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Among the vestiges that one can find in the incipient Finnish funeral doom metal, Skepticism's "Stormcrowfleet" is certainly a treasure to recall over time. This album is like an old book in a precious library, where time itself is the confessor. Dense instrumentation carries the burden.
The keyboards give an almost serene feel to the compositions, contouring and guiding a deep voyage into the archetypal inner-roots of the human psyche; detached on a distant throne of resignation, the album sets up a cosmic panorama towards the eternal essence of life. Abstract and meditative, the music constantly holds the listener's attention evoking immemorial feelings within, somehow touching a point where collective subconsciousness unites all the granite-like principles. It's like an astral projection, accompanied by delightful harmonic progressions ; in the same time a transcendental journey to the ancient columns of Karnak, also to the clear water springs of adumbral nordic forests, to a harbour where all the colors shelter the wandering imagination of the reflective. This massive atmosphere is due to the omnipresent keyboards and their monumental touch. Sometimes a solemn nuance is added by the pipe organ. The vocals, guttural and deep are far away in the mix, like a haunting roar. Heavy guitars lay the harmonic foundation, but they do venture in some occasional leads.
Skepticism's "Stormcrowfleet" elevates monolithic funeral doom (initiated by Thergothon one year earlier) to a symphony of ages. If a comparison to a black metal relative is accepted, whilst ulterior Covenant's "In Times Before the Light" offers a war-and-feast (though still magical) type of ancient ambience in metal riffing, Skepticism's first full length departs from earthly bindings and bestows the ancient atmosphere with a timeless, floating, philosophical reverie.
"Sign of a Storm" designs a clear direction which the album will take on. The way cadences turn into phrase beginnings, shifts and modulations create interesting structural episodes that favor changes just on time, so that the hypnotic effect is accomplished but not overly long as to lose their impact. The parallel fourths that open the second track, "Pouring", continue the Egyptian mise-en-scene; development and transpositions lead the way on a no-return path, each riff acting as a Rubicon doorway until the conclusive keyboard-dominated late landmark. Legendary and statuesque, "The Gallant Crow" displays some mosaical keyboard sustains among melodic passages (again the keyboards show up as the driving force of the album).
Although the album may inspire such antique shades, atemporality is still intact because of the strong connection between the true, inexpugnable essence of existence and ancient wisdom which the aural textures seem to flag. This is a zone of metal where all the paradigms are dismissed, where the artists work with primordial elements to create an everlasting quintessence, for the meditative mind to behold in bewilderment.
Time to explore another funeral doom metal band. Funeral's first two albums gave a brooding atmosphere of brooding lamentations. But let's try a different flavor: Skepticism. Unlike Funeral, Skepticism are given credit where credit is due. It might seem kind of unfair to hog all the attention; but frankly, Stormcrowfleet is a damn good album.
The funeral doom starts right off the bat with "Sign of a Storm". The mournful atmosphere is here as expected, but keyboards are present in the music as well to add a different atmosphere than Funeral has. The keyboard really works wonders in this album as far as generating a thick atmosphere. They seem to generate an image of a mostly gray colored world. The sun is obscured by thick clouds that bring rain. This world is empty of life besides yourself. Even some of the grasses are decaying. Bottom line: you're by yourself walking through the aftermath of World War III, and that is what makes this album so unique. Stormcrowfleet is not about the war but the aftermath.
A nice break after going through two Funeral albums full of lengthy songs is that Skepticism makes notably shorter songs such as "Pouring", "By Silent Wings", and "The Gallant Crow". In "Pouring", the pace is increased to give the atmosphere a regal sounding, underground cult atmosphere supplemented by the pipe organ sounding keyboards. With only one guitar, Skepticism actually do an excellent job of keeping the atmosphere even when the keyboard is absent, though it may be due to the production present.
"By Silent Wings" continues the ceremonial sounds established by the previous song. There's a clear initial pace that changes halfway through the song; and with the pace change, the keyboards change back to the way they sound on "Sign of a Storm", but eventually go back at the 4:47 mark until at one point they seem to layer themselves and ending on the "Sign..." style sound.
