My top 10 is also dominated by the mighty Candlemass, but that's not really surprising. I have left out Candlemass Live, because great album though it is, it contains tracks that are already on the list on one album or another.
Dallas-based epic doom metal masters Solitude Aeturnus really surprised me with their 2006 "Alone" sixth full-length when Ben selected it for The Fallen feature release status some time ago. I'd previously allowed the band to pass me by but that record ticked all of my boxes & saw me claiming it as a genuine doom metal classic for the ages. Since that time I've always intended on exploring the rest of Solitude Aeturnus' more highly celebrated releases & thought I'd take this opportunity to kick that exercise off with their debut full-length "Into The Depths Of Sorrow" which is generally regarded as one of the elite examples of the niche subgenre overall.
In many ways "Into The Depths Of Sorrow" is the quintessential epic doom metal release in that it perfectly embodies the sound that the tag was originally created to label. All of the subgenres calling cards are here. Crushing doom riffs? CHECK! A strong classic heavy metal influence? CHECK! Theatrical power metal style vocals? CHECK! Soaring, shredtastic guitar solos? CHECK! A generally epic atmosphere? CHECK! I can't deny that the album is everything it said it would be on the tin & if that description sounds like something that'd appeal to you then you won't be disappointed but it did take me a couple of listens to get fully into for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm a much bigger doom fan than I am a heavy metal one & the heavy metal component is particularly prevalent here with those riffs being pretty standard heavy metal fodder & nothing particularly exciting so I find myself waiting around for the doom to return which it inevitably does & with devastating effect too. There's obviously a lot of Candlemass influence on show as this was Solitude Aeturnus' first full-length & Candlemass were, of course, the creators & clear leaders of the epic doom movement so there are clear similarities in the way the two bands go about their craft but the area that Solitude Aeturnus fall down in as far as that comparison goes is in the guitar solos as Edgar Rivera & John Perez aren't quite as virtuosic in their capabilities. Thankfully, the general quality of the song-writing is very strong & the vocals of future Candlemass, Concept of God & Tyrant front man Robert Lowe are exceptional which has gone a long way to seeing me crowning Solitude Aeturnus as my favourite band from the epic doom movement overall regardless.
The tracklisting kicks off in very solid fashion indeed with the short intro track "Dawn of Antiquity (A Return to Despair)" building the atmosphere nicely before the first proper song "Opaque Divinity" kicks in & wastes no time in flexing its muscles. It's followed by "Transcending Sentinels" which is clearly the least impressive track on the album in my opinion but is still pretty decent. The remaining five songs are all very strong indeed though & round out a particularly consistent album with no real blemishes. The reason I don't see "Into The Depths Of Sorrow" competing with "Alone" for bragging rights as my favourite epic doom metal release any time soon is that it doesn't contain as many genuine classics. The utterly mind-blowing "Mirror of Sorrow" is the clear highlight of the album & is frankly one of the best examples of the subgenre I've experienced to date but none of the other material comes close to matching it with the brilliant doom passages regularly having their impact offset a bit by some flatter heavy metal chug riffs. It's a shame really as I think there was a lot of potential for another classic release here if a bit of quality control had been employed.
At the end of the day though, I can't be too critical as "Into The Depths Of Sorrow" is still an impressively consistent first-up effort from one of the leaders of the movement. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that it's eclipsed all but "Alone" & Candlemass' classic "Nightfall" album in reaching my personal top three for the subgenre overall which is quite an accolade when you consider the areas of improvement I highlighted above. The experience has certainly left me wondering whether Solitude Aeturnus have managed to top their debut over the course of their next four records so I've penciled a couple of them in for exploration in the not too distant future. In the meantime though, "Into The Depths Of Sorrow" should be essential listening for all of you Candlemass, Solstice & Isole fans out there.
Had the time to get through this playlist today on my morning walk. I still have no idea of the attraction of Sunn O))) (sorry Sonny) and I listened to all 14:59 of that track. It is just not my cup of tea. Also had to skip Iron Man (those vocals) and The Gathering (a bit too rocky and again the vocals grated). I have come to the conclusion that Wino's voice actually grates on me nowadays and so I had to skip The Obsessed track also.
Thankfully there was still lots to keep me happy on the list. Standouts were Dolorian, Crowbar, Goatsnake, Godthrymm, High on Fire and Saturnalia Temple. Good work Sonny.
Thanks Vinny. Drone metal is a hard sell, with even it's most ardent followers recognising that it isn't for everyone and Sunn O))) are no exception, so no apologies required. I'm not a fan of Iron Man myself, but I feel it is incumbent upon me to showcase all aspects of the Fallen, despite my own preferences. I wasn't sold on Goatsnake either, to be honest. I have always been a fan of Wino's "cigarettes and whiskey" voice, so I have enjoyed the preview tracks from the new Saint Vitus album.
I gave Khanate an honest try but as Sonny alluded to in his review, I wasn't able to make it fully through. I would have gotten through the whole thing if I didn't run out of time at work yesterday, but I have zero interest in picking it back up or restarting it from the beginning to try and get the full experience. I can see why it would resonate with people as I saw what they were going for with the vocals, but man, really not something for me at the end of the day. So I'll refrain from rating that one, it's very far from my wheelhouse.
As we have got to know each other's tastes, I would have been very surprised if you had come out in favour of Khanate, Xephyr. They are definitely not for everyone and I would never hold it against anyone who didn't much care for them, even though I absolutely love them. Drone metal is an acquired taste at the best of times and Khanate are by no means an easy listen, even in drone circles.
