KRAKEN DUUMVIRATE – The Stars Below, The Seas Above (2020)REVIEW

Wherein our protagonist realizes his belonging to this sea of infinity finds him in a cold and unwelcome, nigh intoxicating lonesome — Sonar without returning satellite, a vastness that’d serve impenetrable by weakening volley of signal, all cries of extinction and loss become that of lone tumbling trees in desiccated forests. Cold, harsh, taxing and vast in motion the surrealistic characteristics of deep space and sea are likewise serious tenets of true funeral doom metal which, in purest form, is heavily slowed “gothic” doom metal whittled to core thesis of the individual expressed. Hind-throated vocal and trailing psychedelic guitar delay characterize the Finnish origins of the niche but this doesn’t narrow the basal trait of what is both intentionally experimental and emotional music. ‘The Stars Below, The Seas Above‘, the debut album from Finnish duo Kraken Duumvirate, is elemental in this sense as it naturally evokes the eldest classics and the quiet lineage upheld since. As a general personal rule, appreciation of the sub-genre doesn’t rest in traditional style points but in continuity between atmosphere and narration — This is where I’d suggest simpler ideas become grand resonances in the hands of the long-standing project.

The notion that we might learn from the past grows frail in ear as I’d plumb the first (‘From the Dying Soil to the Eternal Sea‘, 2008) and second (‘The Astroglyphs of the Ritual of Deluge‘, 2011) formative EP releases from this anonymous (eh, pseudonym bearing) duo who use Lovecraftian character in description of their actions bearing gills, tentacles, quills, sextants, etc. What could be pulled from those years-passed acts was perhaps some black metal rooting, based on some vocal tendencies in early technique and choice of record label. A love of cyclic, calming and looping ideas that bear some advent and complexity becomes most apparent on that second EP where the wanderlust inherently overtakes the assumption of a miserable mood. A grand scale is intended but a sense for a ‘worn’ idea is noted. The guiding force is then avant-garde rather than emotional to start — Simply illustrating the deep sea slumber conjured is a goal met. To receive a full-length album, which is immediately far more professional and considered than past works, here nine years later provides good enough reason to let past works drift away silently; Not to forget them, mind you, but to admit the relevance of the past is almost completely null. Make your own choice in that regard, they are fine EPs.

‘The Stars Below, The Sea Above’ will undoubtedly get its earliest rise from fans of Shape of Despair and won’t attract the death metal leaning crowds at the edges of funeral death/doom conglomeration. When a precision lens is applied, some Worship-esque pacing and lead guitar work is noted but Kraken Duumvirate manage their own idiosyncratic forms void of pronounced keyboard/synth focus and (again) with some strong use of delay on lead guitar, written for the looping motion and created specifically for the waveform’s size. This is a key realization and the most important nuance in that the ouroboros created must be acknowledged by an active listener for certain pieces to land at all. “The Temple” is perhaps the skeleton key in this sense as the shortest and most available waveform to appear beyond the album-selling opening piece, “Star Spawn”. Whether or not the heavy use of tripped-out and long-delayed guitar triangulation proves itself annoying or enthralling will be decided within a few of listens; I’ve been a self-professed funeral doom fanatic since roughly 2001 and found the continuity of the guitar patternation here is more interesting than at least ~80% of the nonsensical wandering hand employed by artists in the niche yet it doesn’t do enough to “carry” the experience with technique. Notes appear with purpose, not performance.

As with Shades of Deep Water‘s most recent record a the directional suggestion of a guitar progression (see: “Star Spawn”) is enough to pull the listener into a much larger conceptual piece yet as we’ve more or less established at this point, ‘The Stars Below, The Sea Above’ is not a guitar album per se and certainly not a “riff album”. Between each larger song lies ~4 minute interludes tending towards ominous space synth and dark ambient, each fittingly evocative of the pinging wealth of sonar layers that characterize the four main pieces that make up the album; These numbered “interludes” are perhaps as important for the narrative of the album, establishing changes of pace and illustrating the expanse of the unknown. Over on Side B the title track brings clean guitar progressions that appear influenced by classical guitar shaping, slowed tarantella that dust up some light before descending into the album’s most nightmarish lunge. The descent towards the bassline’s vignette around ~6:35 minutes into the song eventually eases towards madness, screaming at apex with incessant whispering before, during and after. Unpleasant as this sermon via the elder gods is, it manages a contextually appropriate descent. In reflection I’d have to lean towards disliking the track as music despite appreciating the meaningful place it fills within the album’s greater arc. “Queen, Arise” is then an ascending motif ad nauseum, the wriggling worm towards the surface reminding me that some great patience is needed to really apply oneself to hour-long funeral doom records. It proves grand and poignant in piecing together the narrative of the album while also presenting a satisfying progression, yearning but grand and blanketed in balmy, guttural whispers. We end on a high note, an ancient fully awakened.

To approach Kraken Duumvirate expecting a slithering, obviate mindflayer and instead be driven insane by the spacious, empty haunt the ivory temple presents is ultimately an rare ecstasy of form suiting function. One cannot escape the sound design resembling a hyper-evolved Thergothon at face value, and there may yet be more appropriate resemblances, yet the seated and strumming psychedelia of it all means ‘The Stars Below, The Seas Above’ is never strenuous or brutal in motion. It haunts with very “human” notions of otherwordly aura. The ease of its movement is what will unseat the listener, unsettled and sickened by the feeling that what comes is yet unavoidable and all further actions are senseless. This dreadful torpor, hallucinogenic and swaying in sight does eventually prove itself exactly suitable and fine funeral doom metal but perhaps too far-sighted to ever see the coffin, too grand to feel morbid. The connection between dread-inducing peak depressive doom and the wilderness of the unknown makes great sense in reflection, yet it continues to feel unnatural for the solitude of the stars to feel so pleasant, so oddly thrilling. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (76/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Stars Below, The Seas Above
LABEL(S):Silent Future Recordings
RELEASE DATE:October 16th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Funeral Doom Metal,
Kosmik Ambient

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