"The Rising of the Flames" features slightly faster pace to march by. Eventually, it does slow down to add some welcome variation to the mix. The keyboards develop a memorable section of notes to make this song more memorable. At the 8:07 mark, the keyboards stack up even more to further strengthen the atmosphere. After hearing this song the first time, that keyboard rhythm stuck to my head without me even recalling what song it was from; and at one point, I even thought it came from a Funeral song before realizing that they didn't use keyboards.
"The Gallant Crow" is another track that is really keyboard heavy, perhaps even more so than the previous track. The riff varies, but only very slightly. Actually, it's the final track "The Everdarkgreen" that truly climaxes this album. It starts with with an eerie pipe organ keyboard rhythm accompanied by funeral doom. Even the lyrics go with this post-apocalyptic vision:
"As the crowds are now left behind I enter the vastness of green I was weary of all the noise around For my ears silence is the ultimate sound
The forest is around me In silence the pines stand tall With the wind they whisper their tales As their wisdom is everdarkgreen"
Notable variations begin at 2:42 with the timing dropping and riff changing and guitar even trying to stand out more. The keyboards pause at 4:02 to leave the funeral doom to continue on with the drums increased in timing. The timing slows at 5:08, and a swirling wind sound comes in as if to show little dust devils forming with the dust from the ruins around the empty world. The swirling eventually disappears and the keyboards return at 6:46 with the timing increasing once more. After all the lyrics have been said, the slows again with the keyboards keeping their dominant position. As the rest of the song plays out, the keyboards and funeral doom riffs continue to go on until it climaxes and ends at 10:39.
But nay, it is only a false ending. The music starts again to a different key than earlier in the song and different riffs. The keyboards grow strong, but the song fades out ending the album.
There you have it: Stormcrowfleet, a truly awesome funeral doom experience worthy of the praise it has gotten. And it's funny too, because on my initial listen I thought it to be mediocre. But was I so wrong! Do not miss this storm!
This is a recording that if you heard it in passing you might give a sideways look, the kind of moment that could cause you to stop midsentence, like something else just entered your realm of importance and now demands your attention. Something that is unique for the resources that they have, and something that breaks molds, something that can subvert your prior mind-sets, and is a shot away from being a normal everyday experience. This isn't an ephemeral recording and it is an album that doesn't stall or become stymieing in the way of moving forward. There isn't anything that is irascible about this compared to other forms of extreme metal at the time of its release. And its adrenaline seems to be replaced with minor surges. The cadence is perpetually at a slow simmer, placing a solemn shroud that is deeply hard-rooted. 'Stormcrowfleet' is a procession that eventually reveals itself to be a staggering monolith, a monster as to what is to come. This can give off a sense of being small and vulnerable in the presence of. Almost as if it seems to get stronger and stronger, and possesses the obscure ability of it never dying.
The music is rife with thick uncertainties and heavy with bass. Though, there are moments where it is like an object that possesses tendril qualities, constantly coiling, swirled without a particular definitive description. It is a sound that draws your attention and seizes it. This uses instruments to chip away and capture a fissure to the other side. The pace chews and tastes, sucking down matter like a starving black hole; making noises that match its size and producing a pre-historic nature that seems to have been here to begin with. It's like a stubborn digestive cycle that lumbers inside and with you feeling emotionally drained as it passes through. This isn't intercepting music, though you can essentially count on them as a whole to pin a heavy weight down musically to your body and mind. There aren't any blurts or out of place patrons among the instruments. Though the vocals are more a groaner and rumbler, someone in the back being more imperceptible with deep murmurs. Instead of growls from his windpipe, the vocals seem to be felt straight from the human gut.
