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Skepticism – Ordeal


Live albums – a glorious celebration of a band at their most urgent, or a badly-recorded set of songs you already own designed to fulfil a contractual obligation? Not content with pretty much inventing their own subgenre, seminal Finnish Doom masters Skepticism have decided to change the way we see live albums too, by recording their fifth album in its entirety in front of a live audience. Captured on their first official performance, Ordeal (Svart) simultaneously breaks the usual studio/live dichotomy and demonstrates a band at the very height of their confidence and cohesion.

Skepticism’s ’95 debut Stormcrowfleet (Red Stream) is credited as one of a small handful of albums responsible for creating the Funeral Doom subgenre with all elements in place, and their career since then has focussed on developing the strength of their composition rather than progressing their style; thick, mournful riffs, elegiac keyboards, tortured withdrawn growls all woven together into long but focussed songs that highlight an emotional honesty and range not usually heard within Metal. Skepticism are a textbook example of why it’s often better to master one approach than to experiment with many – musically there’s nothing on here that they didn’t play twenty years ago, but they do it with such depth, power and vision that it’s impossible to see that as a weakness.

If the songwriting on Ordeal is beyond question, the same can’t necessarily be said for the live recording. The band’s performance is absolutely flawless, and the sound is rich and powerful, but aside from a very small spattering of polite applause it’s almost impossible to tell that this is a live album at all. As a testament to the tightness and professionalism of the band it’s a striking achievement, but it’s not clear what it actually adds to the album. The six tracks of Ordeal proper are followed up by live versions of classic songs from their first two albums which have more in common with the traditional live album, but they’re strictly an extra to the main event – and even they’re delivered in a controlled, banter-free style that might as well be live in the studio. Skepticism are strictly a Let’s Hear Some Noise Motherfuckers free zone.

Whether the live performance is a gimmick or a vital part of the atmosphere is open for debate, but what is beyond discussion is that Ordeal is a masterful album of rich, textured and utterly commanding DOOM (trust me, it deserves capitals) from a band utterly in command of their chosen style.