Drowning deep in the ink of the Mavronéri — An eternity without death and well beyond human existence curses him. The ear longs for anything but the wind’s painful frozen voice and the unhealing scar it leaves upon the mind, he can only wander about the ruins in the dark with no sun to warm or light this nothingness. All is frozen and miles deep yet the warrior mind and empathetic heart can neither numb to the torture of physical pain nor mental duress via memories of the long buried past; Solitude cuts deepest without rest from their haunting. Bleakest winter stillness and the slowest setting of the sun served as prime inspiration nearly a full decade ago as (now) quite well-revered musician Phil Tougas (Chthe’ilist, Cosmic Atrophy, ex-Zealotry) would take a stab at funeral doom metal circa 2012, writing an album as inspiration struck him and then shelving it until it made sense for the Québec-based muso to realize it. In terms of rendering the finest possible outcome that matched his greater vision, it’d been worth the wait. And this hiatus makes quite a bit of sense, that year funeral doom metal had reached a new peak in terms of popularity and artistry, a breaking point for some artists and a new dawn for ambitious folks twisting auld forms into new atmospheric extremity. This debut, ‘Stygian‘, is a testament to funeral doom metal’s currency as extreme underground music no matter what year, or how ambitious it may be — There is a timeless shuddering of the senses incurred upon the full listen that will undoubtedly translate to anyone who’d first experienced this unrepentant form of extreme doom metal circa the early 90’s in it’s infancy or for the first time recently. With some patience Atramentus‘ character will catch you off guard, grip with unyielding strength and drown away the aspirations of the ‘soul’. Hurry then, and savor your last breath.
Considering Tougas has made his mark with almost exclusively technical death metal applications, be they ‘old school’ or modern, it does feel like a record like this either would’ve been shelved for not meeting personal goals at the time or for the sake of it not being ready to matter in the right hands. Thanks to publications like Decibel and Revolver funeral doom metal would find its largest voice in 2012 due to the emergent high-visibility of Evoken, Ahab, Aldebaran and a very fresh-faced Bell Witch gelling quite well with the popular post-metal sensibilities of the time while more projects began reaching a fever pitch in terms of artistic focus and new mutant forms (see: Lycus). This spike in popularity may have nothing to do with Tougas‘ inspiration, though, as his songwriting on ‘Stygian’ is much more in line with the Finnish spectrum of funeral doom via Skepticism, (early) Tyranny, and Profetus with a focus on dark ambiance I would vaguely liken to Ysigim or ‘Odes’ & ‘Csjethe’-era Mordor; Something a bit more cavernous and cathedralesque than the current norm but not compressed as an auld classic in the sub-genre might’ve been (see: Thergothon, early Esoteric). There is no death metal here, no gigantic riffs or barreling-forth momentum express and this should reveal itself in the eldest tradition of the funeral doom genre, inaccessible unless you’ve been long-seated within the devastation it conveys — Just as electrolytes mean nothing to a well-hydrated body, funeral doom means nothing to a well-tended mind and there will be no healing light at the end of whatever tunnel you’ve shambled into.
What do you get from listening to funeral doom? Seasoned folks tend to vouch for the extremity of the experience, emotional strain, poetic depth, grittiness, lo-fi candor, and steadfast scene-appropriate sound design… Most of which modern funeral doom variants avoid for the sake of focusing on pacing, maximalism, and inferred melodic progression. Atramentus sits somewhere in the middle of these worlds as the render of this album is generally without quirk for most of the experience, leaving the sonic depth of the full listen to speak loudest and letting the idiosyncratic nature of these compositions shine darkest on the final piece “Stygian III – Perennial Voyage (Across The Perpetual Planes of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)” where the suggested tie-in with Chthe’ilist‘s previous EP ‘Passage into the Xexanotth’ (in terms of lore, narrative) is at least hinted via even more boldly expressed (assumedly) pitch-shifted vocals. This ~23 minute piece is where some true interest and experience with classic funeral doom shows most readily in the artist’s hands, knowing that the album needs a signature texture and then expanding upon it with monastic chorales for the grand midst of the piece. It is a genius moment that lasts for half of the duration of the album yet generally speaking, it is the only piece that stands out like a grand monolith of devastation amongst the currently quite high standards of funeral doom metal artistry.
“Stygian I – From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth The Ceaseless Darkness)” isn’t a dud, though, and I don’t want to suggest it is a banal piece in any sense yet it doesn’t reach for any movements that aren’t better served via the masters in (2000’s) Tyranny or elsewhere in the past. Yes, it is quite well performed between members of Chthe’ilist, Sutrah, and Gevurah but also quite the typical song if you tend towards a certain circle of artists within funeral doom’s not-yet fully expansive membership. It is a reductive observation on my part, sure, but for the sake of knowing the project is absolutely capable of their own signature in moving away from the comfort of quite typical church organ-grinding funeral doom metal. Very impressive sound design helps to put a best foot forward ah via self-recording techniques from drummer Xavier Berthiaume and a final render via Greg Chandler who’d given a similar expanse to Convocation‘s most recent record as well. Does the professional capture, lofty conceptual narrative, gorgeous art direction (cover via Mariusz Lewandowski) translate to a valuable and full listening experience?
Yes, without hesitation this is a very fine funeral doom metal album that does not intend to shatter the increasingly listenable norms that define the sub-genre today. It is emotionally damning, thrillingly designed, and completely immersive as this sort of record can be without straying from classic forms too radically. That said, I do not know if it’d be fair to consider it a plain ‘genre entry’ release in the slightest as the modern aspects of Tougas‘ composition and performance are well-above average standards. ‘Stygian’ certainly doesn’t feel like a bedroom project or even a side-project for that matter and if it must be approached as a ‘debut showing promise’ the listening experience unveils as if it were sourced from the engine of a well-seasoned project. Is it the go-to funeral doom metal release for 2020? We’ll see at this point, at the very least it is one of the easiest to recommend to folks who’re looking for the classic style of funeral doom metal enhanced with a modern cleanliness while still retaining bit of it’s own brazen point of view. The only pre-qualifier I’d lob at folks approaching ‘Stygian’ blind is to not expect atmospheric death metal or a funeral death/doom hybrid. A high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||20 Buck Spin|
|RELEASE DATE:||August 21st, 2020|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
|GENRE(S):||Funeral Doom Metal|
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