(DGR reviews the new album by Sweden’s In Mourning, with a full album stream at the end.)
On May 20th, In Mourning released the fourth album of their career with Afterglow. To lay all of our cards on the table up front, Afterglow is a great disc — but to really understand how and why Afterglow is great, you need to take a deep dive into In Mourning’s history so you can see what led the band to this point, because the album feels like the most natural evolution of their sound yet.
In Mourning are one of those bands for whom each album has sounded different from the others. A few genres have combined over the years to define their sound, and one of those key tenets has been a large swath of Euro-doom. The album that sowed the seeds of that was their first release, 2008’s Shrouded Divine. Shrouded Divine is also the disc where the group’s reputation as something of a critical darling was launched, drawing comparisons to bands such as Opeth — likely due to the occasional clean-sung break the group snuck in and the prevelant melo-death sound that wormed its way throughout Shrouded Divine’s run.
However, the giant’s shoulders upon which Afterglow rests are the two albums that followed In Mourning’s breakout debut: Monolith and The Weight Of Oceans. Both expanded upon ideas present on Shrouded Divine, but in different directions. 2010’s Monolith is the most different from anything else In Mourning have put out. Like its predecessor, it has a concept running through it, but the disc itself is really high-energy in comparison to the album that came before and the one that followed it.
It’s a traditonally heavy and fast melo-death disc, with a penchant for longer-running and more dynamic songs than melo-death’s one-two drumming usually lends itself to. The higher tempo prog-death present on Monolith felt like In Mourning really wanted to expand upon the direction in which they were headed when they wrote “Amnesia” for Shrouded Divine, and so they built a whole album out of that and only made their doom side apparent on the album’s closing song. What makes Monolith, though, is its immense lyricism; it turned In Mourning into storytellers, each song packed with huge tomes of words. The In Mourning song as epic story is something the band would pull away from, but it is partially why I have a huge soft spot for Monolith.
The Weight Of Oceans, which followed in 2012, is very different from Monolith, with the other major aspect of In Mourning’s sound fighting for the reins; it’s a slower, moodier, and more atmospheric disc than Monolith. Lyrically, it still has a through-line concept, but The Weight Of Oceans is in large part devoted to really capturing the feeling of immense solitude that comes with being on the ocean. It is the atmospheric and melodic doom aspect of In Mourning’s sound that has since come to define the band, a sound that really came into its own on that album, with a nine-minute opening track and multiple songs that reach similar lengths. Which brings us to four years later and the album that continues the story told on The Weight Of Oceans.
The four-year gap between The Weight Of Oceans and Afterglow represents the largest break that In Mourning have taken to date; before, each of the group’s albums came out within a window of two years following the preceding release. Doubling that time saw some changes take place within the band’s lineup, the biggest of which was the addition of ex-Katatonia drummer Daniel Liljekvist. Daniel was secretly one of the best parts of Katatonia during his time with the band, giving the group some surprisingly complex drumming sections to go along with that group’s hair-as-a-veil-over-the-face melancholy. His addition as In Mourning’s new drummer after long-time drummer Christian Netzell bowed out (currently sitting behind the kit for Vholdghast and Volturyon) felt like a good get. If anybody could find their way through In Mourning’s atmospheric doom/post-metal kick, Daniel could.
Afterglow initially made an odd first impression, as after four years it looked like In Mourning were only going to be dishing out seven songs. But those seven songs are all between six and ten minutes long, making Afterglow one of those albums where each song is a journey, filled with multiple segments in which the band sonically ties together their two previous releases. Afterglow is the combination of Monolith’s speed and storytelling and Weight Of Oceans’ lumbering tempos and atmosphere, the second comparison being the more obvious one given that Afterglow is the literal continuation of where Weight Of Oceans left off, with multiple themes reoccuring between the two discs; even that previous album’s title is dropped as a metaphor during one of Afterglow’s songs. Afterglow is also the album for which the Opeth comparisons are likely going to be dropped even more than for the previous discs.