The production seems to be slightly rough-edged in a purposeful fashion, yet even when turned full blast is still a tower to your ears. At 'Stormcrowfleet's time period, this tips the scales of how slow instruments can dive down into. Someone in an adjoining room might think that Black Sabbath was just accidentally slowed down on a turn table. Initially reasoning that practical music can't be reduced to such depths, or that Ozzy's once high tenor would now be strictly reduced to the lowest of opera bass. The bands Unholy and Thergothon, also from the Land of Fins, and also in conspiracy with doom metal, would beat them with full lengths but sound somewhat different in their own ways. I've heard Thergothon's demo and there's no doubt that it travels at the speed of light, that's if we're comparing the acceleration of a tortoise to let's say...evolution. But they would also pioneer an almost dead-stop sound and ultra low vocals in '91; an extreme in both senses for the year. And it wouldn't be hard to conceive that Thergothon would be an influence for Skepticism for the directions they could have taken after their first release themselves. Thergothon's demo even was able to travel over to the American band Evoken at their inception. Holy Hell (pre-Unholy) put out a demo in '89 that was comparable to a death-black-doom sound with raspy croaking Bathory-like vocals, and still including material that would pick up the pace, and is in an experimental stage for the type of music they're trying to project.
Skepticism themselves started out in a mid-death metal form on their '92 'Towards My End' release; still with a bassier, yet, far less bombastic sound and deeper growls. On their full length debut here Skepticism had their own agenda, though, holding you spellbound or downcast from whichever way you want to cut it or reason with; this would be compared to other extreme metal bands, possibly black or death metal, at the time period who would instead hold you a hostage from terror or shocking intimidation. They didn't even seem to be this last mentioned way on their '92 release, with a more paced and concentrated darker sound; and in the end definitely not as interesting as what is presented here. This also is an atmosphere that doesn't bleed and isn't purposely threatening for the realm of extreme metal. There's more to them than being an early runner or just a commodity for the time, a band that essentially poses an abstract ideology that breaks some barriers and also has the capability to reconstruct them.
The measured use of their instruments help pave the road for Skepticism in this regard. The guitars are a distorted thick rustle in the bush, they lumber out from dark quarters. The keyboards whirl around them, sculpting their part with abstract sentiments and woeful condolences. The drums trudge and keep the instruments steady in John Woo-like slow motion with a full range of fills on his set. Effected hits become big sounding fills that could cover every inch of an auditorium with its echoey residue. There are parts that include drums and keyboards on their own; though it seems that the volume shifts with each other, being slightly louder than one another depending on who's leading the section. The keyboards might take the lead on the album with some oppressively maneuvered organs, and then at other moments they can be considered more harmonizing and carry a slight, though dispiriting, melody. They are sustained throughout the music and play just as much a feature as the other instruments instead of just as an opening attraction to begin on. The guitars also have their own spacy moments that might be on their own in the deep treading waters, though strapped around the waist with a tight death-preserver, and can waver in their own drifting tide till another creeps forward. The vocals are more subtle, impelling their music through something that can be considered a series of guest appearances, and breaking through to your anticipation everytime. Together as a collection, the overall display of instrumentation truly submerges the music with a kind of pliable descent. Spilling out different sounds and noises into slight changes and minor directions is what closely defines 'Stormcrowfleet.'
The ideas, drive, and initiative of Skepticism at this point are on top tier, though the next full length album would bring themselves together more efficiently I feel; the centered mix of that album does the trick I think. And this album has some points where it can sustain itself in a particular gear shift, while for the most part other sections move forward with more traction; not the pacing but the particular parameter of notes they hit. It doesn't feel anywhere in shambles, just sometimes lost in itself, like they're in a particular sustaining realm. As if the journey starts from point A to point B and on some parts finding itself roaming in a particular corner till they eventually get to point B. Still, overall, Skepticism gives its listeners a disconsolate tone with a journey that contains small arcs, and with each returning time being a different perception to a seemingly different path or tale. This also includes some underlying, though mostly hidden, death metal inspired parts. Not just the bassy vocals, but some of their mechanics will show some sludgy palm mutes or a section that could have been sped up to a medium or faster beat but instead slimes forward with their specified brand of consistently slow doom. And still an approach that is in a similar nature or vicinity of other bands but not being exactly the same, like for instance what the Australians were doing with Disembowelment to Mournful Congregation, in England with Cathedral to My Dying Bride, in America with Goatlord to Winter, and other varying bands at the time that played a slowed down and extreme form of doom metal in one way or another. Like there was essentially a progression of ideas from abroad and carried themselves over to a sprinkle here and there. For Skepticism, it could be considered a kind of foray, possibly one that skirts the edges of your sanity and being a great listen for overall not feeling symmetrical.
