“What should I say on the shore of a small dead sea…” in response to the fading imprints left in the sand by the supposed pious, the good-willed torchbearers, and all other manner of fraught memory keepers. Without question New York City’s Winter was a fluke, a bolt from the blue extreme doom metal band that’d find their sound quickly, iterate once or twice, and leave a powerful crater behind after just over four years of activity in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was the right time and place to innovate and their ‘Into Darkness’ tape surely helped to shape death/doom metal from that point forward and no doubt you can hear their unforgiving, bleak atmospherics aimed-for in the earliest attempts at funeral doom metal in the early 90’s as well. When the news that a ‘spiritual successor’ to Winter was on the way from original guitarist Stephen Flam (ex-Serpentine Path) I instantly, perhaps naively, trusted that Göden‘s realization would directly recall the primitive Hellhammer-charged death/doom metal of ‘Into Darkness’ (1990) on ‘Beyond Darkness’ yet there is next to nothing that truly (read: stylistically) connects the two pieces, which are separated by a lifetime here thirty years beyond. For the sake of approaching this album for what it is rather than what it has been said to be, I’ll start by rabidly balking at the idea that ‘Beyond Darkness’ is meaningfully relevant to the past, at least not in any linear sense.
After Winter split in 1992 Flam formed avant-garde industrial rock band Thorn alongside two members of crust punk band Nausea (NY). The project was not intensely popular when their ‘Bitter Potion‘ full-length released on Roadrunner‘s oddly open-minded ’95 release schedule (including Shelter and Screamin’ Mother). I only mention this because the first time I’d read about Winter in a magazine was in a very dissatisfied review for the sole Thorn album as the writer particularly hated the tribal, droning, industrial-goth sound and walking pace of the album while insisting ‘Into Darkness’ was an unsung classic. It wouldn’t be until 2003 (or so) during the build-up to a post-reissue reunion when Flam began writing some of the earliest Göden material; “Glowing Red Sun” was the first complete piece and the chosen beginning for the ~80 minute extreme doom metal experience, there you’ll get the only crystal clear nods to ‘Into Darkness’ on its nine minute long jam. Keyboardist Tony Pinnisi brings back some of the haunting presence of 1990 to some satisfactory degree and session drummer Vic Pullen performs the nods to “Servants of the Warsmen” effectively. Without belaboring the point, I’m sorry to say the album completely misses the intended successor mark beyond this instrumental kick-off. ‘Beyond Darkness’ is a fine extreme doom metal (or, avant-funeral doom) album just certainly not musically connected to the tectonic grinding of the past.
From the moment “Twilight” rolls out the mood briefly feels like a throwback to late 90’s funeral doom metal, something akin to early Mordor or Quercus‘ demos but as soon as Vas Kallas‘ (Hanzel und Gretyl) vocals struggle forth the mood shifts towards the realm of slow-motion goth metal. I realize the irony of separating funeral doom metal and ‘slow motion’ goth metal is rich but, without meaningfully above-par definition from Flam‘s guitar (who shares duties with several session members) riffs it feels more like an early 90’s black metal band covering Mystic Charm‘s ‘Shadows of the Unknown‘, and poorly. To each their own, I know that might sound amazing to some but it really only gels together with something special about a third of the time on a very (very) long album. A couple more directly relate to the Winter reunion writing sessions back in the day, and no doubt if you stick to those (“Dark Nebula”, “Night”) you will find the spirit of old in there beneath the slow grind of the guitars and dramatic whisper-spoken vocals but in terms of expectations set, ‘Beyond Darkness’ is certainly a disappointment on every level beyond being slow and menacing. When taken for what it actually is, a high-concept outsider funeral doom metal record created on the cheap between a village of old friends, there is yet some worthwhile value in the experience.
The scratched-out logo font, the early 2000’s bedroom ambient black metal timbre of the recording, the ten minutes of between-track spoken word interludes narrating the enraged descendants of Goden and their displeasure with the state of their Earth, we all know this record is headed for a bargain bin both misunderstood and rife with exciting trivia to be discovered later on (such as Thorns and ex-Soulfly drummer Roy Mayorga engineering the recording.) It’ll be a big ask to suggest you first don’t think about Winter and overlook the breathy, snarled and incessant vocals within but with some level of indoctrination the more bristling aspects of ‘Beyond Darkness’ warm into a strikingly performative album, a funeral doom narrative that rants and stumbles like a very excited science fiction author offering their latest world-building at a reading. Billed as “an existential voyage out of the past and into the future” the core experience is not the doom-crush riffs or any sort of flashy production but rather the expansion of the storyline that matters most when considering what Göden might offer beyond undelivered nostalgia. The full listen is ridiculously over the top, overstretched, and idiosyncratic to the point of questionable taste yet I think that is why it did eventually grow on me, first as background music I’d tried to avoid, and then some more attentive listening aimed at figuring the lore and strange voice of this grand, dramatic hour plus event.
My gut reaction too ‘Beyond Darkness’ feels all-too-familiar based on my experiences with Mordor‘s second album ‘Csejthe‘, where my initial disgust was so extreme that it’d actually serve as the main reason to return to the piece a number of times and re-experience that shuddering “No.” moment. I’d say the same about Triptykon and even Вой‘s classic ‘Кругами вечности‘ where each became a compelling object of study that’d allow some greater appreciation for different moods, sub-genre specific textural ideals, and the bigger idea that avant-garde music can be subtle in its appeal. In Göden‘s case the musical detective in me hasn’t found much more than a profound appreciation for the strange extremism of the project as the music itself still evades a resonant space in my mind. There are a few parts that recall the keyboard heavy sections of ‘Quietus‘ briefly but even that is a bit of a stretch. Can you appreciate avant-artistry and participate even if the art is potentially less than expected or below your standards? If so, I’d recommend ‘Beyond Darkness’ to folks who are looking for extreme doom metal with an old hand, an odd touch, and an otherworldly tale of esoterica to whisper wretchedly in their ear. To most anyone else I’d give a moderate or average recommendation for Göden‘s debut with the caveat that no banked nostalgia credits will be redeemed.
Moderate recommendation. 3.0/5.0
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