To suggest that I often go too deep in analyzing, researching, and sorting through thoughts on metal albums cruelly infers that they’re more often than not too shallowly conceived to stand up to closer scrutiny. This might be true for a lot of sub-genre entries, work that is purely iterative and intent on refining defining works and ethos; More often than not a reductive attitude is born from becoming easily overwhelmed by the masses of creativity, not understanding the high standard for musical detail that metal requires at a base level, and perhaps not being prepared for the greater range of serious and non-serious art coming from every niche music can manage. Before the easy passage of mp3 files through the internet made music widely accessible to those living under poverty and censorship’s restrictive belt these niches were nowhere near as healthily populated, and perhaps one sub-genre that has benefited most notably from internet exposure over the last two decades is the ancient copse of funeral doom. I will personally never forget 2003 because with a dedicated high speed internet connection of my own came an instantaneous, incredible stream of information I’d had no chance of touching upon before. Beyond the porn, eBay, and emulators there was certainly greater doom waiting for me in the form of bands I’d never heard of before.
Among the barrage of name-drops from strange Yahoo! and AOL metal chatrooms in 2004 came a lasting friendship at the suggestion of Nortt, Bunkur, Evoken and London by-way-of Antwerp funeral doom metal band Pantheïst. This was a new depth and extremity meant to shred the endorphins from me, like corn from it’s husk, and both Evoken‘s ‘Quietus’ and Pantheïst‘s ‘O Solitude’ still hold fast in my mind as the first and most cleansing waters to hit me as the flood of broadband internet created new possibilities for self-directed learning and deeper metal induction. Now both bands return after long silence and with little notice in 2018. Having preened and pined over every second of Pantheist‘s discography, as a fan, up to and including 2011 I have to admit I met their fifth full-length, ‘Seeking Infinity’, with some amount of trepidation because I’d built personal associations with previous records and had some small anxiety that it’d be a different conception entirely from those first four records, which released with some regularity. There was certainly nothing to fret about and ‘Seeking Infinity’ is appropriately progressive (and nearly cumulative) in terms of Pantheist‘s discography.
I cannot even begin to touch upon ‘Seeking Infinity’ and it’s hour long progressive funeral death/doom trip without mentioning Events (Or Professor Losaline’s Extraordinary Journey into the Unknown) a 145 page story by vocalist/keyboardist Kostas Panagiotou (Towards Atlantis Lights, Landskap, Aphotic Threnody). Written along with the accompaniment of Panagiotou‘s solo EP ‘Chapters’ (2016) this science fiction essay was released to help fund the realization of ‘Seeking Infinity’. Still available to download Events… finds Panagiotou as a detailed writer, and likely reader, of observational and atmospheric-minded fiction who creates an easily parsed setting and clear imagery before delving into a heady, conceptual read. The narrative veers between bouts of wonder, paranoia, and a pointedly existential surrealism surrounding a professor’s stint as a test subject for a suspicious time travel machine and the complications that arise from it’s use. Perspective shifts between professor Losaline and his partner Rose throughout, and at times it feels as much like Asimov as it does Kesey. To understand how a few concepts explored in the story relate to ‘Seeking Infinity’ it would be prudent to buy the story along with the album.
I am not merely guessing when I suggest that many funeral doom fans bolted after the grand stylistic revision that happened beyond the band’s opus ‘Amartia’ (2005); This shift from extreme doom metal towards a progressive (and some would say gothic) form of doom metal was too bold of a departure for many but no more than the changes made by groups like My Dying Bride and funeral doom is no more or less sacred than death/doom. Rejoice either way as ‘Seeking Infinity’ appears as a return to the extreme doom metal pantheon, at least much closer to that early 00’s era of funeral doom exploration and some of the pacing and aggression heard on the project’s first two albums and demo. The thoughtful progressive metal elements instead come in restful moments rather than the leading thrust of the album, which largely uses death/doom metal to drive forward. Neofolk and progressive doom metal elements aren’t void, though, as Pantheist are simply balancing their old style amidst new ventures.
Panagiotou‘s brutally snarled vocals and ethereal keyboards lend both beauty and beast to ‘Seeking Infinity’ but a revised line-up brings a heavier, mid-paced rethinking of Pantheist‘s early concept delivered towards greater extremes. This record is different than their self-titled 2011 record, and much more powerful than I’d expected. Bassist Aleksej Obradović (ex-De Profundis) and drummer Daniel Neagoe (Eye of Solitude, Clouds, Shape of Despair, ex-Ennui) provide weighty and texturally satisfying structure for this death/doom re-birthing process featuring only Panagiotou from any past line-ups. Felt most immediately, and immensely, is the presence of guitarist Frank Allain who is best known as a founding member of atmospheric black metal band Fen; His performances are expectedly keen during the album’s quieter moments but his handling of meatier death/doom riffing was a nice surprise. That the album manages to be cumulative of the band’s history and smartly forward thinking despite the reversion to funeral doom metal’s sound is an admirable accomplishment and will undoubtedly win back many fans disenfranchised post-‘Amartia’.
As a longtime fan it is somewhat difficult to stay objective to certain aspects of ‘Seeking Infinity’ but I’m not about to pimp out a shoddy record simply because I recognize the band’s name. Even if this album had no history behind it it’d still hold up as a heavy extreme doom metal release with one of the better integrations of keyboard work I’ve heard in a while. Anyone who latched onto the brilliant, and similarly keyboard driven, Towards Atlantis Lights (also featuring Panagiotou) release from earlier this year will find a more balanced tracklist in terms of pacing; At the very least each song stays below the fifteen minute mark, and this is what I’d consider an ‘accessible’ threshold for extreme doom and one reason Pantheist have always been easy to get into. It doesn’t feel like a gothic doom record but it features some of the thickly layered sound of one; Nor does it feel like a pure funeral doom record yet ‘Seeking Infinity’ carries an ambiguous surrealistic sound characteristic of most celebrated leaders in funeral doom today.
So with this project’s forward-thinking approach pulling in cumulative minded works does it compare to ‘O Solitude’ and ‘Amartia’ at this point? Yes, in most ways it is at least their equal and appears even more balanced in terms of pacing. Where I lose some of the mystique comes in the ‘spoken word’ vocal parts but at the same time I understand their intended conveyance. After two months with ‘Seeking Infinity’ I can at the very least consider Pantheist among the contenders for the best funeral doom related releases of the year. Although I could eventually concede some room for improvement in terms of sonic fidelity, the mix needs some small re-balance, the whole of the band’s discography is greatly enriched by this record. Highly recommended.
Pain vanished in your presence. 4.25/5.0
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