The slow-burning nature of the apocalypse as it is posited in geologic time doesn’t necessarily factor into any available mystified death cult’s followership and their incomplete version of futurity, a regressive herd unto their own cyclic vexation per an ancient stubbornness. It takes mythos and grand sparks of imagination indoctrinated from youth to convince the otherwise sentient that their future isn’t defined by apocalyptic doom, though it is written exactly as such. The in-bred denial available will see humanity reduced to a fatal scrambling of rats away from the coming storm of burning, drowning and suffocating cataclysmic death across the Earth an into mortal combat with one another. You, an intellectual, are better served accepting the nihil of the situation outright and fortifying the malleable and adaptive self in order to enrich the remaining days, months and years before it all ends. For their fourth full-length album Finnish psychedelic death/doom metal troupe Astral Sleep healthily process the coming apocalypse from all angles, leaving the point of why one should/shouldn’t care fully open amidst these droning yet melodious doom metal pieces. ‘We Are Already Living in the End of Times‘ admirably changes the tone and affect of their work for the sake of a deeply focused and decidedly different record than the last while also touting and carrying the deep oeuvre developed over the last nineteen or so years.
Since I’d extensively covered most of the discography and general history of Astral Sleep as I’d perceive it in my review of their third full-length album (‘Astral Doom Musick’, 2020) it bears some repeating that that particular album served as an important point of reintroduction, new traits which manifested through cumulative consideration. The funereal, psychedelic, and melodious would harmonize on that album in an uncanny way which was further set apart from the herd by their signature layered vocals and vinyl packaging which also included a board game custom designed for the experience. As much as this troupe’s work has been a unique admixture of various styles which’d readily evolved over time their work has always focused on representing the evolving mind in reflection, the trait of the seeker of knowledge and actualization to take stock and find meaning in experience. That insatiable quality likewise stands out as strong characteristic on this fourth full-length, only the mood has shifted to suit the downtrodden sojourn ahead. The future is bleak but we should not be deterred from finding meaning in our wholly doomed state.
The cover art for ‘We Are Already Living in the End of Times‘ per Mark Cooper depicts the last concert human beings manage at the end of their habitable world, an apocalyptic scene which almost has a modern thrash metal feeling to its style if not for the greyscale palette which intends to imbue the scene with the apocalyptic, ashen tone of the album. It is initially an unusual scene for Astral Sleep who’ve used many styles of artwork to convey their themes over the years but they’ve typically focused on the experience of the individual, in this case the image is a symptom of their exploration of apocalypse, cataclysm and the doom that lurks around the corner for mankind. From recognizing the Anthropocene as having reached a point of dire, perpetual change towards parsing existential enlightenment from the dirge of the end the slow walk of ‘We Are Already Living in the End of Times‘ may not be uplifting but it does go a long way toward solidifying the fortitude of those who’d deign to keep going. This does not necessarily pull the full listen out of its droning, semi-melodic misery in the slightest.
The realization, or acceptance of the apocalypse in view is the first point of narrative as the title track (“We Are Already Living at the End of Times“) opens the record with wailing feedback, caked with effects and peaking to the point of ear scratching dread as the fight-or-flight response hums into an easy, psychedelic flush of shimmering chords and animalistic noises. This nine+ minute piece is set up front as an imposing bookend to the greater cycle of the full listen, a narrative key which posits the escapist ignorance of societal traditions and avoidance of present realities to the point of neglecting our stewardship of our habitable biomes. Markus Heinonen‘s vocals begin with a more reaching tone, cleaner vocals which have an appreciably yearning and strained quality which eventually turn to death metal growls as the song darkens into a listless psychedelic death/doom fade back to static and whirling noise. For an album opener it is low energy guided by a low mood and though it isn’t the most rocking kick into gear it is appropriate in setting the trying temperament of the album as a whole, wherein the trudge of it all eventually reveals much deeper layers of accoutrement and melodic grace. In fact I’d not even noticed the pianos and even the core bassline escaped me upon first listen simply because the moodiness of their entrance has been transfixing enough.
Surprisingly enough that darker, heavier death/doom register continues straight away with “Torment in Existence”, a melodic death/doom metal piece at heart which features Astral Sleep‘s surrealistic vocal cadence and layering, meant to haunt as it weighs upon the shoulders of the listener. This is our quickest path towards the eccentric pathos of the band in somewhat concise showing, their eerie vocal treatments and ringing-slow doomed movement with a bit of a devil may care touch to what it communicates. If you are as big a fan of their earlier work, particularly ‘Unawakening‘ (2008) and how they’d evolved that sound into funeral doomed and psychedelic fare beyond it may very well be inspiring to hear this more matured, even more expressive notion of death/doom under their own idiosyncratic expansion. Each piece feels deeply sentimental while also featuring texturally obsessed compositions where the meld of many guitar tones and ethereal keys (see: “Invisible Flesh”) create a surreal yet emotionally driven, eh, spiritual malaise? A sickened, distraught feeling which’d dominated my take on the first several listens.
The middle four pieces which help to split the full listen into two equal halves have a fairly consistent feeling and pace, making for an immersive experience which seeks to hold their misery driven momentum while taking increasing steps toward the endpoint, “Time Is” ends up being the segue out of this pit even if it is arguably one of the most listless, ethereal points of pressure on the album overall. At that point it should have been made clear enough that ‘We Are Already Living in the End of Times‘ is a mood, a dreary yet inventive full listen which intends to fully steep and skin the listener in the idea of the end. The closing bookend comes with another longer piece (“Status of the Soul”) which merely compounds the mood despite its more self-reflective lyrics, bringing less a point of finality and more a fitting loop back to the start of the album. The full listen truly shined per my own taste when I’d left it on repeat and slowly worked my way through, allowing each piece to reveal itself within nuance just as a collection of hymns would in conveying brutally hanging dread — Again, a feeling which enrobes the experience in a profound way.
Astral Sleep present a necessary exploration for our times within this recording, a deeper pull from human nature and the oblivious escapism which religion’s self-fulfilling armageddon has provided which the introspective and necessarily depressive will appreciate. The uncanny thing about this is that ‘We Are Already Living in the End of Times‘ never feels cheaply defeatist or absurdist in its long walk but rather focused on seriously parsing its thoughts and enchanting the listener with a strong set of fairly original extreme/psychedelic doom hymnals along their path. It lends well to repeat listening despite the surreal yet decidedly low mood and though it threatens to be taxing in excess with a bit of moderation there is much to gain from letting the esoteric voice of the band resonate on their own terms. A high recommendation.
Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:
Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly