Choked of their memories after dousing in the river Lethe and set to the pastures of mediocrity to suffer, the grand neutral nothingness that the Asphodel Meadows represent in comparison to the alternative of the Elysian Fields was itself a representation of Hades within divided, war-bound times. Neutrality was a wretched fate described for those who’d be manipulated into a warrior’s death for the sake of community, culture and the zealous conquer of Greece. As any great era of man begins to topple this division of all populace into two great extremes is both predictable as a point of great death and it has been one step towards apocalyptic times with each revolution of unrest and unsustainable commune. That the world becomes legally too-stoned with each passing year combined with the whitewashing of culture and human distinction creates this benign sense of ‘haven’ on Earth for so many. To live among bland idealists and violent extremists and walk uncaring of all is already a curse upon an active, yearning mind and therein lies the self-militarisation of the fool by threat of neutrality. Answering the call of doom and yearning for greater feeling in their world Hamina, Finland death/doom metal project Cemetery Fog were a force ignited beyond their inception in 2012 with three fantastically earthen extreme doom demos recalling the old gods releasing to great acclaim in 2013. What would culminate with the release of the skin-flaying depress of ‘Towards the Gate’ EP in 2014 would set the band unto silence until they’d resurface in 2016 as the now proven Asphodel, a bold venture towards deeper emotional resonance through equally nostalgic melodic death/doom metal tones.
If you’re familiar with ‘Towards the Gates’ it had a bit of pre-Gothic metal Tiamat‘s atmospheric death/doom feeling of which the natural peak was perhaps Katatonia‘s most vital work ‘Dance of December Souls’. Lets us not beat around the bush, everything about Asphodelus‘ debut full-length resurrects that old coffin spirit with the rough edges of ‘Jhva Elohim Meth’ yet in tact. This has been done, poorly, in the past by a variety of unqualified bands and I’d suggest that Asphodelus give new life to ancient sorrow with a vital hint of the Varathron-esque (see: ‘Walpurgisnacht’) black metal that had also infested the darker corners of Cemetery Fog‘s final EP. If you were more keen than I have been to follow this new locus of these Finnish doomed-kin their first EP, ‘Dying Beauty & the Silent Sky’, from 2016 had already fully expressed this conceptual shift while their ‘Lamentation of the Lost Soul’ (2017) demo (and the resultant EP ‘The Veil Between the World’) made the ‘Dance of December Souls’ affect entirely forward. ‘Stygian Dreams’ comes as a welcome entry into this sweet spot of melodic death/doom metal that had never sated with the ‘right’ sensibilities applied previous.
The attempts weren’t so much mediocre but under duress of death ‘n roll and we’d been served records like ‘Amok’ instead of something better than Pyogenesis‘ ‘Sweet X-Rated Nothings’ or the entirely valid ‘Incessant Desire for Palatable Flesh’ from Visceral Evisceration. To be clear Asphodelus isn’t a ‘Brave Murder Day’ or ‘Rain Without End’ sort of band and the album isn’t driven by saccharine gothic rock beats and sour lead guitars; The core of their sound is primarily death/doom metal with a small hint of black metal a la Elysian Fields ‘Adelain’ piping in on a few tracks (see: “Sleep of Eternity”). There is a jagged early 90’s feeling to the work and none of it is performed with any gloss or need for perfect takes, this absolutely helps crack the ‘code’ of what made the earliest work from Katatonia (and Varathron for that matter) feel special and earnest. If you are a fan of this type of music no doubt you are already swimming to this new utopian island to brood and droop under its majesty, it is a niche so rarely fed with tasteful entry.
Trepidation that I’d hyped over style and not substance melted as the black sun of “Scent of Venus” warmed my chest and chilled my mind with the torpor of sorrow. I’m just that susceptible to the melodrama that this type of music resonates between majestic, building riff and dysthymic lead guitars that drip with gothic disintegration. Asphodelus nail the keyboards here either with ‘retro’ tonal sense or just appropriately analog sounding ‘ethereal’ choices that trigger the Greek black metal senses I’ve honed as a fan. ‘Stygian Dreams’ is a dirty, jagged record all the same it has a rawness that keeps any moment of its 43 minutes from dragging into cloying affect. The full listen is a triumph that won me over in the middle of the second listen as a flood of records I’d loved in the mid-to-late 90’s sprang back into view and seemed a bit cheap compared to this sparkling-yet-grimy rendition. There is a depth on offer beyond the resemblance to ‘Dance of December Souls’ though I don’t think it’ll take much more than that to convince many to give this a listen. That said I will offer the caveat that the lyrics are essentially all poems from Goethe, Milton, Dante, Nietzsche, etc. and while I appreciate the selection of these pieces I’d rather the lyrics were written by the band. Kind of a meaningless gripe but worth a mention.
This is the sort of thing I naturally covet for the personal moments, be it inspiration or despair, that it inspires and I suppose if you have no nostalgia or understanding of what tiny niche it evokes, ‘Stygian Dreams’ isn’t guaranteed to strike you down into ecstasy as it did me. Old and rotten melodic death/doom with a slight blackened edge is such a jam for my tastes when the gothic affect isn’t overblown or cheap, there is a fine line achieved by Asphodelus that I admire and highly recommend. Very high recommendation. For preview the closest thing to a “Without God” moment is perhaps the opener “Lamentation of the Lost Soul” but I’d most highly recommend the pairing of “The Scent of Venus” and the unexpected blackened rips of “Sleep of Eternity”.
Floating in the river of death. 4.5/5.0
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