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Fresh and versatile melodeath. That’s how the band members themselves describe their sound and after listening to their sophomore album, one can’t doubt that statement is true. Of course, you can’t set apart their influences of melancholic, dark and moody melodic death, like Amorphis or Sentenced. You don’t have to be a genius neither to compare them to Insomnium or Be’lakor, since none of these bands rely on a heavy use of keyboards and they share a similar style of extremely melodic guitar leads and a deeply emotional atmosphere.
What really differentiates Noumena from their peers is the folk feel they incorporate through pleasant melodies, acoustic passages and clean vocals. The band as well mixes competent melodic death riffs with simpler, yet effective rock infused riffs, which make their songs catchier. Formed in a Finnish town called Ähtäri in 1998, Noumena took four years to release their first full length, due to difficulty finding a label. They quickly progressed until they received praise by underground metal fans with “Absence”.
This album couldn’t start in a better way, because the first track; “The End of the Century” is instantly memorable and extremely catchy. If the riffs present in that song don’t make you fall in love with this band, then I can safely claim that you don’t like melodic death metal, or at least non-cheesy melodeath. It sums up everything that is right with this genre and makes the listener hungry for more of this kind of excellence. With a beautiful acoustic break, deep growls and featuring the one and only solo of the album, you can’t go wrong.
“Absence” flows smoothly, introducing the listener to their true folk roots and the nature evoking music they produce. A really catchy chorus emerges from “Everlasting Ward” and the simpler riffs show up in “The First Drop”. The fourth song features one of my favorite acoustic sections of the album and cements the more melancholic side of the band by adding the music both male and female clean vocals. “A Day to Depart” returns in the vein of the opening song, containing glorious, powerful riffs and a sticky chorus. “Prey of the Tempter” showcases, in my opinion, the best use of male clean vocals, which are supported by a backbone of solid, penetrating melodic leads.
The last four songs are in general slightly weaker, playing with a similar formula, albeit less successful. Not even that can compromise the excellence of “Absence”, since those songs are still very worthy of being visited constantly. For example, “The Great Anonymous Doom” follows a similar style showed in “Slain Memories”, although giving the listener less surprises, with more predictable patterns.
The atmosphere that these introspective songs carry always makes me think of a beautiful, yet forlorn landscape located in the middle of a forest. The lyrics reinforce those aesthetics, giving the idea of being trapped in a room of a high tree, while observing the landscape from a bleak, empty spot. This sort of environment that Noumena creates is rarely matched in terms of quality.
Production-wise, the album offers no flaws, with the guitars provided by Ville Lamminaho and Tuukka Tuomela clearly taking protagonism and producing the most fulfilling sounds. The bass and Antti Haapanen’s growls are both muscular and deep, giving the overall sound much more power and heaviness. Tuomas Tuominen’s additional clean vocals never seem out of place and sound really good.
When it comes to quality melodeath, “Absence” will always be a reference of a very unique style. It is never boring and its catchy and reliable songwriting gives shape to a solid, little gem. Where I consider this album slightly falters is that aside from “The End of the Century” the album rarely demonstrate signs of brilliance or those chilling moments that Insomnium are so adept at.
This album has quickly grown to become one of my favorite melodeath albums; the best way I can describe the sound on this CD would be that it's nearly a perfect blend of Kalmah and Insomnium, but with less aggression and a more relaxed/folk feel than either band.
Catchy riffs reigns supreme here; from heavy anthems like "A Day to Depart," with it's brilliant chorus; or more laid back, folky songs like "Everlasting Ward," every riff and melody is top notch and expertly crafted to create a general dark, mournful and bleak soundscape. The guitars sound great, heavy and crunchy and while there aren't a lot of solos here the constant leads more than make up for that; the drums keep to the mostly mid-to-slow range and tend to stay on the simple side, so don't expect any jaw-dropping fills or lightning fast blast beats. The bass is quite audible, providing a good heavy low end, but not really doing anything spectacular. It has a terrific, fat sound that's mixed in with the rest of the instruments perfectly though, which redeems its slightly uninteresting performance.
The vocals here range from deep, throaty growls to decent male clean vocals to female clean vocals in the track "Slain Memories," and all three are used flawlessly and really add to the songs. In fact, I'd say the use of clean vocals here are some of the better I've heard in the genre; there's no out of place moments for any of the clean vocals.
