Funeral Doom Metal

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Funeral doom is a sub-genre of doom metal which has many of the hallmarks of more traditional doom, e.g. low tuned guitar work creating an extremely heavy sound and slow tempos. The tempos in funeral doom are generally even slower and often likened to and give the impression of a funeral dirge. It contains death doom elements and often shares the growl style vocal work of that sub-genre as well as cleaner mournful vocals. The use of keyboards is common, generally used to create atmospheric ambient passages. Bands such as Sketicism, Thergothon, Esoteric and Evoken are considered pioneers of the genre in the early nineties.

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ABYSSMAL SORROW Lament Album Cover Lament
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EA Ea Album Cover Ea
EA
4.12 | 4 ratings
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Aion Sitra Ahra
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Tamsins Likam
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HAMFERÐ
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funeral doom metal Music Reviews

HAMFERÐ Tamsins Likam

Album · 2018 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Nightfly
I’ve only just discovered Faroese doom metal band Hamferð. Their first album Evst released in 2013 having totally passed me by. Still, better late than never and I’m certainly glad to have caught up with them now as Tamsins Likam is the best album I’ve heard in the doom realm for quite some time.

Tamsins Likam is part three of a trilogy that began with their 2010 EP Vilst Er Siðsta Fet. It’s the story of a man who’s racked with guilt over the fate of his family. The story however goes backwards, starting with his death on the EP. Evst was the run up to his death and Tamsins Likam goes back to an earlier time where he and his wife are dealing with the loss of a child. You’ll have to take my word for this however as all the lyrics are sung in Faroese.

Funeral doom is a genre that I generally can only take in small doses despite enjoying work from Evoken, Shape Of Despair and Ahab in particular. The deathly slow tempos wear a bit thin with me after a while and it can sometimes come across as a little one dimensional with little room for variation despite many bands injecting atmospheric and mellower moments between the crushingly heavy riffs. Whilst Hamferð take funeral doom as a starting point, there is more to them than this. Sure there’s the expected doom drenched guitar riffs but drummer Remi Johannesen has a musicality not often seen in the genre amongst drummers with some inventive patterns shaping the song structures. I know very little about the Faroe Islands other than it’s around 200 miles north of the top end of Scotland, but through their music they manage to convey a feeling of cold stark beauty echoing my impression of the place, or what I imagine it to be anyway. This gives their music a unique flavour making them stand out from the doom crowd.

The album kicks off with Fylgisflog in a very understated way. Sparse guitar work and Jón Aldará’s clean mournful vocals take centre stage until it explodes into more familiar doom territory with Aldará using growls for the heavier sections. The music has a cinematic feel for want of a better way of putting it, aided by atmospheric keyboard work, with big riffs displaying a melodic sensibility with much musical tension present. There’s a beauty in this music that in a way reminds me of the way Opeth used to do it in their metal days – the way they could inject beauty in and around the most heavy riffs. Don’t mistake this for thinking they sound like Opeth though but you could say Hamferð are to doom what Opeth were to death metal. This sets the scene for much of the album with quiet restraint juxtaposed against the heavier sections. An exception is the death doom of Hon Syndrast which sounds huge from start to finish with some imaginative chord progressions, riffs and time changes making for a totally captivating listen and is perhaps my favourite of the entire album.

Tamsins Likam is a complete masterpiece of metal and I was so impressed I immediately ordered their last album Evst and plan on doing likewise with their first EP shortly. So early in the year yet I can already declare with confidence that this will be one of the best albums I’ll hear in 2018.

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
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MorniumGoatahl
Back in October this year metal fans from all around boarded the hype train for the third full-length album by funeral doom metal act Bell Witch. Entitled Mirror Reaper, I'd personally been aware of the band but never checked them out. Unless you're the type that lives under a rock though it would have been hard to miss that most who were talking about this album seem to think it is a pretty big deal.

My question to them is a simple one. Why?

First a bit of history. Bell Witch is a duo that doesn't use guitars and is instead driven by bass and drums. That's not unheard of but is still atypical in today's metal and heavy rock climate. So that's a point in their favour to make them more interesting than the average funeral doom metal band. They also suffered a tragedy since their last album Four Phantoms was released in 2015 – one of their original founders, who had already left the band at that point, Adrian Guerra, suddenly passed away. I'm not one to speak ill of the dead, but it's no secret in the music industry that death does wonders for one's career and for better or worse Guerra's passing may have played a role in the amount of attention this album has gotten to date, which appears to be considerable more than the aforementioned Four Phantoms.

