Doom:VS - Earthless - (9/10)
Published on May 5, 2014
Seemingly unencumbered by the six long years since Dead Words Speak, Draconian member Johan Ericson has just released what might very well be the finest album carrying the Doom:VS moniker. Firmly eschewing the somewhat Gothic undertones of his main band in favour of something rooted more strongly in the funeral doom aesthetic, though keeping a pulsing melodic dynamic intact, Doom:VS continues to paint bleak sonic vistas that easily rank as some of the most evocative, forlorn and powerful in this particular subgenre.
Consolidation, rather than evolution, is clearly the name of the game here as Earthless sees Ericson continuing to explore the heavier style of Dead Words Speak, with the clean vocals and somewhat mellower parts found on the debut used sparsely. This approach, coupled with Ericson’s masterful grasp of pacing, works wonders throughout as the delicate interplay and juxtaposition between the lurching miasma of doomy guitars and heartrending softer interludes give the songs a richly textured sound that channels nothing but the best elements of fellow misery merchants Novembers Doom, Daylight Dies and Saturnus (whose vocalist, Thomas A.G. Jensen, performs guest growls on here).
Earthless is a doom album in breadth, depth, essence and substance but it’s also suffused with a gentler side that’s as vulnerable as it is melancholic. “A Quietly Forming Collapse” and “The Slow Ascent” are perhaps the best examples of the latter side of the band, brimming as they are with soulful minor chords, lush melodies and easily some of the best lead work I’ve heard in this style (the guitar solo in “Quietly…” ebbs and flows perfectly). Elsewhere the interplay between clean vocals and what almost sounds like hardcore barks on “Oceans of Despair” lends the song a great sense of urgency (with the vocals essentially assuming a percussive dynamic), while the title track is a masterclass of pacing. When those melodies finally started to crescendo around the 7 minute mark I could do naught but sit in awe. It sounds counterintuitive but music this sad and dejected really brightens up my day.
All things considered, Earthless is my new favourite Doom:VS effort and an early frontrunner for doom album of the year. Brilliantly conceived and executed, a professional production job and impressive artwork – it impresses on all fronts. Warning’s Watching from a Distance and Daylight Dies’ Dismantling Devotion will probably forever remain the twin pillars of this melodic-cum-funeral doom style but with bands like Doom:VS, Okera, Bell Witch and Cross Vault doing the rounds one can rest assured that this particular strain of metal will remain as miserable and magical as ever.