Thou Shell of Death – Cave Hill

January 31, 2015 –

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Thou Shell of Death create funeral doom metal with what amounts to a lead keyboard layering sparkly and incongruously happy melodies over a background of churning doom-death riffing. Songs build slowly in circles, repeating two fundamental riffs with transitions to re-contextualize them before the cycle is entered again. Over this, shrouded vocals of alternating howls and dark death vocal chanting provide guidance and anchor rhythm which is divided between the slightly off-center keyboards and on-point guitars and drums.

Much like Winter, who similarly used slow guitars as a backdrop to keyboard and noise accompaniment, Thou Shell of Death depend on the contrast to give their work endurance. This serves as both strength and weakness in that it may create an intense layered atmosphere, but can also substitute for the “metal method” of interlocking riffs providing a shifting context like a villanelle or other poem form where repeated lines take on new meaning as the previous line changes the framing in which the new line will be heard. In particular, the risk is that vocals and keyboards will take over from the guitars which will entirely take a background role as happens several times on the two tracks that make up Grave Hill, a new 12″ from Thou Shell of Death. In each song, the journey it takes the listener on first descends through intense deepening and then contradicts itself, finding momentary light which is crushed, giving way to a greater light found in the new path adopted. While this occurs on a very small scale in these 17-minute tracks, the result is nonetheless a sense of descending into a cave and finding a new world that one feared to look at initially.

This 34-minute release takes the listener through a path of dark and morbid passages with the exuberant keyboards both providing contrast and becoming slowly absorbed so that they take on a morbid air. Fundamentally, however, this music debunks the illusion that funeral doom works well when finding despair; instead, what is found here is a type of melancholic wandering in the dark and threatening world of the ambiguous, with Thou Shell of Death like all metal bands finding beauty in the darkness and using it, re-interpreted in a new context, to instead inform our concept of beauty as relating to the structure of the journey and not the texture of the result. Its keyboards create an effect like that of 80s Goth where the “bittersweet” ambiguity of modern rock translates into an embrace of darkness through lightness toward the fear, delivering us into a new stygian world where possibilities exist despite society denying their presence.

Skepticism records Ordeal live in Turku, FI

January 26, 2015 –

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Finnish funeral doom metal band Skepticism performed their yet-unreleased fifth full-length album, Ordeal, in a live recording at Klubi in Turku, Finland on January 24, 2015. The event was also captured on film for an accompanying DVD to go alongside the album, in shades of what Empyrium did last years with their first performance in nearly a decade.

The band describes the new songs as “emotion-laden, crushing, and yet beautiful, more than ever before.” Visitors to the historic recording event received an exclusive re-issue of the band’s first 7” EP which was originally released in 1992. Ordeal will be released on Svart Records in May 2015 as a CD/DVD bundle and a LP/DVD set.

Skepticism commands a loyal following who want doom metal to fall neither into the nearly tuneless grinding of some doom-death or warmed over rock stylings of stoner doom, but prefer atmospheric and melodic music that creates a contrast within dark moods and can develop songs for a sense of being transported. The band formed in 1991 and since 1995 has released a stream of quality releases which remain enjoyed by a devoted cadre in the underground.

Tracklist:

  1. You
  2. Momentary
  3. The Departure
  4. March Incomplete
  5. The Road
  6. Closing Music

Plus bonus live versions of earlier tracks:

  1. Pouring
  2. The March and the Stream

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Thou Shell of Death – Sepulchral Silence

January 3, 2015 –

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Resembling a collision between space-ambient music, doom metal and black metal, Thou Shell of Death creates slow-paced doom metal with the atmosphere of black metal bands — a more melancholic, brooding and existentially nihilistic outlook — but like past doom metal greats Winter, the lead instrument here may well be the keyboards, which in reverb-heavy waves lace melody through crashing guitar chords which gives them both context and foreshadows development. The ethereal and spectral sound of the keyboards conveys simultaneously an otherworldly removal and a soaring sense of possibility, which temples the normal self-indulgence of doom metal into an exploration of wonder in the darkened halls of a fallen world.

