Friday, January 2, 2009

Physical and Mental Landscapes

Herein lies a short review that seemed to take me forever to complete. A review of Skepticism's monolithic "Stormcrowfleet." I am mostly satisfied with it though I was hoping to return to the state forest and think it all through before wrapping it up. Due to nearly every other day being wet(rain or snow)I haven't gotten over there. I've also been feeling like hammered shit lately thanks to catching some bastard form of a cold from my recently departed friends(not departed as in 'dead' but departed as in 'moved overseas'). Today is the first day since Monday that I haven't awakened dizzy with a headache but my throat seems to be worse. Time to get some more Airborne placebo medicine and/or hit the bottles. Since I felt a bit quicker in mind it seemed like a good idea to finish this review. I seem to get a once a month inspiration fever in which I have a dozen ideas for this blog. I run with one and inspiration turns to procrastination and you know the rest. Anyways, without further bullshit.....

Red Stream,1995
Line-up :
Matti - Vocals
Jani Kekarainen - Guitar
Eero Pöyry - Keys
Lasse Pelkonen - Drums

I sauntered on down the dirt road and looked for the first small path on the left. The cold was taking it's toll on my ungloved hands and my nose was running. Choice weather for a walk in an undamaged and vastly unexplored forest...well if you're me, which you aren't. The dubbed cassette copy of "Stormcrowfleet" fit unsurprisingly well with the stark, naked trees,crumpled leaves and blue sky. Yeah, blue requirements for a gloomy storm front moving in(though that would have worked well too). Skepticism play what those labeling-happy types might call "atmospheric funeral doom." Funeral doom seems to be mainly about mourning, loss, death, and despair, all set to slow pounding drums and drawn out sequences of simple riffs. Death metal type growls usually dominate the mic though some singers add variety with clean vocals. Female vocals are rather commonplace. All of this sound rather boring? Well yeah, after hearing many of the "amazing classics" that the sub-genre has to offer..I arrived at that exact conclusion. However there are exceptions. Bands that have sought to make music before making a name for themselves in whatever their choice of sub-genre might be.

