well over an hour long, and besides the few extensively extended compositions, the reason lies on what I am sure you’ve been dying to hear about for a whole-ass paragraph now, the interludes. There are 19 tracks on the record and 8 of them are dubbed manifestations, these interludes, ranging from just short of a minute to a minute and a half, consist of Pinnisi monologuing over vague synths, propelling forward the dramatic arc and acting as a counterpoint to Kallas’ NXYTA. Though the decision is no doubt controversial, the interludes serve a role not entirely dissimilar to Blind Guardian’s classic Nightfall on Middle-Earth, even if their role in the storytelling can at times differ greatly. What does set the two albums’ interludes apart is that Blind Guardian’s separated each of their songs, while Göden uses them to segue their tracks together. It doesn’t always work as well as between “Glowing Red Sun” and “Twilight”, but even at its worst it hardly feels detrimental.
The last manifestation is followed by “Thundering Silence”, similar in every way except lengthier and instrumental. Though this acts as a narrative closure to Beyond Darkness, further separating an “outro” track feels extremely needless, and I’ve a fleeting feeling its true purpose is to further separate the German-sung cover of Winter’s eponymous track from the main body of the album, without having to relegate it to a bonus track. Its inclusion brings the album to a satisfying, if, by then, delayed ending, while both highlighting the connection between the two bands and the difference of their respective material. Beyond Darkness asks for more than mere patience, but mostly, it’s eager to reward the attentive listener.
All of the above records are now available through Svart Records. Seek them through your local dealer (no, not that guy), their Bandcamp provided above or their homepage.