Guitars on Sepulchral Silence intelligently vary texture in the background under the keyboards which are more clearly heard both through being louder in the mix and being a clearer sound, which makes their orientation as lead intelligence. The musical role of guitar in this context is to set a basic progression in the background which the keyboards riff against in order to produce a sense of convergence, as if actors were in harmony with their background and role rather than opposed. Often mid-paced, guitars use a variety of technique including fast downstroking and tremolo but just as often fall back to the Black Sabbath/Winter styled power chords played open, or strummed once and allowed to resonate. Behind them drums lag comfortably and minimally, removing what might have been a distraction to a role as timekeeper plus a sound of inexorable time that affirms emptiness. Each progression stands distinct and keyboards take advantage of this to set up a mood that, like ambient music even of the discotheque variety, resonates around the listener while vocals are demoted to speech filling in the gaps with a narrative to center the song. Over this, heavily reverbed vocals hang like shrouds and flags hanging torn above ruins, battered by the winds of history.

Avoiding the dual traps of becoming essentially slowed-down hard rock or slowed-down death metal, Thou Shell of Death renovates funeral doom music with a new variety of emotions and technique that avoids the pitfall of this music, which is that it is often tedious both from its slowness and the resulting relative invariance of its riff texture. While riffs are relatively few compared to death metal in these songs, as in black metal songs, each serves a purpose and riffs tend to change with lyrical progress, creating the sense of a morbid storybook tale narrated by a demon rather than a rock song over which someone is ad libbing Tolkien. From this basic approach, Sepulchral Silence makes a dense liquid atmosphere that provides all of the dread and despair of doom metal but with the adventurous spirit of black metal and the hope of discovery that pervades electronic music, creating a new voice for funeral doom.

Skepticism to record new album Ordeal live in Turku, Finland

November 4, 2014 –

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Funeral doom innovators Skepticism plan to record their fifth album, Ordeal, live at Klubi in Turku, Finland on January 24, 2015. This marks a departure from their normal process of recording in studio but enables the band to record the album and video simultaneously for release on their new label, Svart Records, having transferred from Red Stream Records.

Visitors to the live show will also receive a re-issue of the first Skepticism 7″ EP originally released in 1992, which will be unavailable to the public. Skepticism formed in 1991, and recorded through the 1990s before unleashing their first full-length, Stormcrowfleet, in 1995.

Attracting fans for their ability to merge melody, theatrical song structures in the Celtic Frost style and abrasive slow and ponderous riffing in the best doom-death style, Skepticism took doom metal to the next level of slow and grinding music creating a pervasive sense of dread and resistance.

With their 1995 album Stormcrowfleet, Skepticism defined the funeral doom genre as entirely separate from the warmed-over rock of stoner and mainstream doom and, along with Winter, showed an entirely different direction for the future of that style. Since that time, Skepticism have released four full-length albums and two EPs to enthusiastic response by a dedicated fanbase.

— / Dawning – Split

January 9, 2014 –

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Preposterous Creations put out a split between reclusive act – – – and by their own description, long-standing but frequently interrupted American band Dawning, who re-recorded their signature song “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof.” The result makes for interesting listening and aims to be obscure and withdrawn, which for the most part enhances the experience.

– – – are clearly aiming for the Deathspell Omega crowd, but using a more traditional heavy metal attack that might draw comparisons to Cradle of Filth and early Dimmu Borgir. However, what this band has over the art-rock crowd is that they believe in songs that still move with a sense of purpose toward clarifying a repeated rhythm and melody. This both brings them closer to rock, and away from the overly-configured aesthetic of later black metal. Most of these riffs would fit on a Fates Warning album and count as both heavy and interestingly melodic, but its melodies are a different story entirely and would be at home on a Celtic rock or world music album. The mixture of the two results in less of an oil-on-water fusion than heavy metal mixes normally do, mainly because it sticks to a solid basis of 1970s post-NWOBHM riffing technology.

Dawning brings out one track, but it’s a long and epic one; this is basically funeral doom metal with a 1980s Gothic influence. I realize that all 1980s is new again since there are similar political, economic and social conditions, but “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” seems like it comes by this influence honestly. The result is dragging guitars under ringing keyboards that move into riffs with a covert groove that expand into more battle-drawn riffing. From this lighter faire, it returns to the dark and accompanies it with keyboards of the Vincent Price-meets-Summoning variety. As a result, it creates a dark atmosphere with the explorative inner nature of Gothic and industrial.