To make Afterglow work, In Mourning have used a variety of weapons in their arsenal. Since it serves as a continuation of The Weight Of Oceans there is a fair share of both genre and thematic similarities. Afterglow is often a slow-moving disc; if it had to be categorized in an offhand manner, you might (hesitantly) toss it into the doom section. Afterglow’s branch of that tree isn’t the more funereal approach to doom, nor do the band find themselves awash in effects pedals and fuzzed-out, droning amps. Afterglow’s doom element is provided by a prog-rock approach to songwriting; when In Mourning find a good section they tend to stick with it and just let that part hang in the air. At multiple times throughout Afterglow, In Mourning are doing some simple strums with a little bit of keyboard in the background to help them out.
Another thing that works in Afterglow’s favor is that In Mourning don’t break out the fast-song/slow-song tracklist set-up. The songs are continually shifting beasts; they build up to their quicker sections, and in the front half of Afterglow you’ll find a fair handful of those to hear. In Mourning make a serious effort on Afterglow to tie up their last two discs, and the resulting hybrid still mostly moves with the languid and meditative pace of The Weight Of Oceans — and for fans of that album, Afterglow will seem like an incremental move from that disc. But the speed and sheer heaviness of Monolith worm their way back into a few songs, providing numerous opportunities for vocalist Tobias Netzell to roar alongside a wall of guitars, shifting from the echo-effects-heavy post-metal genre to the distorted death-metal grooves that made Monolith such a snappy disc. Opener “Fire And Ocean” is one of those songs that comprises mostly snappier bits. A large ratio of the song’s time is dedicated to turning it into a headbang-heavy affair. It has its fair share of theatrics and ambient work, but is one of the maybe two songs on Afterglow that keeps the pace set around relatively fast.
Of course, where the other progressive death metal comparisons start dropping is that In Mourning get fairly adventurous within the boundaries of each song — which is how you can have seven tracks punching in at close to fifty-six minutes. Since The Weight Of Oceans is effectively its sibling, there is something of a precedent for In Mourning to give in to a musical wanderlust. The songs on Afterglow get to be that long because they travel places. Thematically, it is a lot like being lost at sea, the songs tending to toss you around from one section to the next like waves in a storm.
“Below Rise To The Above” is one of those songs. As one of the first tracks released for Afterglow, it does a fairly good job of demonstrating just how much ground (or salt water) the band travel on Afterglow. It shows up about dead-center on the album, after the remarkably infectious “Ashen Crown” with its quietly clean-sung sections that quickly spill over into headbanging chugs like water going over a fall. “Below”, on the other hand, builds up before ending on a quiet and almost blues-level guitar solo (one of the heaviest Opeth comparisons will likely be made here; it’s a type of solo that sounds like it could’ve come right out of the Damnation/Deliverance era of that band). Listening to “Below” is like listening to a song construct itself. The opening minutes, up to the first real heavy growl, are like watching someone assemble a building brick by brick; you can almost feel the guitar and drum work stacking on top of each other. “Below Rise To The Above” is a fantastic example of a track just naturally evolving into a complete work in front of the listener. Three-and-a-half minutes in, and you can still hear the DNA of the song’s intro sprinkled throughout, and the places where the song goes seem logical.
Afterglow is great because the story of how “Below Rise To The Above” works is the story of how every song within its confines works. The seven tracks all sound like part of a greater whole, which lends Afterglow insanely well to the full-album spin, yet even having just one song pop up randomly can feel like a progressive death metal odyssey. Afterglow is great because it takes In Mourning’s career so far and makes it look like a diamond shape. It takes the segments of Monolith and The Weight Of Oceans that were born out of the origin point of Shrouded Divine and ties them back into a gleaming unified construct. There’s no,”This is In Mourning in high-speed melodeath mode”, or “This is In Mourning in euro-doom mode” sort of discussions within Afterglow.
It seems that In Mourning have really found themselves a sound, the type that will continue the band’s reputation as critical darlings for sure, but one they have forged out of three previous fantastic albums into one album that shines on its own merits, one constructed through both In Mourning’s penchant for storytelling and also a severe talent for creating incredibly atmospheric music evocative of the ocean, with imagery that they describe like few others. Afterglow has proven to have been absolutely worth the wait, a journey well worth undertaking.