More so than perhaps any other genre of Metal, Doom relies on musicality and composition to be effective. Thrash can compensate for a certain lack of musicality with sped. Death can partially overcome it with brutality, Black with atmosphere, and so on. The results may not be top-notch, but there will at least be some reason to listen, and there will at least be some component of the music from which a dedicated listener can derive some pleasure. Not so with Doom, especially the Funeral, Gothic, and Epic varieties. Quality Doom relies on the strength of the songwriting, and no amount of gimmickry or instrumental virtuosity can rescue an album if the music is lacking.
In this regard, Norwegian Doomsters FUNERAL surpass nearly all of their peers. Their previous release, “From These Wounds,” as an “atmospheric tour de force” that set a new benchmark for emotive Metal. (Be sure not to miss Neil's excellent review of said album – he said it all better than I could have.)
“As The Light Does The Shadow” picks up the formula of its predecessor and moves it another step forward. Expanding on the crushing riffage accented by the occasional string accompaniment of “From These Wounds,” FUNERAL this time adds a bit more bombast by incorporating more of a full-orchestra sound. Occasional use of brass and woodwind makes fuller a sound that was already suffocating. Opening track “The Will To Die” utilizes these new tools with overwhelming effect. Sequences of clean picking to piano accompaniment alternating with trademark FUNERAL riffing over top of melancholic flute deliver a certain poignancy; when this builds into a sequence utilizing the full orchestra, it morphs into an overwhelming despair.
Yet this is not a Symphonic Metal album. The more orchestral sounds add texture and are tastefully constrained to a supporting role. To bring the orchestra any farther forward would have robbed it of its personal focus. This is not Epic Doom, tackling stories of a grandiose bent. This is Funeral Doom, conveying musically and lyrically the inner pain of an individual. The detailed arrangements, including the layering of the vocals, are not minimalist like so much Funeral Doom, but they do create an overall sensation of personal anguish that is very immediate to the listener.
The standout components here are the vocals and the guitars. Much more so than the lyrics, it is the sounds on this album that create the emotion. Frode Forsmo and Mats Leberg's twin vocal performances are mournful in their delivery, while the guitars are crushing. The dynamic of the vocals enveloped in this blanket of distorted riffing yields an atmosphere of utter despondency. Forsmo and Leberg are literally trapped within the sound they have created, with no way out. This is despair in its truest form – sorrow made all the worse by the helplessness to do anything about it.
Two tracks in particular warrant special attention. “In The Fathoms Of Wit And Reason” features guest Robert Lowe (SOLITUDE AETERNUS, CANDLEMASS) handling the vocal duties, and here he truly shines. Lowe's singing is nowhere near as subdued as that of Forsmo and Leberg, and the atmosphere that he delivers is dramatic in its contrast with the other songs. Whereas the rest of the album is despairing, this song is menacing and, well, epic. Funeral Doom is often (justifiably) criticized for its lack of variety, but this track singularly deflects that accusation away from this album.
The show-stopper for this release, though, is closing track “The Fallen One.” Performed a capella, this song features vocals that convey adoration juxtaposed with lyrics in praise of the Fallen Angel. This combination turns satanic metal on its head, moving away from the anger and menace of Black Metal toward an affection resembling that of a parent toward a child. For those of us not of satanic or atheist orientation, this mood is far more haunting.
Opinion on some of the online message boards have labeled this one good, but disappointing when compared to “From These Wounds.” One has to wonder if the authors of such messages were listening to the same release, as this has set a new standard for Funeral Doom. Anyone who likes their Doom smothering, and who has an appreciation for solid song structure has no excuse for not owning this.
(Online April 14, 2009)