But enough about that. The music. And back to my question: why?

Why when Mirror Reaper is, in a word, boring. Composed of just one song that lasts for, wait for it, a whole 83:43 minutes, Bell Witch made a record that couldn't even fit on a regular CD album without being forced to snip the track into two parts and two discs. To some, especially listeners of the digital, uncut version, this may not seem like it's a big deal, it's actually the most obvious example of the problem with the entire album/track. The band's unwillingness to cut it down rather than drag it out until it's long outstayed its welcome. Picture this: a few minutes less on a composition of this length isn't going to make any meaningful difference, so why butcher it for those who (I assume) enjoy it and want a physical copy, by making it that few minutes too long to fit on a single disc? Surely that's a more agreeable sacrifice that enforcing a pause during a song, something I personally despise doing regardless of length. Or perhaps that is Bell Witch's way of admitting that they know they dragged this out for far too long any way and may as well offer an ideal place for listeners to go away and have a tea break.

And 'dragged out' is really the only way to describe Mirror Reaper. The long song length itself it's the issue but it's what they do with it. Funeral doom metal is not a lively genre by default but this is ridiculous. The song is long and it doesn't sound as if they really do much during its running time. There's slow and then there's slow and not actually getting anywhere. This is the latter. Fuck, if they were much slower they'd be playing in reverse. For a lot of the time the music on the album is not even metal, but rather slowcore (an indie rock sub-genre), which is basically just droning clean tone bass guitars, organ and bland clean singing. The actual metal parts are not much better. The band shows off a nice heavy sound and the growling vocals are more convincingly performed, but it's still got the same problem of dragging the band's ideas out too much until they become uninteresting and then some, before they eventually deign to change the song up again. This is the pattern that is basically on repeat for the whole duration.

It's funeral doom metal and to complain that a band releases a dirge seems to be missing the point, but this one seems to be an example of taking things way too far. I'm not sure that cutting Mirror Reaper down even by half its current length would have saved it, but the point is I reckon that Bell Witch could easily have covered every actual musical idea in this song in a ten to fifteen minute track and here's a radical thought: written some more songs to make up the rest of the album! We may have had a release worthy of the hype then.

If its meant to be about atmosphere then I for one admit that I do not get it, because Mirror Reaper as an album and song bores me out of my tree long before it's even a quarter of the way through. I've made myself sit through it a few times to try and get it, but I'm failing to see what this is having such a widespread appeal in the metal world. It's not exciting or even technically interesting. It's certainly not innovative. If guitarless bass driven bands interest you then there are much better examples out there than this, both within the doom metal genre and without. It's just an album that takes a few ideas and runs each of them into the ground and is memorable only in the way that an experience that scars you for life is memorable.

And yet somehow Mirror Reaper has quickly become one of if not the most highly talked about and regarded doom metal albums of 2017. If this is what counts as good in doom metal these days then I have to declare the genre dead. And so one final time, though no one is likely to say anything that is going to change my opinion at this point, my question:

WHY?

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
A composition of a scale that was really only commercially possible in the digital age - physical releases are forced to split it up in various different ways - Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper is to funeral doom metal what Sleep's Dopesmoker is to stoner doom - a massive, sprawling exploration of the genre's basic principles cranked up to 11 and taken to their uttermost limit.

In this case, Bell Witch here offer a vision of funeral doom which takes it about as far as its death-doom-influenced roots as it can get; rather than fat, sick riffs, we are treated to sparse, gothic guitar tones and maudlin, melancholy lyrics. I hadn't heard that it was a tribute to Adrian Guerra, their deceased fellow bandmate, but it is certainly both suitable as a musical monument to a friend and as a distinct piece of art in its own right. Bell Witch take us here on a subdued, slow journey through their personal vale of tears, their grief overshadowing all, and what they have produced may not be the most heavy or extreme metal piece ever - it's almost a guitar-based approach to ambient music at points - but it is a powerful release which, whilst I'd want to be in the correct emotional mood to fully appreciate it, I am extremely glad to own.

