Finnish Doom has a habit of eliciting serious emotion, whether it be down to the plaintive melodies and atmospheres or the downright trudging pace. Arche have all of these characteristics in spades and, on this label reissue of their début EP Undercurrents (Third-I Rex), their heartbreaking Funeral dirge is presented to devastating effect.
Occasionally implosive, often brittle, the guitar work of opener ‘Plains of Lethe’ has acoustic and melancholic moments, the lead melodies slow, meaningful and occasionally evoking the wistful pattern of Swallow The Sun and Saturnus. The only voice here, however, is that of Profetus guitarist Eppe Kuismin, and it begins as a barely audible, whispered growl before its guttural roar introduces the final third in terrifying, solitary fashion. It’s here that the crushing weight of huge yet emotive riffs add a mighty chapter, despite the billowing atmospherics and subtle yet striking keys.
Those airs swirl around the depressive tumult of ‘Funereal Folds’, again graced by titanic riffs and reaching the edge of crescendo when that agonised, expiring roar enters the fray, yet retaining its stirring power with deliberate leadwork and wonderfully dictatorial drums. At times the monster rests, Bell Witch-like, appearing shattered and spent in its fight against fate yet unwilling to cede quietly, its power still resonating in the fulminating roar and beautiful chords. The drop to the coda is devastating, the acoustic tones tearing every heartstring asunder, and sparse yet hulking bass kicks reinforcing that Bell Witch comparison.
Quite simply this is a beautiful, staggering piece of work. Some feel that the mewling of pained leadwork has no place in a genre where to crush uncompromisingly is the aim; and in some acts it can often lose meaning. Arche, however, hit near alchemy and this morose, gorgeous, lonely behemoth deserves serious attention this time around.
I was hugely into Grunge in the 90s. I’ll never forget when a mate of mine came back from visiting its home and decreed it “the most miserable place on earth”. I was gutted. Maybe, however, it is such surroundings that fuel Seattle duo Bell Witch, whose blend of crushing Sludge, funereal melancholy and occasional Americana first bewitched the senses three years ago. Interest is high in Four Phantoms (Profound Lore), the band’s sophomore album, and yours truly is frothing at the mouth…
The emotions of a suppurating soul, in the moments before Experience kills it and undiluted cynicism sets in, are unbelievably raw; that capacity to feel true longing, joy and pain fighting with its dying breath. I’m not quite there…yet. There’s a feeling that these guys have really lived the anger and misery that exudes from every pore here and, when the almighty chord, drumbeat and roar combination explodes through the bassline of opener ‘Suffocation, A Burial:…’, accompanied by some sorrowful chimes, it creates simultaneously a feeling of euphoria, and a fearful despair of nothingness. Each note sparing, heightening the impact and more fully conveying the acuity of bitterness and sadness.
There’s real songcraft here; everything having its place and arranged with both passion and precision. Another explosion follows a brief lull of forlorn incantation, the melodic chords piercing every leaden punch. You’re aware it’s coming yet, when it does, its unfathomable weight disembowels, with Dylan Desmond‘s terrifying Blackened scream increasing the chills and the emptiness. This colossal opening really embodies that sense of personal loss and implosive grief; the agonies of the harmonised tones which lead into the last five minutes of this 22-minute epic duelling with Adrian Guerra‘s harrowing roars; the tension, power and mournful ecstasy almost unbearable.
The sparing chords of ‘Suffocation, a Drowning:…’, heavy to the head as an opiate and to the heart as a sudden arrest, possess a staggering delicacy enhanced by the stark guest voice of Aerial Ruin‘s Erik Moggridge; an evocative dark-folk delivery not unlike Art Garfunkel‘s deeper moments. The first half of this gorgeous yet soul-rending track is a sequence of crushing bass riffs and single beats, disturbing yet emotive solos and devastating harmonies, contrasting the subject matter yet sounding completely organic. The change in tone to the second half is similarly begun, so subtly it’s almost unnoticed – a more sinister exclamation in the solo chords introducing a period of brutalised roars and screams which only briefly affects the melancholy allure; returning but wearing an hooded cloak, the crushing power now swirling around slightly piqued yet honeyed vocals. The serenely mellow bass notes closing this quite staggering track ensure an almost stifled epiphany; the depth of meaning, the finality, truly felt.
It’s in marked contrast to the horrifying blast of sound crawling from the opening atmospheric ambience of album closer ‘Judgement, In Air:…’: the death throes of an apocalypse, the deep roar still counteracted by lamenting chords, the drums titanic and deafening in their resonance, shrouded in hypnotic swells of sound, the whole seeps like a mix of honey and tar from the speakers, a dying body summoning one last effort to crawl to its desired resting place: a brief howl of anguish, a final, writhing squall…and it ends.
This won’t be for everyone. If slow, sad, oppressive, Sludgy Doom isn’t your thing then you’re unlikely to be attracted to this incredible piece of work. Those who are, however, captivated by the mix of Pallbearer, Profetus, and Primitive Man‘s fulminating bitterness and the invention and rare Blackened edges of Inter Arma, all wrapped up in a seething amalgam of horror and beauty, will appreciate the wonder of a band beyond superlative and for whom there is no peak. Bell Witch continue to confound, enthral, terrify and move in equal measure; and in creating a second album of such weight and emotion prove themselves peerless.
Stop the wondering. This is the album for our twisted, corrupt, hubristic times and, arguably, the album of this century.
As All Seasons Die(Svart)…happy eh? This Finnish five piece, housing ex- and current members of Horna and Corpsessed, don’t come across as cheerful, and indeed theirs is the most funeral of doom.
Orchestral keys at a snail’s pace accompany the sparse yet crushing riff and drums of ‘A Reverie (Midsummer’s Dying Throes)’, the flattening qualities of the bridges when everything collides together, both awe-striking and ominous, Anssi Mäkinen‘s voice a crawling, seeping growl to terrify the hardiest soul. It is tolling and metronomic with an affecting organ solo a striking, mournful interlude which lingers and carries a titanic beat and riff, that builds the drama, the emotion and the oppression, yet never changing pace. It’s impossible to convey just how staggeringly effective this is, which is remarkable when you consider that there are periods when it seems as if nothing happens.
The reverberating chant of ‘Dead Are Our Leaves of Autumn’, delivered as if from God on high, is so gentle yet resonant as to caress the mind whilst cracking you in the face. Mäkinen’s doleful tones induce paradoxical feelings of misery and euphoria whilst initially understated lead work soon becomes the centrepiece escalating to stunningly emotive levels, imitating gulls on a barren shore à la Marillion’s Steve Rothery. It is an exercise in precision and control, yet feels as organic as the Yorkshire moors – harsh, desolate, yet staggeringly beautiful.
As the life cycle ends with the tolling, effortless yet pounding closer ‘The Dire Womb of Winter’, creeping with the speed and stealth of a hunting cat, it really does echo the seasonal despair’; portentous, weighty, and shudderingly affecting despite the occasionally soporific pace. A spearing riff shoots forth at intervals to prevent sleep, and replace the weight in slow motion. Yet when the keys begin to build to the crescendo there’s the slightest quickening, a lifting of mood. A rebirth…?
The disaffected listener who craves more action, the quick hit, is already dead inside. The clue is in the description: life affirming whilst lamenting the sadness of it, this is another winner from Svart.