Empyrium releases Dead Winter Days before live appearance

October 25, 2013 –
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empyrium-dead_winter_waysSomewhat reclusive epic folk/funeral doom band Empyrium will be playing live in Berlin on November 22, 2013, and in advance of this are releasing Dead Winter Days on 12″ EP.

Dead Winter Days is described as a preview of Empyrium’s 2014 return to form, The Turn of the Tides, following their successful Into the Pantheon live DVD/CD release.

The band will be performing with a high-profile lineup in addition to the two regular band members, including Konstanz (The Vision Bleak), Neige (Alcest), Eviga (Dornenreich), Fursy Teyssier (Les Discrets), Aline Deinert (Neun Welten) and Christoph Kutzer (Remember Twilight).

According to Prophecy Productions, the band’s record label, the live set will involve a grand piano as well as other folk instrumentation and a new selection of classic songs for an intense performance.

Empyrium – Into the Pantheon

October 12, 2013 –

empyrium-into_the_pantheon-coverEmpyrium have cross-bred funeral doom, folk/power metal and 1980s Gothic synthpop but have removed the electronic sounds, producing an organic take on the nascent Romanticism in the modern spirit. This is music for return to the forest, but in a less aggressive form than Ildjarn or Burzum; it’s on the level that power metal fans and even Nine Inch Nails listeners can appreciate.

Into the Pantheon is a live concert in which this reclusive and only sporadically active band picks its most forest-friendly tracks and plays them in a single unified format. With production thus level between them, Into the Pantheon serves as both greatest hits and a modernization of their classic sound.

What is great about Empyrium is how well it meshes. Vocals are dramatic and funereal in the way that Sisters of Mercy and Fad Gadget made famous, but are accompanied by light orchestration and minimal percussion, with acoustic guitars taking the lead. At crucial points however, the full power of the fulminant distorted guitars take over and create a surge of energy but unlike rage, this is directed at a dark and melancholy place like a contemplative forest walk in twilight.

Empyrium win fans over through their musicality and a vision of doom metal that is tasteful and elegant. Unlike Candlemass, vocals do not dominate the music but appear as a complementary effect; unlike more modern doom bands, guitars are not over-active or musically flashy. Instead, here there is the art of classic songwriting, on a subdued pace that emphasizes beauty emerging from within in the clash of darkness and light.

Where a funeral doom band like Skepticism overwhelms with a poignant morbidity, Empyrium is more like the music which has traditionally emerged from popular off-mainstream European artists. It’s heartily personal and heavily emotional, but could easily transition from this genre to an acoustic performance in a pub near a lost mountain path, or in the court of a king. It has an eternal character to it underneath the modern genrification.

Empyrium has not given many public concerts, and we are told that this 2011 recording represents the return of the band to active life. Hearing how emotional and yet violently lusting for life these anthems are, it makes sense to want this band to continue with its renovation of metal. Not all will take this path, but its outlook can be infectious, and improves on the three-notes-to-rage formula that mainstream forces wish it would take.

Skepticism recording album for release in 2014

June 24, 2013 –

skepticism-alloyFuneral doom metal pioneers Skepticism have recently begun composing music for a new album planned for a late 2014 release. Alongside their countrymates Thergothon, Skepticism shaped this style from slow melodic chord progressions, sustained deathy vocals, and keyboards meshed to create an enveloping tapestry of sound.

The band have rebounded from the creative momentum lost after their first album Stormcrowfleet with their 2008 release Alloy, which showed a return to a more guitar-driven sound and songs which unraveled more subtly, creating an album of enduring quality. This showed the band resurrecting the metal within the Gothic doom and using it to drive song development past what more pop styles could offer.

Much like other metal bands, Skepticism are both rediscovering their roots and surging past them. A parallel can be drawn to recent Summoning, who recovered from a bout of misguided efforts by returning to an earlier composition style whilst creating albums which are expressively different and of quality. As a result, we have high expectations for this band’s next release.