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Carrying the torch of modern epic doom - 91%

Aeturnus65, May 22nd, 2006

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.