In the first of a new series focused on shining a light on small bands that deserve your attention, we’re focusing on the glacial paces, sombre atmospheres and gargantuan riffs of funeral doom. It’s a subgenre noteworthy for being the ultra-slow offshoot of a genre known for being slow, so suffice to say patience is required here, but if you’re a fan of the likes of Esoteric, Mournful Congregation and Ahab, you should be all over this list. The Astral Noize Patreon page also has an exclusive extended version of this piece, featuring even more cool new bands.
Though he may be more known for his other projects Aureole and Tchornobog, Marko Soroka has also shown that he has a penchant for vast funeral doom with Drown. Soroka recently released the project’s second full-length, Subaqueous, which comprises two twenty-minute tracks that explore grief and dejection through a metaphor of sinking deeper and deeper. Like the best concept records, these themes manifest in the music itself. The multi-instrumentalist’s cockle shell-encrusted throat bellows the lyrics, which ring out like a foghorn whilst the riffs spew forth like black waves, smothering the listener with salt foam and seaweed.
We may never fully understand what it is that draws us to such tormentous, sorrowful music, but Barren Altar must – how else could they be able to deliver it in such an overwhelming manner? From the blackened bursts and mournful melodies of opener ‘Nexus Of Grief’ to the towering majesty of standout track ‘The Great Awakening Of Death’, the band’s 2018 epic Entrenched In The Faults Of The Earth is drenched in pain and sadness. It’s the sort of brooding dirge capable of turning Mr. Happy into Donnie Darko, and yet, there’s something oddly comforting about the disquiet. There’s solace in the sorrow.
This faceless Icelandic collective may be a relatively new name in the scene, but the anonymous members supposedly aren’t, and any experience they may (or may not) have shows. The band’s debut self-titled release is colossal and harrowing in equal measure, with both the heavy and the ethereal sides of their sound often meeting in the middle to operate in tandem. The fuzzy riffs absolutely roar over the meticulous steady percussion, whilst the blackened nature of the guttural cries gives them the harsh chill of a biting wind on a cold morning.
Suffice to say atmosphere plays an integral role in funeral doom, and these Belgian newcomers understand this more than most. Their debut (and so far only) release is a single 40-minute track that builds slowly, starting almost as drone before the riffs begin to drag their gigantic mitts through the filthy sludge. Blackened elements play a key role throughout, occasionally seizing the limelight for periods of cacophonous carnage, but these moments never sacrifice the gloomy aura that weighs over this gargantuan hymn to nothingness. This band’s music is truly frightening, so much so that playing it alone in the dark is tantamount to masochism.
There must be something in the water in Belgium. Of late, it seems that every band that emerges from the relatively small country is brimming with creativity, but Slow are one such act that have flown under the radar somewhat. The band have been operating for over a decade, churning out records with commendable consistency and improving upon every release each time out. This is funeral doom that plays to the genre’s strengths, striking an inch-perfect middle ground between devastating heaviness and breathtaking poignancy. Their latest, last year’s VI: Dantalion, is their most imposing to date. Stick it on and be crushed by the sheer magnitude.
The jet-black monoliths of sound brought forth by this mysterious German project are as much blackened doom as they are funeral doom, with the band embracing the genre’s knack for bleakness and gloom above all else. Asversvm’s massive riffs are as weighty as anything on this list, and the band are just as capable of letting things breathe enough to create vast ethereal soundscapes, but their blackened streak (not to mention experiments with dark ambient) make both their albums a touch more stiflingly intense and maliciously sinister than your average funeral doom.
This Seattle ensemble most likely need less introduction than others on this list, but if you’re new to modern funeral doom, they are simply a must-hear. Un referring to themselves as “aetherical doom” reveals their main focus of creating music that’s both mournful and heavy – an aim that they’ve more than met on several occasions. Where the likes of Drown utilise funeral doom’s vast scope to wallow in the deepest depths of the sea, Un are more dynamic, plunging into its depths then moments later soaring above the clouds. There’s no one right way to do funeral doom, but this band make a case for a more colourful approach.
This Danish duo have just the one EP under their belt thus far, but the remarkable promise it holds has us salivating at the thought of a full-length. I’s gritty production only bolsters its suffocating atmosphere, as cavernous riffs and eldritch growls emanate from some infernal abyss, the space between the riffs leaving room for these elements to come to the fore. It is the EP’s centrepiece ‘This Path Leads To Anxiety’ that has us most intrigued, though, with its unsettling intro soon giving way to grander, ritualistic vocals that soar over the music like a solitary ray of light in a dank cave.
Temple Of Abandonment
Dive headfirst into the latest EP from this Vancouver group and you could be forgiven for thinking they’ve ended up on this list by mistake. The first of the two tracks that comprise the succinctly-named Chasm of the Horned Pantheon: Through Your Death, They Live is straight up death-doom with nary a hint of anything funerary, but stick around for the follow-up ‘Black Ibex’ and its more restrained approach will invite you deeper and deeper into its sinister void. Both tracks have their strengths, but the most exciting thing is the band’s ability to go from one to the other so effortlessly. Bridge that gap across a full-length effort and Temple Of Abandonment will have something truly special.
It’s always great to see a band sticking their necks out to try something new, but there’s nothing wrong with playing a proven style to an established audience either. This international group’s strain of funeral doom seldom strays too far from the genre’s core tropes, but executes them so damn well that it matters little how much effort they’re putting into innovation. Their latest record, 2017’s Of Loss And Grief, is a 73-minute epic driven by trudging riffs, chasmic growls and sombre keyboards. A thick despondent atmosphere weighs heavy over each track, with the near-20-minute centrepiece ‘Lies’ acting as the peak of this hopeless allure.
Gospel Of Death
Funeral doom probably isn’t the wing of metal in which you’d expect to find waves of twisted psych, but Vancouver’s Gospel Of Death have found a way to merge the grief-stricken soundscapes of funeral doom with the brain-warping power of psychedelia. Its presence is subtle but certainly noticeable, and it gives their latest release, We Are Only Here To Suffer, a strange otherness. Where funeral doom often makes us confront the indescribable and inescapable horror of simply existing, Gospel Of Death’s music is as strange as it is sad and dark, oddly making it all the more unnerving. The expansive ambient palette of ‘Blood Portal’ even seems to somehow incorporate sci-fi synths without losing funeral doom’s emotive potential.
The first tag on this German band’s Bandcamp page is “cthulhu”, and it’s easy to see how cosmic beings that dwell in watery depths could have inspired their music. In reality, however, their music entails themes deeper and more real than your standard Lovecraftian fare. Their debut album, Araganu, is inspired by a chant from the Sardinian revolution, and the band have spoken in interviews about the need for society to move away from both oppressive nationalist movements and neoliberalism and towards a more altruistic world. This positive message shines a new light on their music, giving its immensely powerful riffscapes a real-world meaning, as well as just a glimmer of hope for a better future.
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Words: George Parr