When such thoughts had begun to torment him, would they ever completely stop? Didn’t they have to constantly increase? Weren’t they existence threatening?” Franz Kafka, First Sorrow

Seeing folks wear fresh furrows into their faces in response to the natural derailment of youthful ambition and optimism is no source of pleasure but a point of kinship, a necessary induction into the reality beyond ‘first world’ sensorial deprivation. The clobber of depression and anxiety is a natural symptom of the eldest social contract among men, a taming of ambitious ideals as perspective broadens and control loosens. In naming the emotional impetus for their ‘old school’ melodic death/doom metal approach Lithuanian quartet Sullen Guest refer to the trials and tribulations that halt and weigh upon all men as a visitor, a daimonian presence which personifies anguish, disillusionment and solitude. Conveying these emotions through aggressive yet sorrowful bouts of melody rich death/doom metal is first a catharsis and second a pyre of acknowledgement that’d spirit into tangible form the compression upon the neck that this daimon persists with. Their second full-length album, ‘Chapter III’, is admittedly a traditional approach to a certain classic era of death/doom metal development and though it isn’t an original conception note-for-note the conviction inherent and unfettered conveyance of emotion is sincere just short of becoming unhinged.

If I were aiming to sum up the progression of style within the three release discography of this Vilnius-based project it’d essentially go from The Gathering to October Tide. Sullen Guest began with a tentative line-up that’d played a distinctly gothic form of metal on ‘Will you greet the Sullen Guest as an old friend?‘ (2015) an EP largely perceived as ‘generic’ as it recalled the sort of beauty and the beast era of gothic metal in the 2000’s. The main composers would soon decide it made sense to focus on a different sound and that meant the female-fronted start of the band would find a new line-up for their debut full-length (‘IIIIXXI‘, 2018) which’d begin to explore a sound that essentially hits upon the early Peaceville Records death/doom paradigm without losing the death metal push which early releases inspired by that movement contained. The main comparison to make from that point on is October Tide, a personal favorite of mine in terms of developing a broadly emulated lead guitar voice and atmospheric standard beyond ‘Brave Murder Day’ before it. With that said there is some nuance to discern from that, specifically hints of Tiamat‘s ‘Clouds’, My Dying Bride‘s ‘Towards the Sinister‘ tape, and of course just enough of that early Katatonia sound to keep me engaged with the full listen. I cannot emphasize the “melodic” side of the band too much, they stop short of the well-hidden classics who’d founded variations upon originators in the late 90’s. Sullen Guest aren’t as “melodic death” as Infernal GatesFrom the Mist of Dark Waters‘, nor do they employ heavy keyboards into melodies as in bands like Etherial Winds or Selefice. Yes, I mention these albums for the sake of name-dropping them but also to illustrate a hesitance to stray from strictly non-gothic melodic death/doom parameters and keep their grip upon an early 90’s melodic death/doom metal presence. The short way to get there is ‘Tunnel of No Light’ but you will note small touches of ‘Dance of December Souls’ once in a while. The suggestion is that if you like any of these things, ‘Chapter III’ will make good sense without necessarily surpassing the determined songcraft of old classics.

“Nothing Will Be Forgotten” immediately speaks to the suggested era of expressive trepidation, rolling comfortably into existential dread without losing sight of doom’s looming pace and death metallic battery. This is immediately impressive for the sake of there being no bullshit introduction, no skirting around implied identity, just diving right into the core despair of the album out the gates and delivering it beautifully. By getting right to ‘the point’ Sullen Guest subvert the expectation of pomp and filler, catching the right ear for their sound from the opening moments and essentially filling the next ~45 minutes with wall to wall melodic death/doom. One of the most enduring qualities of ‘Dance of December Souls’ is the unexpected twists and turns it takes, this sense of narrative defiance of inevitable doom that reads as willful as often as it does defeated; “Nothing Will Be Forgotten” is a sharp study of this dynamic, eventually kicking into gear around the ~4:50 minute mark and growing more turbulent beyond. It is an interest prospect to dive into because what is certainly a ‘genre entry’ statement yet bears some appreciable character for the sake of meeting a high standard and producing subtle-yet-memorable works. “Dewfall” adheres to this philosophy of finding a hook or textural resonance with immediacy and working with it directly, this time presenting a quite simple lead guitar melody and expanding upon it with shocks of death metal riffing as a complimentary arc persists into the second verse of the piece. This is where the comparison to October Tide and specifically Fredrik Norrman‘s signature guitar work becomes most evident. There are few classics-bearing bands that still manage this level of hook (in this style) without a self-conscious twist applied, maybe Officium Triste or Mourning Beloveth, so in this sense Sullen Guest have made their case within the first fourteen minutes of ‘Chapter III’.

Every piece is well placed in order, each song includes a memorable hook or riff, and throughout the full listen each member gets a moment to shine or at least provide key presence. The bass guitar presence is nicely set in the mix, though this is a small touch in terms of what the melodic death/doom metal audience is looking for there are moments where it becomes vital. “Limbonic Perdition” is the most profound example where the bass is a key presence not only for the main verses but for transitioning between its intense death metal moments and the spiraling doom riffs that help the piece to stand out. It is hard to pick a favorite piece on such a consistent album but I found myself somewhat stunned by “Limbonic Perdition” as an exemplar piece where Sullen Guest births an even more confident voice. In fact despite all of the upfront value ‘Chapter III’ provides the second half of the record generally makes for an even stronger Side B with the single “Samsara” an interesting piece which suggests a sort of resolve unto impermanence which is indicated by the fantastic cover art/painting from Lithuanian artist Arūnas Staugaitis. If there was one sort of “filler” moment of the lot it’d probably be the instrumental closer “October Lullaby” yet this piece circles back around to the start of the album with such ease that I could hardly fault its extending the runtime another five minutes.

When reflecting upon the experience Sullen Guest presents with ‘Chapter III’ the full listen is generally pristine and each song justifies its existence with a high standard maintained throughout. I wouldn’t say the style or songwriting is deeply original but the emotion and atmosphere conveyed is entirely professional in capture and seems sincere in resonance. When I’d first approached the album I’d felt that perhaps it would be average, amateurish or just a plain sub-genre entry kind of record but I’d chalk that up to the niche for ‘Chapter III’ being quite obvious for good reason, they’re a shining example of this style which avoids the gothic spectrum of death/doom which I personally find distasteful in most cases. If you are not a fan of the melodic death/doom metal niche in its most classic format or you’ve moved onto the ultra-modernity of it all perhaps it’d be easy to pass on Sullen Guest yet I’d found thier second album enchanting, hypnotic, memorable and entirely easy to pick up and enjoy on repeat. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Metallurg Music
RELEASE DATE:February 25th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [February 25th]
GENRE(S):Death/Doom Metal,
Melodic Death/Doom Metal

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