CAVERNOUS GATE – Voices From a Fathomless Realm (2022)REVIEW

The amethyst-glowing madness of ancient graves catches the curious eye in silhouette, an alluring terror shining from the deep which speaks directly to a natural curiosity for the past found only in the most astute diviner. Knowing nothing but sorrow, eternal twilight amongst shades and ghasts, will accompany the dark romanticist inclination to delve the protagonist yet persists in their irrational, fascinated burrowing. Unearthing a classicist modus in contemporary form the lurking-deep gothic metal influenced haunt of German atmospheric death/doom metal act Cavernous Gate aims to depict the underworld approach in vivid witness on this debut double LP. ‘Voices From a Fathomless Realm‘ is a glorious thing to behold for the sake of how inadvisably ambitious it is and how well the artist pulls off its hourlong, somewhat non-traditional action with some sense of self achieved throughout. The rough edges, outsized notions and heartily dramatic scene-setting within all manage notable development of character, as a debut should, while showcasing an inspired and dreaming-big sort of event which largely delivers on its premise.

Cavernous Gate is a solo project from German musician Sebastian Körkemeier (Helrunar) who’d introduced the project with a split release circa 2019 alongside the most recent output from Marcus Stock‘s brilliant Sun of the Sleepless where the dark romanticist Ulver influenced eerie of each band paired well, though Cavernous Gate were otherwise interested in conveying the aggressive concatenation of 90’s death metal aggression in bursts, sutured within gothic and melodic death/doom metal dramatism and making for outsized shapes that’d probably benefitted from learning Sun of the Sleepless/Empyrium material as a live performer. The split LP was substantial, remarkable even, and I wouldn’t say Körkemeier has veered away from the precedent set therein in approach of his debut full-length. Employing similarly heavy use of layered keyboards and appreciably crafted vocal patternation, which often rises to solemn choral cleans on pulpit to writhing beast in description of horrors, we find a true expansion of the original idea down to every last detail of this hourlong record.

British extreme doom and Swedish death metal influences are implied as the skeletal array informing this somewhat oversized introduction but not reflected too directly in the album in motion, the “heavy rock” influence of each suggested elder sphere is superseded by modern interpretation of atmospheric death/doom metal, though most will understand the My Dying Bride and perhaps Katatonia-esque lilt of certain pieces and the dynamic of ethereal ‘funereal’ aspect next to the occasional bout of grinding, aggressive death metal thrusting. ‘Voices From a Fathomless Realm‘ is a classicist notion, or, modus through-and-through per the old ways when looking at its blueprint of kinematic motion but the expression itself is only genetically linked, we can consider this contemporary death/doom metal and should perhaps look to most recent The Ruins of Beverast release for some parity of gothic affect and high-fidelity production values otherwise. One could certainly dredge through the history of melodic death/doom metal for similar ebb and patternation between simpler death metal and elaborately stated gothic metal but the main virtue of Cavernous Gate is the cinematic elevation from which they depict the scenery imagined, the silhouette of a grimdark realm seen through straining eyes which the album concerns itself with — Imaginative depiction of setting is inarguably where the work stands out most.

At a glance, or as cursory as possible a first listen, ‘Voices From a Fathomless Realm‘ reads as either a personal experiment or an almost ridiculously ambitious undertaking and this especially pings in mind once the ~9-10 minute pieces begin to roll in. “Old Graves Stir” opens with surreal nigh progressive death-doom metal intent, eventually moldering within icy ethereal keyboards and descriptions of rotten procession to the underworld, giving the impression of chasmic space by way of reverb and choral vocal, well-considered sonic texture and layering which fans of Empyrium and their label output since the mid-2000’s will immediately appreciate (see: narration on “Through the Morass”). It’d seem the whole event is geared towards an almost funeral tone, somber and surreal ’til the last third of the song picks up into a double-bass drum kicked pulse wherein we are eventually greeted by whammy dives, simple death metal guitar progressions, and an extended growl or two. With consideration for the waking of ancient ghostly figures from a rotten crypt which occurs in narrative, the opener feels appropriate and impressive in its atmospheric reach but as a complete sixth of the listening experience it certainly demands patience up front.

Without diluting the sophisticated level of composition herein the actual death metal bits which crop up in similar fashion throughout the album begin to recall what Crematory (Germany) were doing (or, trying to do) back in the early-to-mid 90’s with ‘Transmigration‘ and ‘…Just Dreaming‘. Those were perhaps typical gothic metal influenced death metal records for their time but still tied to the roots of death metal’s early popularity, or, attempting to emulate it without much rhythm guitar insight. The full death metal swings which Cavernous Gate sets in feature on most of the longer pieces on their debut have a similarly flat affect, making something tuneful out of a very dead thing while understanding it must read as morbid, imposing or tragic to work at all. The pure death metal interest on this record will be hit-or-miss depending on your own inclinations/expectations for the riff.

As we dive into the next three pieces the album graces the patient listener its major argument by way of its biggest scenery, starting with the bombast unto glowing atmospheric dread that kicks off “Conjuration”, the first piece to produce confrontational and chunking rhythm guitar work on the level of “Those Who Walk the Fog” from the split LP yet we don’t quite get there with the riff, it grinds and hangs in repetition in an ugliest sort of way. Thankfully standout piece “A World in Shade” produces quaint yet aggressive rhythm guitar substance for its duration, paired well with ghostly keyboards and a meandering lead guitar thread. As the song builds up to its mid-section, what I believe is the fastest paced point on the album, my main issue with the album becomes most clear; Many of the best songs on ‘Voices From a Fathomless Realm‘ arrive with a myriad set of ideas, strong atmosphere and eerie cohesion of oddly-aligned parts yet when it comes time to deliver the big reveal, or, simply to lift the curtain on the cleverness of the piece there is rarely any satisfying follow-through. This is largely an issue of rhythm guitar interest, as I realize the doom metal shape that hits at the peak of “A World in Shade” isn’t much of a payoff for all of the tension built. The main reason it worked on the split LP and drains of austerity here I believe lies in some of the black/death metal guitar techniques employed on those earlier pieces.

“The Artefact” soon shows up to ease the feeling of a non-statement and the overall effect of the full listen is not lost, yet I feel the magic begins to dry up within one too many pieces going forward, including a few oddly placed dungeon synth/fantasy ambient strolls which cluster around the otherwise impressive “The Turning Veil”. Though I’d felt like the full listen could’ve used a good ~10 minutes shaved off, it’d still be an imposing and largely immersive fifty minute experience. The exciting luster of the full listen would eventually dull in mind after about spins, and less due to the excessive and ambitious showing (which is yet impressive) but moreso for the somewhat dry delivery on tension that it serves at key peaking moments. This may very well be a non-issue for fans of funeral death/doom, non post-music infused atmospheric death/doom, and melodic death/doom metal fans interested in a sort of enlightened, austere dark fantasy “gothic” metal touch. There is a satisfying balance of 90’s high-minded romanticist amateur ambition in the character of ‘Voices From a Fathomless Realm‘ which doesn’t directly pander to nostalgia so much as it reflects inspired modus. I’ll remain a gargoyle on the scaffolding, fangs-out interested to see where the artist goes with this idea next, hopefully iteration as I don’t see any major changes needed to this illustrative style beyond some tightening up of the death metal rhythms into complete, expository statements. For now, a haunting and appreciably ambitious record that entertains at a high standard nonetheless. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Voices From a Fathomless Realm
LABEL(S):Prophecy Productions
RELEASE DATE:October 14th, 2022

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