Aug 242023

(Today we present DGR‘s review of the new album by the Finnish band Slow Fall, which was released a couple months ago.)

It is always toughest reviewing the straight-shooters. They have a tendency to gum up the brainworks factory when you least need them to. Most of the time it’s because those albums are generally enjoyable but you find yourself constantly stumbling about an empty maze searching for a better way to describe ‘why’ rather than just the part where the band happens to excel at pushing the buttons to unleash good brain chemicals.

While we tug at that same thread though, there is also that sensibility that some of those groups are scraping up against the glass ceiling of releasing something exceptional and you can already see the signs of it in your current subject, it just isn’t quite there yet.

The halls of those who are cramming up against that breakthrough point are increasingly packed, and it’s an area we’ve often trawled over the years as we dig through the underground. Sometimes we get lucky and get to watch a band shoot through to bigger things. As always though, it ties back into the part where you can see exactly what the band are doing at that particular moment in time. There’s no mystery to the blueprint they follow, only how well they execute it.

Finland’s Slow Fall are one such group, whose early-June release of Obsidian Waves is scraping up so hard against the pathway to greatness that you can almost hear the glass cracking. Straight-shooting as they may be, there’s always room for a little bit more keyboard-inflected melodeath in the world.

photo by Arto Kettunen

It goes without saying that Slow Fall have been waiting in the wings here quite a while, given that Obsidian Waves arrived over two months ago. Yet, there’s always an unceasing compulsion to cover everything one listens to so long as we’re landing in the same year. At this point, we’re so used to showing up for the bus to take us to school just in time for the bus that drops everyone off from school to arrive that the idea of staying current holds about the same sway as the idea of the local regional transit setup keeping to any sort of posted schedule.

That and the album arriving on June 9th meant that this was one of the first things that yours truly wound up diving back into upon getting back from the yearly Seattle pilgrimage for Northwest Terror Fest. It takes a little bit for the heavy metal head-fog to clear out.

Slow Fall are going to draw a few unavoidable comparisons when it comes to Obsidian Waves. Given that the lineup includes two guitarists and a keyboardist in a style of music that is very lead-melody focused, Slow Fall find themselves perfectly positioned within the Finnish melodeath scene, and so there are multiple times throughout Slow Fall‘s second full-length when you’ll find yourself glancing over in the direction of Omnium Gatherum and Amorphis and wondering if there’s about to be a third joining them in their musical sandbox.

“Polaris” launches the band out of a circus cannon with its opening few moments, but when you have to do an opening attention-grabbing act you can see how “Polaris” would be chosen to lead off the album.

Slow Fall do make themselves distinct with their following track “Son Of Sleep”, which includes the first appearance of the group’s clean singing style. The interplay of clean vocals and harsh chorus is a well-tread pathway nowadays, and Slow Fall make sure not to stray too far from it.

The main melody at times may dance a little close to ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, but again, Slow Fall are showing throughout the first couple of songs that they are scarily good at hewing to the well-defined genre that they are a part of. It seems, much like a lot of their peers these days, that the first handful of songs on Obsidian Waves are shotgun blasts of different ideas to see what grabs you before they finally settle into a sound to guide the back half of the album toward the end.

When you have a song like “Melancholy And Witchcraft” within the middle of the album, though, there is an interesting turn for moods much more dour within the back half of the album. The first few songs within Obsidian Waves are Slow Fall reaching their tendrils in many directions and showing that they can take several different roads to the same earworm-catchy end goal, but about halfway is when Slow Fall decide to earn the ‘progressive’ tag of their genre descriptor with a darker-than-expected turn on “Melancholy And Witchcraft”.

The slow atmospheres of the song get close to doom and death metal proper, while also grabbing a few folk-metal melodies by the throat and contorting them to fit the track.

Bonus points for having the following track be a stompier song and calling it “All The Blood”. But the back half is where Obsidian Waves actually congeals a little better than the front half as it alternates between moodier bruisers and speedier singles.

Switching gears from songs like “Reflections In The House of Shadows” to “Reaper Of Days” – which, much like “Son Of Sleep” way earlier on, has a ton of clean singing within it – can cause a little bit of whiplash but you’re also seeing a lot of different moments throughout where Slow Fall could expand into something much greater than just dishing out some good-quality genre-red-meat.

That’s where we stand with Slow Falls‘ second full-length. The band have already charted a pretty strong path for themselves in their seven-plus years of existence and an album like Obsidian Waves is the result of the slow process of hammering away at your musical form to build something greater. As mentioned before in the opening scrawl here, Slow Fall are scraping right up against that nebulous ‘it’ point that could make this a truly great release. Right now, they bounce between ‘good’, ‘great’, and ‘enjoyable genre fare’ throughout the album’s near-forty-three minutes, likely the result of how every song seems like a different approach to their musical formula than one full complete throughline.

When you’re in the internet cheerleader seat it can be like an exciting frustration, because you know that Slow Fall – for all of the Omnium Gatherum comparisons they will likely draw – are already chomping at the bit of a stunningly good album. To be clear, however, Obsidian Waves is enjoyable in its own right and lovable in a lot of ways, but you can also tell that its greatest appeal lies with those who already have a lot of love for the keyboard-heavy prog-melodeath hybrid genre.

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