For sure there are a couple of things I liked about Objects Without Pain, the guitar tone is nicely pitched and best of all the drums sound amazing. I could listen to an isolated drum track of this quite happily and would prefer to over the finished thing. Unfortunately I couldn't take to it other than that. The songwriting is too spasmodic for me, it veers far too much into mathcore, djenty type territory for my preference and although I really like the tone of the album, the actual songwriting leaves me cold. But the absolute killer for me is the vocals. I would be the first to admit that I probably put too much weight onto vocals but I think I am quite tolerant of some very divisive vocalists, Silencer, Cirith Ungol, King Diamond or Demilich for example, but if I take against a singer then it is like a movie with Adam Sandler in it and no matter how good the rest of the production, it still has Adam Sandler in it! Such is the case with Demian Johnston, his vocals amount to little more than shouting at the top of his voice and just come over like some angry child berating his parents for some perceived injustice and which I find wearisome in the extreme. I don't have an issue with shouted vocals per se, but these are just irritating and off-putting to me to the degree where, by the second half of the album, my mind is wandering and I have pretty much tuned out. I seem to be a minority of one and good luck to those who derived far more enjoyment from it than I was able to muster, but this just isn't one for me I'm afraid.
The long-awaited sophomore album from US doom/death legends Spectral Voice (entitled "Sparagmos") will finally be hitting the shelves on 9th February. I'm a big fan of 2017's "Eroded Corridors of Unbeing" record so I'm really looking forward to this one.
Since I stumbled across their 2021 release, Piecework (an album which was my top pick for that year), I have been slowly working my way through the back catalogue of Kowloon Walled City. I soon settled on 2012's Container Ships as my next regular play, finding the angular and brittle nature of the sound that I enjoyed so much on that latter release in full flight on this release from nearly a decade earlier. The pacing of songs at this point in their careers is not as consistently slow as it was on Piecework but the bleakness is still very obvious at this stage in their songwriting. The bouncing sludge of 50s Dad as track two on here, soon injects a shot of uptempo and disorganised chaos to proceedings. The futile edge to Scott Evan's vocals is perfectly at odds with this faster pace, emphasising the awkwardness and discomfort of the character in the song.
With the bass churning away throughout Container Ships, this soon becomes a very dense sounding album. Changes of pace end with resonance to them that permeates the space around the listener. This adds further tension to what is already an emotionally taut record. The sense of loom and menace that is built over the course of the intro to the title track cannot be denied. It is a perfect soundtrack to exploring the graveyard of ships that is depicted on the cover of the album itself. Whilst undeniably burdened with a megaton sludge weight, it is the contrasting post-metal sections to tracks that really emphasises the brilliance of Container Ships. The charge of the sludge metal never gets to explode to its full potential - which I would normally class as an inhibiting factor, but it works brilliantly here. I liken it to bombs being exploded underwater. You see the water being cast far and wide, hearing the sound of the explosion itself also, yet the violece of the act seems somehow surpressed as it is hidden from view. The majority of the tracks on Container Ships are sludge bombs submerged in, or floating on the top of post-metal seas.
This is not to say that this album lacks agression. Instead the more fierce elements to the record feel more personal. Indeed they seem to hit harder by the simple acknowledgement that anger does not necessarily mean outbursts of violence. The expression of frsutration, futility and fear itself comes through on this album. Whilst the post-metal elements offer this expression they by no means temper the sense of hopelessness that the tracks exude, even on the faster-paced tracks. This is why I find most of what I have heard to date from Kowloon Walled City resonantes with me so easily. There is variation on a theme with KWC that by no means represents a compromised position.
Sunn O))) were formed in 1998 by Goatsnake's Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley, who was looking to form a new outfit after the splitting-up of Burning Witch, their name intended as a pun on Earth's moniker as the drone pioneers were huge influences on Anderson and O'Malley. The Grimmrobe demos were released in 2000 as the band's debut release, with the duo's worship of all things Earth resulting in the album containing a track called "Dylan Carson" after the Earth mainman. The sound on Grimmrobe Demos is heavily based upon that explored by Carlson on Earth's debut, the seminal "Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version" with super-slow tempos, heavily distorted and downtuned guitar tones and feedback, all designed to present a monolithically towering sound with which to swamp the listener. Drums are entirely absent as there is no percussion required here, the tempo being so slow and crawling as to render any sort of timekeeping irelevant. Even for Sunn O))) there is little variety offered here, these are unflinchingly slow and crushing primal soundscapes, with zero evidence of the experimentation the duo were to introduce on some of their later releases. This is the music of nature, the music of tides, the music of tectonic plate movements and I imagine, in my more fanciful flights of fancy, that this is what it would sound like if you could get close enough to a star to hear those awe-inspiring cosmic furnaces burning off their plasmic fuel.
I have touched on elsewhere how busy experimental and technical metal often causes me difficulties because of the challenges I often experience with sensory overload, well Sunn O))) are a perfect antidote to that for me, these bassy and monolithically repetitive aural experiences enveloping like a comforting blanket, providing a calming and meditative experience that I don't often find elsewhere. I get it that these guys really aren't for everyone, or even most people, but they are amongst some of the best at what they do and personally I would hate to live in a world where Sunn O))) didn't exist.
So with the start of a new year it's once again time to have a look at the covers for all the releases for each clan. I personally like to rate a whole stack of covers all at once, rather than doing them one at a time throughout the year, as it allows me to get a better feel for where each cover sits in comparison to others. With that in mind, I've just rated every cover for releases in The Fallen for 2023.
Below are the releases that are currently competing for the prestigious 2023 The Fallen Cover of the Year Award (i.e. they rate at least 3.8 and have 3 or more ratings). The winner will be announced on the 1st of February, so there's still time to get your ratings in.