In looking back at the songs I’ve included in this list so far (you can see all of them here), it occurred to me that I hadn’t paid much attention to doom. That realization influenced me in the choices I made for today’s installment, which gives glimpses of the genre’s night-blooming diversity, because part of my aim in doing this list is to provide snapshots of what the last year brought us in metal, across a swath of genres.
But of course the songs must be infectious to qualify, and these are, even if the contagion they bring us is heartbreak.
Skepticism is the first funeral doom band whose music I ever heard, long ago. It was a gripping discovery. Skepticism always draws my attention for that reason, but also because of the band’s remarkable consistency over a career that spans three decades. Their latest work, 2021’s Companion, was as powerful and immersive as I’ve always come to expect. As is often the case with stand-out albums, it was home to more than one song I wanted to put on this list, but alas, my self-imposed rule compelled me to pick only one.
The one I chose is “Swan and the Raven“, which was also the subject of the first scripted video that Skepticism has ever made. Its setting is as vast and beautiful as the music, and its narrative is mysterious. When the video was released, Skepticism commented: “The video itself complements the thoughts in the song – themes of departure and arrival and the experience of essence.”
And yes, the song is vast and crushing, heart-breaking and haunting, tragic and glorious. The monumental union of Eero Pöyry‘s symphonic and organ compositions and Jani Kekarainen‘s guitars makes the heart swell and break at the same time, while Matti Tilaeus‘s jagged growls channel raw passion and Lasse Pelkonen‘s cavernous drumming resonates deeply. There’s also a groovesome break near the end that’s part of what sticks the song in the head.
RISE TO THE SKY (Chile)
I had the privilege of premiering the next song and video last July, in the lead-up to the release of this band’s second album, Per Aspera Ad Astra. The song, “End My Night“, had a tragic inspiration described in detail in the introduction to the premiere. In brief, the band is the solo work of Chilean multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sergio González Catalán, and he wrote the song while grieving over the sudden death of his father. In introducing the album as a whole, he wrote:
With death, times stops, matter fades, present and future cease to exist, and only the past remains. Upon death, the remaining body is disposed, the person is transformed and keeps living through the ones who remain, in the form of memory, image, and blood. Their past, and the way it molded our lives and destiny, is a perduring reflection of their existence.
The sound of the song he composed is immense and earthshaking, and it’s beautiful but intensely heartbreaking. The music builds in intensity and panoramic scope as the minutes pass, climbing toward a crest of emotional power, and as it ascends, its immersive effect becomes overwhelming.
The core melody of the song is introduced by a classical symphonic overture that’s stately and mesmerizing, and then it’s carried forward by a symphony of a different kind, one composed of immensely heavy distorted chords, momentous drum booms, shimmering synths, and the stricken wail of a lead guitar. Truly abyssal growls that rise in agony add to the music’s staggering emotional impact.
The clarity of the grieving lead guitar causes it to stand out even above the rumble of double-kicks and the heaving immensity of the riffs. It pierces through the harrowing vocals and the sprawling sunrise shine of sound above it, and it really is a thing of tragic and enthralling beauty.
DAWN OF SOLACE (Finland)
It appears that the revival of Dawn of Solace by Tuomas Saukkonen will be a lasting one, evidenced in part by the appearance of a new album named Flames of Perdition last November. The first advance track, presented through a video, was “White Noise“.
The emotional power and intensity of the song absolutely floored me. The intensity builds steadily, from its soft and wistful beginning through grim, heavy chords, neck-cracking drums, darting riffs, and the soaring, spine-tingling voice of Mikko Heikkilä (of Kaunis Kuolematon). It reaches a zenith of dark and moving impact via a stunningly beautiful and deeply moving guitar solo by Jukka Salovaara.
It’s a heart-wrenching song, and one that’s very hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard it. The accompanying video is a bit of a shock in its scenes of torture, and makes the experience of listening more harrowing.