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I suppose I should know more about traditional doom metal. Having been first attracted to Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus at a young age, for some reason I never delved deeper into this incontrovertibly conservative art form in order to bring to light treasures accordingly pleasurable... I limited myself to scratchings on the surface. I do regret that now. I'm sure there is a thriving trad doom scene all across the world, just as there are corresponding subgenre cults stretching over the dim Earth through every appearance of metal aesthetics. Whatever the arrangement, I can't imagine this Maltese (give us more bands from Malta, please!) band being seen as a limited entity, or some manifestation better left to the shadows. I have not traced their history in the scene or the echoing sentiments of the other bands that surround them, their reflection in the eyes of bitter or rapturous critics, etc. I only know what I hear while this spins, and that is... excellence in presentation, songwriting skill, melodic talent, a sure hand that restrains undue exuberance or crude overt emotionalism, etc. Forsaken are experts... able, subtle craftsmen, as expert in turning a well-framed musical phrase as they are in suiting the music they have written to the puissant illustration of the lyrics. I will not press this album to try to bear some hasty or overworked example of genre-transcendence, pretending that they are originators, visionaries, etc. No, they are just... very good at what they do, a veteran band, and this is a remarkably firm, listenable, entertaining series of conventional doom constructions. It does not convince me to reach into their back catalogue (I haven't even bothered to examine that at length on their website) or to strain myself to stretch, Tantalus-like, for hyperbole unsuited to a full and fleshed-out description of this material - I'll leave that to the doom purists and fanatics from other magazines. "Anima Mundi" has, however, beguiled me into spending a few enraptured hours of diverted listening admiring their smooth, transparent skill and the amount of honest work that obviously went into the album's elaboration. At this point that's all I'm willing to ask from it.
Although some of these songs (especially "The Eyes of Prometheus", but that creation myth was never a simple series of ideas, see Aeschylus and the Shelleys) stretch the idea of "epic" to suggestively self-indulgent lengths, I forgive the band a minor trespass of this nature when they can put together such solid work as the opening "Kindred Veil" (9 minutes and 14 seconds of grindingly heavy crushing chords and Dio-like soaring eagle screams) and respectfully somber echoing reflections of St. Vitus like "Carpe Diem". Still, what I admire the most about this band, as I mentioned above, is just the fact that they wisely limit themselves to pursuing well-worn, polished, stylistically-reserved paths of songwriting prowess, staying close to their original strengths and not overreaching themselves in some vain gamble for flagrant experimentation. Above all, I think their love for their self-imposed genre characteristics comes shining through in this material and convinces utterly, even while an amateur in the style's history like me is listening. While I might not be able to trace some of the more obscure scene references that appear here or have my fingertips on all of the outstretched heartstrings they may be tugging at by choosing x chord in y place or z reference in this or that song, perhaps it is another mark of their expertise and quiet, determined proficiency that even a trad doom novice such as myself is suitably impressed. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to hardcore devotees of the genre (who probably have it already) or to metal fans who just appreciate well-written, masterfully produced and arranged material. A solid effort, through and through.
It seems to be mandatory in any review of a Forsaken disc to slip in the line, “Hailing from the tiny island of Malta…”, so let’s get that out of the way right now. Yeah, this Forsaken hail from that country, one which most metalheads probably can’t even pick out on a map. The band has been around for quite some time, but only in the last few years have they really refined their sound into that of the monolithic epic doom one. Bands like Solitude Aeturnus, Candlemass, and so on serve as valid (but often only partially correct) comparisons.
While those bands have been almost criminally lacking in their 21st century output, Forsaken are now cruising along, having released a tremendous EP in 2002 and now this in 2004. 2005 saw yet another full-length release, a review-in-waiting sometime down the road. Enough with the history lesson, though. What about this particular disc? The sound they had developed on “Iconoclast” is largely carried over here – an oppressively heavy yet clear sound with raw guitars, plenty of ambient keyboards, and solid drumming all around. There’s almost a “dirty” feel to the sound as well, with a subtle scratchiness to the guitars, not to mention the fact that fret-slides are heard often, though it’s not as noticeable as on the previous EP. The pummeling bass has been toned down a bit so as not to turn cheap speaker systems into poor-sounding rattleboxes of distorted feedback.
As can be expected on any doom album, the seven songs are stretched out into over fifty minutes of music, with one being a ninety-second spoken interlude. The longest song, “The Eyes of Prometheus”, is the most traditionally doomy of the bunch, essentially keeping a slow and steadily lurching tempo for the duration. Mind you, nothing really gets overly upbeat, but songs like the opener and especially “Whispering Soul” mix in some galloping tempos and even a few palm-muted doom riffing segments. In this sense Forsaken still is not 100% a pure doom band, clearly taking influences from genres such as traditional and power metal. But this is often commonplace in the epic doom genre, so we’ll skip the semantics arguments here.
Vocalist Leo Stivala is still in top form, with a very commanding voice perfectly befitting such a band. He used to be able to a damn good Ozzy impersonation, but as with on the previous EP, he eschews that style in favor of a more epic sounding delivery, perhaps like an angrier Simon Matravers, he being the singer on Solstice’s debut “Lamentations” (find it now, if you haven’t yet). In fact, Stivala mixes in quite a few angry stylings, at times arriving at a direct, shouting scream not too far removed from a more restrained black metal singer. An album full of such wailings would be awful, but the few sprinklings we get work very well overall. His range is not too great, but he gives milks his deep, epic approach for all it’s worth and more.
Along with plenty of keyboards (almost always ambient, not lead) some songs feature drumming styles not native to the doom genre. Similar, but not as strikingly clashing, to how Evoken mix double bass drums into a doom-death sound, Forsaken drummer Simeon Gatt feels no need to be restrained by the style the band has chosen, lending a nice sense of variety to the songs, especially in terms of varied tempos, so everything isn’t at a crawling pace all the time. The lyrics are much the same as before, pretentious trips through thesaurus-land that make very little sense without serious study, and even then I’m not so sure. Yes, these guys are intelligent, but it kind of defeats the purpose of music if no one can understand what you’re trying to say. Oh well.
Admittedly, a couple of the songs do have some slow spots. I wasn’t terribly enthralled for the entire duration of “The Eyes of Promethus”. Likewise, “Carpe Diem” seems to go on a little longer than it ought to. About the only other negative here is the style of music Forsaken play, and that’s on a per-listener basis. For fans of epic doom this is easily a 90+ album, while non-fans may find themselves liking a couple songs (mostly the faster ones – try numbers four and seven) but overall coming away unimpressed. You can adjust my score as fits your preferences. Me? I fall into the former category, so I’ll rate it thusly. Excellent work from a surprisingly productive band.