Every year, there are albums that get a lot of hype and exposure (see; Wintersun, Between The Buried And Me, Rush). Then, there are albums that deserve all that exposure, but get none of it. Today, we have a look at under-appreciated releases in funeral doom, black metal, and progressive metal.
Aldebaran – Embracing the Lightless Depths
Funeral doom metal is a very niche genre. It’s slow, crushing, and much focused on atmospherics. In today’s scene where emphasis on technical ability is the flavour of the month, funeral doom gets largely ignored. Which is a damn shame, since 2012 and the past couple years leading up to it have been fantastic for funeral doom, with bands like Evoken and Esoteric getting more exposure, new bands like Ahab, Wreck of the Hesperus and Bell Witch releasing excellent music, and even funeral doom originators Thergothon getting a reissue of their only album, the classic Stream From The Heavens. Another relative newcomer to the funeral doom pantheon is Aldebaran, a four-piece from Portland, Oregon. Their newest album, Embracing the Lightless Depths, is a dark descent into a cavernous, unlit, echoing place far beneath the surface world.
As the album is only two tracks, 24 minutes and 29 minutes in length respectively, separated and surrounded by three relatively short interludes, this is not a journey for those of weak constitution to take. For those willing to embark on the long, dark path, the album will reward you. The atmosphere is dim, like a cave lit only by phosphorescence. The two main tracks offer up Mounrful Congregation-style funeral doom, with anguished melodies mixed with punishing chords, and sparse-but-pummelling drums. “Sentinel of a Sunless Abyss” features the faint ringing of a bell at one point during its 29 minute run time, which somehow adds even more inhumanity to the track. One would expect the interludes on this album to provide a brief rest from the assault on the psyche, but even they have a very ominous feel to them, like one is simply hesitating before descending further into the catacombs that yawn before them, wondering what manner of creature could have made those unearthly sounds that were ringing through the endless labyrinthine tunnels.
Aldebaran’s lyrical themes are firmly steeped in Lovecraftian lore, and this tone is reflected in their music. There are slow, hypnotic parts that go hand-in-hand with images of occult rituals summoning the Great Old One, and the more intense parts are where a dark deity appears and begins it’s ascent to the world above. The vocals seem like the tormenting cries of the great Cthulu himself, echoing from the very core of existence.
Embracing the Lightless Depths was released on May 15th on Profound Lore Records and is available for streaming on Bandcamp
When Woods Make Graves – This Patch of Dirt Where Nothing Grows
From funeral doom, we head over to When Woods Make Graves, a one-man atmospheric black metal project from Liverpool,England. Atmospheric black metal is another very niche genre, perhaps even more so than funeral doom. For the most part, it is very inaccessible, with unintelligible vocals, raw quality, and a focus on atmospherics (in case you hadn’t guessed) rather than riffs and technical ability. Because of this unusual fixation on ambience, as with funeral doom, it’s very easy to go awry. When it’s inadequately executed, it can be boring, even unlistenable. But when it’s done right, it can create powerful and immersive visions in your mind’s eye, putting you on a journey to another time, another place. This Patch of Dirt, thankfully, is one of the latter.
This album isn’t WWMG’s first or even second album released this year. Two more, The Aroma of Dead Witches (released in May) and Winter’s Crystal Forest (released in June) preceded This Patch of Dirt Where Nothing Grows. However, the most recent is the best of them. The sense of desolation is completely and utterly immersive, leaving the listener feeling like they’re stranded alone in a forlorn and empty wasteland, while a storm surges above them. The entirety of the third track, “With Her Passing Steps The Curse Reaches Forth”, is a stormy squall of feedback, and wind sounds that lend a very post-apocalyptic atmosphere to the album. The album reaches its zenith on the final two tracks, “The Enchantress’ Tower” parts 1 and 2. The first part is very dynamic, utilizing slow, mood-heavy passages, then in the latter half of the song, before giving way to driving stormy black metal, with grief-stricken vocals and relentless drums.
The album is apparently a concept album, according to the text on WWMG’s Bandcamp page, but it’s not clear on what the concept is. The lyrics are pretty much impossible to make out of the shrieks that comprise to vocals. However, it still makes for a very surreal experience, creating a desolate, haunting, and lasting experience that makes a large impact. Perhaps you can craft your own concept from the murky northern abyss?
This Patch of Dirt Where Nothing Grows was released on September 3rd, and is available for name-your-price download on Bandcamp
Threshold – March of Progress
To finish up, we move on to something more of you might actually care about; progressive metal! Threshold, a band from Surrey, UK, are not newcomers to the scene, having been around since 1988 in one form or another, and have released a few of progressive metal’s best albums. With their newest album, March of Progress, they welcome vocalist Damien Wilson back into the fold for the first time since 1997, after their vocalist for the last 4 albums left the band and subsequently passed away (not as a result of leaving the band, it was kidney failure… Well, possibly linked to being in a band anyway). It also marks the Threshold debut of new guitarist Pete Morten, formerly a vocalist for Power Quest. He had joined as a touring member for the Live Reckoning tour, but was only recently made an official member to contribute to March of Progress.
The first thing one notices about newer Threshold is how much heavier it is than material from previous efforts like Dead Reckoning or Subsurface. It’s also somewhat recognizable how much influence being part of Arjen Lucassen’s Star One project has rubbed off on Wilson, as there are quite a few vocal melodies which sound like they were ripped from Victims of the Modern Age, but without sounding derivative. Threshold do manage to retain their own identity, and because of that, this album is fantastic, possibly their best yet. “Liberty, Complacency, Dependency” is a romp of a driving headbanging riffs accompanied by majestic vocals, and the opener “Ashes” brings out one hook after another, like a persistent boxer. “Colophon” starts with tense clean guitar and keyboards and moves through more hard hitting licks. “The Hours” has a strange, almost Kraftwerk-esque rhythm to it. The album isn’t all heavy though. “That’s Why We Came” provides the more powerful and majestic sound that Threshold became so good at earlier in their career, and “Don’t Look Down” may start with a pummelling riff, but goes into majesty and chorus hooks not long in. The closer, The Rubicon, is incredible with it’s power, musicianship, and brilliant hooks. The longer songs on the album avoid feeling ponderous due to their penchant for dynamically switching through multiple passages with different tones in a very organic way.
Every instrument comes through clearly, and it all sounds fantastic. The guitar tone is lush and full, the drums are battering, and the keys are the perfect volume in the mix, neither over- nor underwhelming .Wilson’s vocals are perfectly matched to the band, even though he may not possess the diverse range of some of his peers such as Russell Allen or James LaBrie, his voice still contains a lot of power and meaning. This album is a progressive metal tour de force, and should be overlooked no longer, as it is one of the best albums of the year.
March of Progress was released on August 31st through Nuclear Blast Records