Hooded Menace – Darkness Drips Forth (Relapse Records, 30 October 2015)
Solothus – No King Reigns Eternal (Doomentia Records, 18 March 2016)
Ever Circling Wolves – Of Woe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gloom (
record label and release date TBD Cimmerian Shade Recordings, 27 January 2017)
Last week, President Obama made headlines when he made a reference to Finnish heavy metal while speaking at a summit of visiting Nordic leaders.
In that same spirit, today we’re going to talk about a handful of bands from Suomen tasavalta, the Republic of Finland: Hooded Menace from Joensuu, Solothus from Turku and Helsinki, and Ever Circling Wolves, also from Helsinki.
Hooded Menace have been active as a band since 2007, but I’ve been a big fan of theirs after I stumbled across their 2010 album Never Cross the Dead. In fact, the track “Terror Castle” from that album is — in this reviewer’s opinion — one of the two best and most genre-defining songs in the realm of Finnish death-doom. (If you’re curious about the second one, just keep paying attention, because we’ll be talking about that band later.)
Fast-forwarding a bit, Darkness Drips Forth, their fourth full-length album (and second for Relapse Records), not including at least ten EPs and split records that have come out over the years, emerged from the gloom on Devil’s Night, 2015 — and almost immediately found its way onto my list of that year’s Top 15 albums.
These four songs (each around 10-11 minutes long) are absolutely stuffed to the gills with all the things we’ve come to know and love about Hooded Menace. Probably the most distinctively characteristic thing about the band’s sound is the way they typically employ slow riffs consisting of mostly sustained chords, doubled in the guitar parts, and then the bass and drums generally go along with that slow rhythm, while the lead guitar (either singly or also harmonized in tandem) has more of a fluid motion, sort of like a double-time feel on top of the background chord-riffs. And once in a while the drums (especially the kick drum) switches up to follow that double-time rhythm.
Variations on that basic formula are found all over the place here: “Blood for the Burning Oath, Dungeons of the Disembodied” starts with two complementary slow-doom riffs (after the introductory sound of a church bell tolling), and this gives way to heavier, deeply-downtuned, distorted guitars with sustained-note riffs — for the most part, deathly slow. “Elysium of Dripping Death” also starts off with a twin-guitar intro riff, here with the addition of some swirly flangy stuff going on; again this leads into more slow-ass, deep, death-doom riffing.
On the other hand, “Ashen with Solemn Decay” starts off with a faster guitar part set over slow a chord-riff background, and this song slips into somewhat of a half-time waltz at a few points; “Beyond Deserted Flesh” starts off with both guitars and drums in fast double-time mode.
Matching the horror-show vibe presented in the music — and echoed by lyrics and song titles — the other main element we generally expect from this band is the exclusive use of mega-deep gurgled/growled vocals, sounding like they are emerging out of some hellish pit. Here again, Darkness Drips Forth certainly does not fail to deliver.
Also formed in 2007, Solothus have just released their second album this spring, through Doomentia Records, who had been responsible for several of those Hooded Menace splits and EPs that were mentioned before, as well as re-released versions of several of that band’s full-lengths. No King Reigns Eternal consists of six tracks, a few minutes shorter than those on Darkness Drips Forth on average, but generally speaking, no less dark, slow, dismal, or morose-sounding than those of their east-coast compatriots.
Sometimes more “death” than “doom” in the riffs, but overall the material found here is very slow — sometimes doing the same “fast plus slow” thing I described for Hooded Menace, but here it’s more often the lead part going at half the speed of the chugging background riffs. However, at some point “No King Reigns Eternal” transitions into a heavily tremoloed lead guitar for a bit, while “Towers in the Mist” starts out with nice slow groove but eventually everything speeds up more and more, building into slowly grinding and churning riffs.
On the other side of the equation, alternating with faster and heavier sections, in some parts of “Darkest Stars Aligned” even the lead guitar (with a double-time feel) is treacherously slow — in a way, almost like post-death-doom (or post-doom-death, perhaps?)
For the most part, the vocals here are also ultra-deep, typical for the genre, and mostly buried under the guitars — although even when they don’t necessarily stand out audibly, you can still really FEEL them. In certain places, though — about halfway into “The Betrayer,” during the slower and mellower part of “Darkest Stars Align,” and most notably at the point where that latter song slows down even further (about a minute and a half from the end), we find doubled vocals being bellow out — powerfully and defiantly.
Another interesting highlight comes during the awe-inspiring closing track “The Winds of Desolation” (especially toward the end of the guitar solo that dominates that song’s last couple of minutes), where certain phrases of the guitar part are sometimes repeated two or three times faintly in the background, giving the illusion of echoing and reflecting through endless mirrored hallways.
Believe it or not, Ever Circling Wolves got together in 2007 as well! In a story similar to my experience with the first band discussed here, ECW have been firmly imprinted on my radar screen ever since I heard their debut album, 2009’s The Silence from Your Room. That album’s penultimate song, “Alone, into the Silence of Ice,” became one of my all-time favorites, and (as alluded to several paragraphs ago) I believe it’s also one of the two best examples of the Finnish death-doom sound you’re likely to find.
After that, very early in the history of this website, we covered this band’s most recent release — the Chapter III EP, which came out way back in December 2011. But now, after more than four years of effort, their second full-length album (and what will be their fourth release overall) Of Woe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gloom is finally completed.
The nine tracks on this album include two that we’ve heard before: “Cœur” which was originally released as a live-from-the-studio demo version way back in June 2012, and “In the Trench (Dear Eva Pt. 3)” — an excellent re-recording of one of the tracks from Chapter III (here supplemented by a piano set against some of the guitar riffs), and based on the added subtitle, apparently this has also become a sequel to the two “Dear Eva” tracks on the Silence album.
Of Woe also includes — by far — the shortest and the longest tracks of all the albums we’ve discussed today. At just a minute-thirty-five, “Ibn Qirtaiba” (“Thus go the holy words,” a preface to religious incantations in the world of Dune) consists solely of some mellow clean guitar/bass parts (no drums or vocals here), while the epic final track that follows that interlude, “These are Ashes, These are Roots,” is a solid fifteen and a half minutes of heavy death-doom riffs (sometimes accompanied by a sinister-sounding distorted organ).
Throughout the remainder of the album, the band focuses primarily on slow and weighty death-doom, while occasionally bringing in softer and post/atmospheric elements. Normally they have used one or two vocal parts, typically ranging between deep, deathy, and doomy, or gruff shouting/snarling; but occasionally, like toward the end of “Haunted,” we find the addition of dualling clean vocal parts (sort of reminiscent of latter-day Woods of Ypres), and a pair of clean vocal parts also emerge in “Deeper” — which are uncharacteristically NOT melancholy at all, but rather, if not exactly upbeat, then at least contented.
That last song follows from the instrumental track called “Challenger Deep,” named after the depression in the Mariana Trench that is considered to be possibly the deepest spot on the ocean floor — continuing with a thematic element (certainly an apt metaphor for the install mood expressed here) that was introduced with “In the Trench,” the song that appeared on the last EP before sprouting up again on this new album.
Speaking of metaphors, dark vibes, and lyrical themes, another favorite song on Of Woe would definitely have to be “Lenore,” which is overall presented in a starkly poetic manner, and more specifically its second verse contains several clear (although paraphrased) references to Edgar Allen Poe’s famous “The Raven.”
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Darkness Drips Forth is available here, and No King Reigns Eternal can be found over here. Of Woe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gloom
is not yet out for public consumption (though two of its tracks can be previewed in the Bandcamp player below), but if you run a record label or you know someone who does, I’d highly recommend getting in touch with Ever Circling Wolves! has been released, after the original publication of this review, by Cimmerian Shade Recordings, and is now available for purchase from that label right here.
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