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That’s a weird album. Though the Unawakening’s release year is 2008, all the way long I had a strong feeling it was born somewhere deep in the dark nineties. Not only because of the lo-fi production, but rather thanks to its unique atmosphere and mood.
First of all, couple of words must be said about the genre. What Astral Sleep play is certainly doom metal. However, further precisions risk making things look too plain, which is not the case of Unawakening. There is death/doom here, and a pinch of traditional doom as well (represented mainly by the clean vocals and some riffs), but the whole thing is much wider and more eclectic than that. While listening to the album, I had many associations and reminiscences appearing in my head, from Clouds-era Tiamat (maybe it’s just the name) to Saturnus, through early Katatonia, Opeth, October Tide (good old Scandinavian school of depression) and some of Dan Swanö’s old works. All of these are of course no more than my personal impressions, and Astral Sleep’s music is far from imitating or even sounding like any of the bands mentioned.
In fact, Unawakening is truly original. It is dark, gloomy and a bit creepy, sometimes psychedelic, always disturbing. The sound is raw and I often think it is made so intentionally, because it adds a great vintage feeling to the album, while all the instruments are heard passably well in the mix. Keyboards are really sick, yet unobtrusive. Clean guitars often sound like shit, but again, surprisingly enough it works pretty well in the mix and doesn’t get on your nerves. The harmonica in the third track adds a strange charm to the atmosphere, and so do all the nightmarish background noises framing the tracks.
Vocals are probably the Astral Sleep’s weakest point: growls are nothing special and clean vocals sound a bit funny to me, especially in those parts when they suddenly jump up into an insane falsetto (without mentioning some false notes here and there). ‘Funny’ is not the most flattering epithet for a doom metal singer, I’d say. Still, I must admit this voice didn’t annoy me really much and surely hasn’t spoiled the overall impression.
Noteworthy is the fact that both band’s name and album’s title fit the music perfectly, creating this bizarre dreamlike aura, mad and bleak at once. Even the terribly childish cover artwork and average metal lyrics, together with the sound production, don’t make it any worse. Quite the contrary: what we get in the end is a kind of artifact from another era. This way the band’s apparent lack of taste turns into its genuine zest.
Unawakening is a fine piece of doom metal I would recommend to all the amateurs of the genre. Of course, it’s not a masterpiece. It is raw indeed, and not only in terms of sound quality. But it’s a very promising debut for the Finnish band, and the chefs-d’oeuvre, hopefully, are yet to come.
It’s a weird album, but it leaves you with an aftertaste. Imperfect as it is, it offers you a trip, an authentic experience, and that’s what matters most.