Slow Cuts of 2021

In my childhood, I was a slow eater, a fast runner, and got bored quickly. In terms of digesting metal albums, I’m occasionally on the slow side, hence why Slow Cuts of 2021 has popped up midway through February. In this article, I’ll examine 5 pretty diverse albums that needed more time to mull over than usual – albums that I ran out of time for in 2021.

Since it seems relevant, I’ve listed the date of each album’s release, and am pleased to say that they span the year from the first day to the last. After a brief analysis of each release, the epic five-way battle will commence for my top “slow” album of 2021!

Ominous Glory – The Elven Dream – Independent – 9.0 (1st January)

It may seem embarrassing to still be digesting an album released on 1st January at the end of the year, but The Elven Dream is no regular album. We’re talking about a band that has existed since 2001, really started putting flesh on the bones in 2015, and then finally released a debut album on the first day of 2021. Calling Ominous Glory’s first offering “a debut album” doesn’t really do justice to the CD-busting 80 minutes of power metal bombast that involves 10 musicians (5 as guests, including drummer AJ Viana) and 15 tracks, only one of which can properly be called an introduction. The original trio of instrumentalists make no secret of their love for power metal from the time when Gamma Ray, Rhapsody Of Fire, Freedom Call, and that bunch were the talk of the town, and in many ways The Elven Dream proves a sonic throwback to the early ‘00s, with pounding double bass riffing, wailing vocals, and a massive fantasy theme to boot.

That may not sound ideal in the current age of grittier or more poppy tendencies, though the project retains a balance that albums like these seldom possess. The ballast of some thrusting Primal Fear riffs, as well as dazzling bouts of melody and guitar hero soloing, keep the songs from drowning in their own pomp, while a sensible inclusion of just a couple of proper ballads works in Ominous Glory’s interest. Moments of emotion shine through in “Love Knows No Distance” and the guest vocal extraordinaire “Julianna (Queen of the Dark Star)”, big choruses come into play for “Wayfaring Journeymen” and “The Kingdom of Light”, then the title track and “Echoes in Time” sizzle with progressive spirit and outside-the-box ideas. The Elven Dream matches most power metal of this ilk track-for-track, and if you can get your head round the sheer size of what Ominous Glory have produced, you may just find that it beats some of the competition for quality too.

Original TMO review by Larry Best available at: http://www.metal-observer.com/3.o/review/ominous-glory-the-elven-dream/

Omination – NGR – Hypnotic Dirge Records – 8.0 (5th February)

Another band pushing the limits of physical media, Tunisian funeral doom act Omination dropped a huge album with a tiny title, exceeding 87 minutes once their cover of Skepticism’s “Nothing” is factored in. In a way, NGR certainly merits its scale based on the title track alone, a 20 minute behemoth that spells out the record’s theme in full – “The New Golgotha Repvbliq”. Much of the project’s third full-length (the first of which made it to 90 minutes) dwells on apocalypse and has a strong religious vibe thanks to full-blown organ on several tracks, as well as declamatory vocals from Fedor Kovalevsky that grab the spotlight as soon as they appear. Omination being a one-man band makes sense from that angle, since Kovalevsky appears as a kind of endtime preacher narrating the fall of the world, quite possibly the only one still alive to revel in the maximum doom of the occasion.

Maximum doom could perhaps be used to describe the sonic palette used on NGR, a dark morass of guitar ideas sometimes coming to light in melodies reminiscent of Paradise Lost, though more often trudging the funereal path and yielding to the vocals and keys. The religious fervour already hots up during the relatively brief opening statement “Crossing the Burning Wasteland”, but subsequent cuts like “Apocalyptic Ignis Fatuus” and “The Sword that Came Out of His Mouth” heap on drama with more bombastic tricks involving more prominent riffing, layered growls and strained shouted vocals, plus some atmospheric backing. The title track offers a spot more variety, even entering a blastbeat passage briefly, though mostly the album progresses gradually and inevitably, making the extended runtime best to experience all at once. Given the range of methods in the Omination formula, cutting down a song or two wouldn’t hurt overall, since the drama already draws enough attention during the average length songs of 7-8 minutes. Still, remember to play this on doomsday.

A Noend Of Mine – Sanctuaires – Hypnotic Dirge Records – 8.5 (12th March)

Les Vynogradov has appeared in a few intriguing bands over the last decade and a half, of which A Noend Of Mine has the briefest history and fewest members, this taking the form of a solo project. His post/doom work in Kauan may be called notable for featuring mostly Finnish titles and lyrics, Vin De Mia Trix opened their death doom account with a Spanish EP title, and now A Noend Of Mine (an odd name in itself) contributes to the Ukrainian’s unorthodox approach by generally using French names for the 9 compositions on second full-length Sanctuaires. The framework behind this delicate mix of ambient, post, and prog indeed takes in ideas of sanctuaries, which Vynogradov analyzes as both spatial and temporal “places to which we tend to return.” For an album supposedly about safety and comfort, however, Sanctuaires possesses rather an ambiguity about its moods, perhaps unsurprisingly given its creator’s penchant for experimentation.

Since much of the music in these 44 minutes dwells at low ebb and describes locations rather than narrates action, vocals and lead instruments are sparse, leaving much of the work to peaceful acoustics, wafting phased guitar, and lonely piano. Drums work their way into some pieces and mellow vocals drift around on sections of the tripartite “Des Chemins Crépusculaires”, yet it hardly seems surprising when “Lento Tenebroso” plays through a musty memory of an opera, seemingly as an excerpt from another time and place. Occasionally, the experimental nature of things separates music from sound by a small margin, yet the film score lushness of closer “Vers l’Immensité de l’Aurore Éternelle” brings home the truth of how masterfully Sanctuaires is composed in almost religious euphoria. At times A Noend Of Mine reminds of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Steven Wilson’s Storm Corrosion collaboration, though Vynogradov brings all his own personality to his art.

Dead Space Chamber Music – The Black Hours – Independent – 7.0 (3rd December)

Here’s a titillating slab for any neofolk fans: an ensemble from the UK who rearrange and reinterpret Medieval and Renaissance music into new, often pretty avant-garde, shapes. The Black Hours is the second release from Dead Space Chamber Music and covers plenty of ground stylistically, from authentic neoclassical takes like “Liement Me Deport” to dark ambient trips like the 2 parts of “Ion”, which unnerve with echoing feedback, eerie effects, and insane wordless vocalization from Ellen Southern. Some rock instrumentation turns up, though the scrunched-up guitar acts more as backing than foreground, even if “The Pit/Dissolved in Ashes” seems to pass a spell as a psychedelic rock track. That means the 7 tracks on offer (8 with the radio edit of “Mari Lwyd/Morfa’r Frenhines”) vary a good deal and don’t always seem to have the driving focus that typical songs might, focusing more heavily on atmosphere and ambience, sometimes for long periods.

In many ways, a listener’s appreciation of Dead Space Chamber Music therefore rests on the subjective experience of the album, though fans of anything from Dead Can Dance to Völur might find weird comfort in the creative scope of such a work. Despite the references to historical styles of music, beware that The Black Hours offers no drinking songs or easy listening tracks, only “Douce Colombe Jolie” really showing a relaxed mood with gentle folk and classical melodies. “Mari Lwyd/Morfa’r Frenhines” proves most memorable with a fantastic watery groove that Southern’s vocal chants lock around in the noisier mid-section, while “Bryd One Brere” presents the traditional instruments and a balladic lyric more straightforwardly to melancholy success. Certainly Dead Space Chamber Music compose for the curious and the brave music lover; The Black Hours is best listened to in a concentrated and open state of mind.

Wombbath – Agma – Transcending Obscurity Records – 9.0 (31st December)

Having had a very successful resurrection since starting over in 2014, Wombbath made the doubly strange decision to release their newest full-length Agma on the last day of 2021 and to include 16 tracks on the album. Let that sink in for a moment…16 tracks of old-school death metal – no intros, no interludes, nothing under 3 minutes. That brings Agma close to a terrifying 73 minutes of extreme music, and this from a band that had heretofore mostly kept their releases around 40 minutes. Another much publicized talking point was how the Swedes had mixed in numerous minor elements to various tracks, resulting in a much wider variety than normal for a relatively typical take on their country’s native death metal style. These features range from slower, more melodic highlighting in cuts like “Misantropi Och Förakt” and “Oh Fire of Hate” to eerie use of numerous blackened and gothic backing vocals to violin during “Breathe in the Flames” and most dramatically on “The Age of Death”. The novel instrument is provided by guitarist Thomas von Wachenfeldt, who along with drummer Jon Rudin and bassist Matt Davidson represents the recent influx of members that has put a spring in Wombbath’s step.

As a result of this variety, every song provides something different, and that’s a tremendous achievement…if you can stomach the album’s length. Essentially a double album of death metal, even avid listeners will have their endurance tested by Agma’s size, and that may prove off-putting at first. However, this quintet must have worked massively hard to maintain the quality and interest level, since Wombbath deliver all the blitzkrieg riffing, churning vocals, and thundering drumming that defines the band, then continue to push their formula in as many directions as possible. Slowing the pace a little and saturating certain cuts with atmospheric guitar parts aligns “In Decay They Shall All Fester” with Gothic-era Paradise Lost and the debut of compatriots Cemetary, certainly when the lead guitar tone drops into that haunting sweet spot that Euro death doom perfected in the early ‘90s. These doomy and melodic elements combine to turn some songs like “The Dead and the Dying” into unexpected anthems, while the purer death metal assaults feel more potent by comparison, as “On a Path of Repulsion” proves at the end of the album. It probably won’t click after a single spin, but Agma is an absolute monster in more ways than one.

Original TMO review by Thomas Carne available at: http://www.metal-observer.com/3.o/review/wombbath-agma/

Five-way slow cuts battle

Shortest album: A Noend Of Mine (44 minutes)

Longest album: Omination (88 minutes)

Heaviest album: Wombbath

Artiest album: A Noend Of Mine

Most atmospheric album: Dead Space Chamber Music

Most emotional album: Ominous Glory

Most intense album: Omination

Most varied album: Dead Space Chamber Music

Best vocalist: Fedor Kovalevsky (Omination)

Best guitarist: Alistar Blackmane (Ominous Glory)

Best drummer: Jon Rudin (Wombbath)

Best additional instrument: Piano/organ (A Noend Of Mine)

Best lyrics: Ominous Glory

Best cover art: Juanjo Castellano (Wombbath)

Catchiest song: “Wayfaring Journeymen” (Ominous Glory)

Moodiest song: “The Pit/Dissolved in Ashes” (Dead Space Chamber Music)

Fastest song: “On a Path of Repulsion” (Wombbath)

You may notice that I’ve had to switch some of the categories this year to reflect a broader selection of styles, such as including nominations for artiest album and instruments besides the typical rock staples. However, quality will always out in the end, and thus it’s fitting that the 2 releases bookending the year – Ominous Glory and Wombbath – have triumphed over the competition by a small margin. It also highlights how the subtler forms of expression used by A Noend Of Mine and Dead Space Chamber Music may be neglected when considering superlative qualities, and having listened to all 5 albums in depth, I can say that each one will feel extremely worthwhile to the right listener. Here’s hoping that one of them is for you, and that I’ll see you next year for some more slow cuts!

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