Two summers ago I was killing time, on the prowl for a job in sweltering Austin,Texas. I spent a lot of time surfing the net at a little bistro, just crawling with the exact type of 20 somethings that you might imagine. While browsing the web for jobs I maintained a strict headphones at all times policy..sat off in this one corner. I quickly found that Skepticism's debut album tended to calm me down, decrease the rage and anger that I had towards the present situation and all the while inspiring my imagination to beautiful landscapes, oaken sheds far off in the woods, mist filled chasms, snowcapped mountains, a crisp winter sunset overlooking a clearing, humming fields of cicadas on a windy summer night. I'd begin to wait until getting back to my friend's apartment and listen to the album alone in the coolness of the unlit livingroom. With the cavernous vocals very muffled due to the production, the low end growl transmitted no clear words into my mind. This allowed for me to very easily focus all my attention on the whole. Painfully slow melodies, the structures of the songs and the simplistic time keeping aspect of the drumming. Deep guitars rumble alongside bass guitar and organ, all very bass drenched and earthy sounding. What uptempo melodies there are either come about by way of organ/keyboard, weaving their way over slowly drawn out chord progressions or by guitar, usually a faster moving part layered beneath the heavy plodding of the other instruments. You'll tend to notice little variations on the main theme overlaid for variation and helpful in heightening the atmosphere. Paying careful attention to the drumming performance I've come to realize how the slow marching pounding of the toms, with expressive but minimal cymbal work, sounds very shamanistic and primitive. Instead of utilizing all of the space in between snare or cymbal hits with fills, the drummer keeps it simple and channels all his force into every building pound or crash. A protracted march through rugged terrain. It's not difficult to sit back and relax, allowing the music to work as extremely heavy oil paints, manifesting nature oriented imagery on the canvas of your mind. I never found "Stormcrowfleet" to be depressing or full of melancholy and's uplifting. It seems as if Skepticism took a good deal of their inspiration from soundtrack music and ambient..there aren't any real metal-by-the-numbers moments to be found on this record. The spirit of metal is alive and well but in a very raw and simplistic form, maybe yet to be mined out of a mountainside. If you are looking for traces of death metal or doom metal(in it's pure state) won't have any real luck in finding it here.
Now I have to bring up another band credited for birthing the sub-genre of funeral doom, Thergothon. I think of Thergothon and Skepticism as being brothers. Both Finnish, both active/around at the same time, both playing a crushingly heavy and ambling style of highly atmospheric metal. I can't help but feel that both bands were trying to create the most ancient, rustic and mysterious sounding slo-motion metal record. Thergothon's "Stream From the Heavens" isn't half as magical as Skepticism's debut but it trudges along at the same pace, sad but triumphant hymn-like songs with growling vocals, inspiring evocative imagery in the mind of the listener. Thergothon tended to base their lyrics around Lovecraftian mythos and were perhaps a bit more sinister in terms of their riff writing, these ears it sounds a bit closer to extreme metal than Skepticism. The production on their full-length turns me off as it's a lot of distorted highs, crispy fried keyboard and unfortunately weak sounding drums. I roped them into the review because I believe that they were also trying to kind of go beyond metal..rather than speeding it up to a blistering pace, they slowed it down..waaaaaaay down. But more importantly, both albums can be listened to much like ambient music. It's not merely slowed down death or black metal a la Goatlord or Argentum..but striving to be something more. While Thergothon reach for the cold mysteries of the cosmos, Skepticism crawl beneath the earth and trudge above it. This earthy quality charmed me from the get go, it's warm and comfortable, somehow familiar. I sometimes wonder what my reaction would have been to this album back when it first came out. I was very young at the time and knew little to nothing of guitar-based music. Yet, I feel as if younger me would have latched onto this. My overactive imagination, love for the outdoors, the autumn and fantasy worlds would have worked well with this dreamy metal. Perhaps because I predominantely listened to soundtracks and classical music back then and as I already stated, this sounds very soundtrack inspired in a way.

Lyrically Skepticism only solidify my views on their music. Rather than petty prose based around broken hearts or self loathing we get these;

On the cold bridge of grey stones
Stood the old man in his grey robe
Opening his oak barrels
Pouring them to the river


The forest is around me
In silence the pines stand tall
With the wind they whisper their tales
As their wisdom is everdarkgreen

Very simplistic and almost haiku-like when you read them.

When I started this review I was writing about walking in the forest and I want to get back to that. I believe I was listening to "The Everdarkgreen" when I ascended out of the woods and came upon a vast clearing of low cut brush and some short dead trees. A twisted, frost encrusted club(well I quickly imagined it to be a club)was lying in my path and naturally I picked it up and swung it around like a weapon. I walked onward with it in my hand and let my mind do some quick plotting..if I was a type of scout, no wait, a type of goblin scout, roaming the borderlands of goblin territory.The music added such mystery to the long unexplored path and I walked slowly enjoying every step, enjoying every sidestep or hop over a mud puddle, not scurrying around while repeatedly checking my cellphone for the time. "Stormcrowfleet" works as great calming, meditative music. Maybe like a metallic Steve Roach. A breeze through the pines and a powerful gust of wind from off of the cold ocean. Skepticism creates a world within your imagination or turns the real world surrounding you into some far off planet or buried and forgotten kingdom. Most thought out heavy metal in general, or the heavy metal that I hold in highest regard, does this exact same thing. It's in the creation of an out of this world setting by way of guitar tone, melody, vocals, production, instrumentation(conjuring)..the manipulation of setting by wisely wielded and genuine power. Power to reshape and remake or to wholly remove the listener from reality. This is why I personally prefer Mercyful Fate over Venom, Voivod over Anthrax, Sacramentum over Marduk and Demilich over Death. That's a topic for another time('magick metal':).

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