This album has a terrific atmosphere which I can only compare to Insomnium when they are at their most dark and folk sounding; while the atmosphere here isn't really depressing it is certainly very dark and has a genuine folk feeling, without any real folk instruments being used. During the more softer bits of the album I'm actually reminded of Agalloch; there's that same forlorn feel throughout the whole album. There's plenty of clean guitar breaks which really add emotion to the music and honestly the clean guitars may be my favorite part of the album.
There's not much I can really complain about here; there is a lot of variety in the songs and no two really sound alike. There may be weaker moments here and there, like the closing track "The Great Anonymous Doom," which doesn't quite grab me as much as the rest of the album did, but really there's nothing else here I don't like.
Noumena have shown with this album they can stand with some of the best in the genre and even at times surpass them. For fans of more relaxed, folk influenced, atmospheric melodeath in the vein of Insomium, I highly, highly recommend this album.
I'm not going to lie to you. 'Absence' sounds like someone rounded up all the good, chunky, heavy riffs from Amorphis' masterpiece 'Elegy' and just ran with it. Not something I could take issue with! This album also simultaneously destroys the previous Noumena album 'Pride-Fall' and manages to deliver one of the greatest melodic Finnish death metal experienced I've had in the 21st century.
A lot of this praise can be heaped squarely on the shoulders of the opening track "The End of the Century", which features some of the most glorious riffs I have ever heard for this genre. Combined with the crushing production and perfectly delivered growls, it's a monster. Numerous A+++ melodies flow in succession while the band belts out a simple four-chord style rocker. When I first heard this tune my jaw dropped because it was everything I loved about an 'Elegy' or 'Amok' captured beautifully by this young band. Even the bridge riff breakdown and simple lead are perfection.
Does the rest of the album hold true? Well, yes and no. It all adheres to the same outstanding production values and bludgeoning vocals, but none of the tracks are quite as catchy as the opener. Then again, very few things in this plane of existence could hope to match that, much less surpass it. "Everlasting Ward" (in keeping with my 'Elegy' comparisons) is a catchy folkish track which picks up pace and features some good clean vocals. "The First Drop" is a moody fist pumper. "Slain Memories" does the melodic folk/death thing once more, quite succesfully, with some tasteful female folkills. "A Day to Depart" is close in style to "The End of the Century" but with the added joy of a well-timed HEY! during its chorus. "Prey of the Tempter" is also fantastic, with more good use of the clean vocals and superb guitar melodies. "Here We Lie" is another beautifully melodic track that will at least have you slapping your desk and banging your head out. Ditto with "All Failed", while "The Dream and the Escape" has some nice acoustic intro licks akin to those you'd find on 'The Jester Race'. The album ends with "The Great Anonymous Doom", glorious and much like it started, though the female folkills here did little for me.
'Absence' is just hands down one of the best Finnish melodic death metal albums I've heard so far in the 21st century. It has the perfect sound standards that should impress almost anyone listening to it, and the riffs are hard to match. The quality is so high that the band's follow-up 'Anatomy of Life' (while not necessarily bad) was a major disappointment. This album is so good that it puts to shame much of the noodlier, faster Finnish bands with all their keyboards and shred intentions. A powerful, emotive statement in the finest tradition of Sentenced and Amorphis, I'm hoping lightning can strike twice for this band because 'Absence' was criminally overlooked by a vast percentage of metal fandom that would actually love it to pieces.
The latest release from this Finnish melo-death outfit branches out from a genre plagued with mediocrity and lack of innovation to create something while not perfect is some of the best melo-death I've heard in awhile.
The guitar work is fairly well done with a few memorable riffs. They venture onto the proggy side of things with some excellent change-ups. The drumming while not horrible leaves much to be desired with lackluster fills and repetitive beats. What sets with album apart though is the vocals. The death vocals are exceptionally well done and are probably some of the best to be found in melo-death. The occasional female vocals are well done and help to bring out the proggier aspects of the band. In the song, The Great Anonymous Doom, the death vocals and female vocals have alternate sections and these changes help put Noumena about other melo-death. On the other hand, the male clean vocals are nothing special, but for the most part they fit with the music.
My favorite track on the CD would have to be the opener, The End of the Century. The death vocals and guitar work fit together so well a create an awesome opener for the CD. Then it slows down with a badass solo and goes right back into mid-paced melo-death.
I highly recommend this CD for anyone looking for some good melo-death with a few surprises.