(Continuing with our week-long series of daily reviews by DGR, today we present his enthusiastic assessment of the second album by Illinois’ Cimmerian.)
Four drops of rain hit my car today. I know this because I was able get into my car and count them on the windshield, likely long after it happened. The skies, however, were still grey and overcast, which when your city was parked in the low 100s the previous week was an amazing sight. That means that it’s time to make the switch in moods from my love of hyperactive death metal and return to the cold shores of ethereal doom.
Long the forte of the European doom scene, the colder, more blue-feeling brand of doom has often found itself being exercised by the Scandanavian scene. However, over the last ten or so years, America has begun to throw its hat in the ring as second- and third-generation bands influenced by Europe’s love for the snow in musical format have begun to gel together. Many of these are young bands, seeking only to pay tribute to the groups they love, but others have really excelled beyond that simple first bar — becoming a representative of the melodeath/doom scene. Which is a long way to bring you to Cimmerian.
Cimmerian are a New Lenox, Illinois-based young melo-doom band whose influences seem to run the gamut from Insomnium to October Tide, while also adopting some of Daylight Dies’ expertise in melancholy guitar leads, who are trying their hardest to break into that bubble. Their January 2014 release is Hollowing.
If there were any review that I’ve honestly felt bad about taking so long to get to, it’s this one. I didn’t even stumble across Cimmerian until mid-June and since then have sworn up and down I would try to write about Hollowing. However, I just kept pushing it to the back burner. This is something that should’ve happened sooner, and I’ll take the fault for that.
It takes time for a band to truly create their masterpiece. Some get lucky and have their lightning-in-a-bottle moment, but most take a few discs to really get rolling. It’s a process that’s fun to witness. As they learn or try out new things, figuring out what really works for them, you feel like you’re a fly on the wall observing the creation of music that can range from good to great.
Cimmerian are in that sort of situation with Hollowing right now — the release includes some really great moments, and if you’re a fan of the sort of progressive melo-death that Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum have been putting out with the longer song structures, and feel they could do with a little more of a colder doom element, then Hollowing may well be a disc perfectly lined up for you.
With this sort of album, there’s always that unshakeable sense that the musicians started out as fans of the genre and, through playing and studying their influences, eventually found themselves becoming more than fans – something more like students, with each album like a report to show just how much they’ve learned and mastered. When they excel, then the music can be great, and that is where I find Hollowing to be. It’s a demonstration of Cimmerian’s skill, as well as a sign of how much their songwriting has progressed.
Hollowing begins by laying all its cards on the table with the almost five-minute-long “Rumination”. The album starts with a quiet orchestral section before the band move into keyboard-driven doom, with huge chords building into the the main intro of the song. When the band hit that crashing melody and everything just swells together, you know that Cimmerian have been working at this for a while. By the midpoint of “Rumination”, when the guitar lead spills outward onto the stage, Hollowing really becomes an adventure worth undertaking.
After that, Hollowing feels like an affirmation of this sort of melodic, ethereal doom. If you love that genre, then everything Cimmerian do across the album is going to click with you hard — impressive for a band with only their second release. It’s not so hokey as to say that they’re playing to the cheap seats, because then they would just be another band imitating their influences. Instead, they’re demonstrating that this sound can’t be strictly tied down to one region and that given enough time and the willingness and talent to plumb its depths, a relatively new band can create a really good album-length example of the genre.
Cimmerian have two people sitting at the vocal helm, both of whom also happening to be handling the guitar work on top of that. Those two are Evan Dale and Dean Nagel. They rotate between a traditional death metal bellow — a very low and cavernous one — and a mid-range high just to balance out their sound. The combination of the two is pretty standard for doom fare, but they get their point across and it works well in conjunction with the heavy emphasis on melodic guitar playing. Bassist Tim Nagel finds himself with the slightly more difficult job of rumbling along in the background, as this style doesn’t loan itself too well to incorporating standout bass sections, but his tone manages to fill out the band, giving them an earthen foundation upon which to add their keyboard melodies and guitar harmonies.
On their Bandcamp page, the band mention that most of the music was written by Dean Nagel and the lyrics were written in combination with Evan, further highlighting that this is a pretty guitar-centric band. Between them, they’ve managed to figure out some perfect moments in which to interlace the occasional symphonic swell alongside some hefty doom riffage — Hollowing accomplishes the difficult feat of creating that powerful sense of melancholy that draws suckers like me to the genre.
And therein lies the balancing act: to travel that fine line of emotions that can keep a person in a melancholy state without moving into crushing depression. There is a place for both, but Cimmerian’s style lines up on the “cold and miserable” side of the spectrum more so than the “feeling so useless I can’t move”. Hollowing dances between the two gracefully, but the band also appeal heavily to the more melodeath-inclined fans, people who love Insomnium’s brand of depression — because Cimmerian don’t restrict themselves to being a slow-moving, lumbering beast. They get mid-tempo, and even somewhat fast, across Hollowing and manage to make it all fit. That doesn’t mean the band try to restrain themselves, as it seems like the back half of Hollowing is made up entirely of sweeping, death metal epics designed to be blasted while you watch the rain come down — or in my case, hoping that more than four drops actually fall this year.
Hollowing isn’t an absolutely amazing effort, but it is really good, the sort of disc that feels like a precursor to something fantastic. It’s an oncoming storm and an omen of things to come, an impressive demonstration from a band who are are starting to get their wheels moving. The music is good enough that you get the sense Hollowing is an excellent spot to jump on board with the band, so that when they do put out the incredible disc toward which they are clearly building, you’ll get to be the guy who acts all smug because you were there when the groundwork was being laid.