HANGING GARDEN — Skeleton Lake

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HANGING GARDEN - Skeleton Lake cover
3.50 | 1 rating | 1 review
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Album · 2021


1. Kuura (04:41)
2. Faith (05:08)
3. Nowhere Haven (04:31)
4. Winter's Kiss (04:12)
5. When the Music Dies (03:59)
6. Tunturi (05:37)
7. Road of Bones (04:52)
8. Field of Reeds (05:29)
9. Skeleton Lake (07:38)

Total Time 46:27


- Toni Hatakka / Vocals
- Mikko Kolari / Guitars
- Sami Forsstén / Drums
- Nino Hynninen / Keyboards
- Jussi Kirves / Bass
- Jussi Hämäläinen / Guitars, Vocals
- Riikka Hatakka / Vocals

About this release

Released via Lifeforce Records.

Thanks to lukretion for the addition


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Bleak and desolate, yet full of yearning and warmth – Skeleton Lake, Hanging Garden’s new album, is a rare gem of melodic doom metal that smoothly stretches its reach towards gothic and progressive influences, delivering some of the most interesting and emotionally-charged 45 minutes of music I had the pleasure to listen to this year. The band is new to me, but Skeleton Lake is already their seventh full-length in a career that spans across fourteen years. The seven-member line-up is the same as that on the band’s previous record, 2019’s Into That Good Night and comprises two guitars (main songwriter Jussi Hämäläinen and Mikko Kolari), bass (Jussi Kirves), drums (Sami Forsstén), keyboards (Nino Hynninen), and two singers, Toni and Riikka Hatakka, who swap vocal duties throughout the record.

The dualism between male (both growls and cleans) and female clean vocals is indeed one of the main strengths of the record, making for a varied and interesting vocal performance. You may think “beauty and the beast” and that that genre has been done to the death – but Hanging Garden’s approach to the male/female duets is actually quite different from that of bands like Theatre of Tragedy or Tristania, mainly because Riikka Hatakka stays clear from the ethereal, soprano-like singing that is typical of the genre. Her voice is instead much warmer and fuller, reminding me of Stefanie Duchêne (Flowing Tears, another great melodic doom/gothic act from the early 2000s) or Anathema’s Lee Douglas. Riikka’s performance is spellbinding and is perfectly complemented by Toni’s blackened growls and croony cleans – pushing the record into blackened gothic territories with songs like opener “Kuura” or the single “Winter’s Kiss”, which also features backing vocals by Jaani Peuhu (Swallow the Sun) and is probably the catchiest and most immediate song of the album.

The other strength of Skeleton Lake is its ability to strike a great balance between melody and heaviness. The sound is thick and full, with distorted guitars, keys and bass forming a formidable wall that transmits a sense of bleakness and dread to the listener. But the songs are also full of beautiful melodies, conveyed by the vocals but also by the guitar that often provides melodic lines and riffs in a style that reminds me a lot of Katatonia. Songs like “Nowhere Haven” and “Tunturi” feature those vaguely dissonant, minimally distorted melodic guitar riffs that scream “Anders Nyström”. It’s a great formula that is satisfying on multiple levels, whether you just want something to headbang to or whether you are looking for an album for quiet, dark evenings by the fireplace.

There are also a few surprises thrown in the mix – showing a desire to push boundaries that may appeal to prog metal fans. “Kuura” suddenly descends into a Floydian, spacey mid-section with filtered vocals. It’s an odd choice, but it works a charm. “When the Music Dies” explores folk territories with its gentle 3/4 tempo and dreamy melodies, while “Tunturi” features the domra, a folk string instrument similar to a lute. The song structure and arrangements are also quite varied, moving between calm acoustic sections and more frenetic heavy parts, continuously accelerating and slowing down – which makes for an interesting and never boring listening experience.

The album flows away pleasantly, with a few moments of excellence (“Kuura”, “Winter’s Kiss”, “Skeleton Lake”), albeit it loses a bit steam in the second half, where pieces like “Road of Bones” and “Field of Reeds” are melodically weaker and somewhat dull. The weaker second-half contributes to the impression I had that the album somewhat lacks a satisfying development: taken one by one, the songs are great but after the first 4/5 pieces one gets the sense that the album is “stuck on repeat”, as the subsequent songs follow a similar structure and convey similar emotions as the earlier ones. I always wish albums would take me places, but that requires a sequencing of songs that develop a full emotional arc, something I somewhat missed here. I also missed a bit more nuance in the sound production. Music so varied and articulated as the one on Skeleton Lake would have deserved a more refined production to appreciate the songs in all their subtleties.

Despite these criticisms, Skeleton Lake is a very strong album, and one of the records I enjoyed the most in this first half of 2021. The album jacket contains a “FFO” line that mentions Katatonia, Anathema, Swallow the Sun and Ulver. It’s a pretty accurate description of the influences that pervade the 9 songs of the record, especially for Katatonia and Swallow the Sun. If you are a fan of any of these bands, you should give Skeleton Lake a try – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

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