BELL WITCH Mirror Reaper

Album · 2017 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
US funeral doom metal duo had released just two full-length albums, Longing (2012) and Four Phantoms (2015), when their line-up was split in two following drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra's departure. Bands change line-up all the time but this change was tragically made all the more profound when a year later, in 2016, Adrian Guerra passed away. Mirror Reaper (2017) is the group's, which now consists of Dylan Desmond (bass, vocals) and new member Jesse Shreibman (drums, vocals), first new recording since then. The monolithic, eighty-three minute long single song album can be seen as a eulogy to their fallen comrade, whose presence is still felt by the insertion of some vocals recorded before his untimely death at the age of just 35, credited under 'the words of the dead'.

Because Mirror Reaper is so long, physical versions of it have to split the song into multiple parts. The CD version has two discs with the track split into two (titled As Above and So Below) while the vinyl is also a double, with the track split into four parts. It's worth pointing out at this point that at least in the case of the CD version the physical pressing does NOT come with a download code so buyers can also obtain the full uninterrupted version of the album. Without confirmation, I'd assume that the vinyl is the same. This, while I won't allow it to affect my rating in this review, is a considerable omission to make in my view, making Mirror Reaper one of the extremely rare cases where the physical version can be deemed inferior to the digital (more so because the digipak packaging is one of the most shoddily made I've ever encountered).

In any form Mirror Reaper is a daunting journey, one that I'm certain most potential listeners will want to think hard about whether they even want to try taking it. Those that do will definitely need to find themselves in the right frame of mind, and set aside enough time to take the whole composition in during a single sitting regardless of whether you're listening to the seamless digital version or the four part vinyl version. A piece like this loses its impact if you decide to take a break of any length and while at least in the case of the CD version the split between the As Above part and the So Below part does make sense, So Below doesn't work near so well as a stand alone track.

Funeral doom metal is known for its plodding pace and atmosphere of misery and that's exactly what is delivered on Mirror Reaper, via some quite extended length non-metal sections, especially during the So Below part of the song. No idea is treated like a flash in the pan thing, but is drawn out for ages. The vocals range from growling to hypnotic chant to subdued singing. Despite the growls, there's no forays into actual death-doom like the works of Evoken or Esoteric, so it's pretty much a dirge from start to finish. In that sense, Mirror Reaper may just be an example of funeral doom metal at its most pure, though since there are no guitars and it's all done on bass the sound is a little difference to the average band. At least it's a pure funeral doom metal sound until one of the non-metal passages hits, then it's something else, yet still very much funeral and very much doom, just without the metal.

Mirror Reaper is not, understandably, an easy album. I expect that many who give it a go will find it to be too much in one way or another. To many, this will be far too long than any one song has a right to be. For others the length in itself won't be an issue but the snail's pace tempo will be. For more still it will be how it actually sounds. Mirror Reaper is certainly a dreary affair, even depressing at times, but that's hardly surprising given the genre and backstory and the death of Adrian Guerra. It's true that the point, musically speaking, could likely be accomplished in a much shorter yet still lengthy composition and that to some ears it may have been better for it. Those people will be entitled to their opinion, while I will remain steadfast in mine that they just don't get it. All things considered it seems highly appropriate that Bell Witch went all out with Mirror Reaper and produced something that will stand tall as a monumental work of what funeral doom metal is all about. This is their tribute to their fallen bandmate and it's certainly not found wanting. Even being so long there's definitely a coherence to the whole composition so that despite all the pitfalls it could fall into it never actually feels aimless.

Mirror Reaper will not go down as an album that will grace my speakers with any kind of regularity, but it's one I'm pleased to have taken the plunge on for when the mood strikes. Bell Witch have crafted a quality, well thought out work here.

AHAB The Call of the Wretched Sea

Album · 2006 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
This is the debut album by the German funeral doom outfit Ahab, and as you might guess from their name and the title it's a Moby Dick-inspired piece. Drawing heavily on the similarly-themed demo The Oath - The Hunt and Ahab's Oath are rerecorded tracks from there - it showcases a group with a delicate and nuanced understanding of their chosen subgenre, who are able to add their own twists and turns to the funeral doom metal formula and refresh it. Daniel Droste, in particular, is a star player on the album for his light but significant use of keyboards - check out that mournful droning organ tone that the album kicks off with and which excellently sets the atmosphere.

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