Yesterday I leaned into black metal in adding to this list, and today I’m favoring doom — though these two songs are very different formulations of misery and gloom, both beautiful in their own way, and both emotionally wrenching, but there are at least as many differences as similarities. And of course I think both of them are intensely memorable.
The new Majestic Downfall album was one I eagerly anticipated, and eagerly embraced once I heard it. As I wrote in a review on the day it became available for full streaming in early December, the four long songs of doom/death and one brief interlude that make up Waters of Fate are staggeringly intense and atmospherically immersive, and the melodies are powerfully alluring, but the music should also appeal to listeners with a taste for crushing heaviness and soul-splintering sorrow. There is tear-stained beauty to be found in the music, and passages of epic yet bleak grandeur, but this is an album that will dash your fondest hopes and smother your budding joys in their crib.
When I heard the album’s first single, “Veins“, which is the opening track, I thought of it as an anthem for the trying times in which we live. Slow tears weep from bruised eyes in this music, and it also channels mutilating pain and a level of desolation that seems unsurvivable. It howls in agony, roars in furious defiance, and glimmers with faint and forlorn yearnings, mixing ethereal reverberations, bludgeoning chords, drum blows you can feel in your spine and that go off like the crack of gunfire, and harsh vocals that seem to be a hybrid of agony and fury. The song becomes feverish and fierce, demands retribution, and reveals the magnificence of imagined but hollow triumph.
The sequence near the end is especially moving, with a glorious, soaring guitar solo followed by a head-moving bass in the spotlight, and then by one last heart-pounding surge of power before the soft, chiming notes of grief return, accompanied by cataclysmic percussive blows.
There’s enough emotional intensity in the track to power a large city — and it has stayed with me so persistently that I need to include it on this list (though it’s far longer than most you’ll find here).
ALTARS OF GRIEF
Iris, the latest album by this blackened doom band from the Canadian prairies, received a lot of attention at our site last year. We were fortunate to premiere a track from the album (“Desolation“) in the run-up to its release, along with a subsequent review by DGR, who called it a “fantastic release” and later put it in the No. 9 position on his year-end list, characterizing it there as “an album that drags itself along the well-worn paths of misery and loneliness, yet is so expertly crafted you can’t help but let it envelop you”.
The band’s mastery of melody is so complete on Iris that it’s another one of those records where you could almost throw a dart at the track list and come up with something that would merit serious consideration for this list. But, like DGR, the one I’ve favored most strongly is that same track we premiered, “Desolation“.
After a haunting intro, the band deliver a thrilling explosion of sound — the thundering hooves of galloping drums, a firebrand of a riff, a scalding voice, the vibrant bubbling pulse of the bass. The mood of the music seems defiant and striving, yet also sorrowful.
As the gallop relents and the pace becomes more solemn, dramatic clean vocals command the music briefly — but soon give way to even greater intensity (marked by a wrenching shriek) and then even more calamitously hopeless moods as the vocalist screams “I open my eyes / To a sky in flames”. The lyrics throughout are indeed desolate (the album as a whole is a wrenching narrative that deals with the struggles of addiction, sickness, and religion), but that passage is followed by a head-moving pulse of guitar sound and a dual-guitar solo that soulfully oozes grief. It’s a heavy song, and a hard one to forget.