This album isn't prompt, being bereft of the nature of swiftness, and takes its time with long strides, like a culmination that's felt at every step. Something like a moody wanderer in deep reverie. Though it is an album that when it's over you might inherit something that wasn't there before. This is like a fever dream, pulling you away through parts of your subconsciousness that might warp your normal line of thought. I think as a band they could have painted the air to colors in reason like red, brown, green, blue or even purple and still give it some kind of resonating gloominess. They could name months and dates, for instance, and have the capability to beckon images of tragedy and fallen hope. And the ability to name a certain unsuspecting landscape and now make that carry some significance and instant nostalgia. The tone on 'Stormcrowfleet' insinuates a lot; the innuendos vast. Though it is mind-stimulating, suggestive of different factions and ideas. And ultimately being an escaping haven because of the band's ability to innovate, and be able to refine that same innovation at that point in such an early stage for the band is pretty amazing in itself.
Stormcrowfleet is an album that embarks you on an epic and emotional journey into the dark realms of your own imagination. If you do not have an imagination, then forget it.
There seems to be an ancient beauty here, one that you can see and hear, but are forbidden to touch. This is a proud and powerful album that is drenched with emotional highs and lows. Stormcrowfleet, if you can imagine, is a tranquil stream that silently flows though tall, dark green forests of an ancient and timeless beauty. The proud and gallant stream then washes across majestic flowing meadows, where dark storms rumble across the vast horizon. The stream then flows through an immense vista of snowcapped mountains and pours over numerous waterfalls as the northern lights dance like eerie green ghosts in the starry nighttime sky. The stream finally marches out to the edges of the sea were the rising of the sun paints the morning sky in flames.
Each song on Stormcrowfleet bombards you with simple, but extremely effective melodies. Afterwards, the tunes will stick in your head, and you’ll be humming them all day long. The low-tuned guitars and church stile organs mostly play together, and Jani and Pasi are able to summon forth an epic and authoritative sound. Lasse’s drums create a medieval atmosphere with pounds and crashes that remind me of something you would hear from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, which is actually legendary also, if you can find it. Matti’s vocals sound like he’s dragging a steel chain through a dark cave. But he howls forth just the right amount, not too much, not to little. They let the atmosphere and the roaring melodies paint the Stormcrowfleet picture. One of my favorite parts comes in the middle of The Everdarkgreen, where it sounds like one of the guys is slinging a bolo round and round. It’s simple, but creates a bleak, eerie presence in that part of the song.
Stormcrowfleet is also a very bassy album. Sometimes you must adjust the bass levels to bring the album to its full potential.
It’s hard to compare Skepticism to someone else because they are so unique. If your into funeral doom, and do not own any of Skepticism’s creations, especially Stormcrowfleet, what the hell are you waiting for, go get it!
An unmoving view of an island, densely forested and with narrow beaches but completely devoid of all animal and human life. The view is as if provided by a camera, because you, as a human, are not even there; there is no sentience anywhere in this land, and there is only the slightest motions in the water around the island. You can see other islands off in the distance but with no detail or definition. It is stark and lonely.
Without warning, it begins; a looming storm on the horizon, more enormous and darker than what one could ever imagine, with clouds so thick and dark they nearly eclipse the sun entirely. It envelops the entire horizon as it moves ever so slowly towards the island in your view, ominous yet eerily beautiful, and the very air of the island seems to sit perfectly still in dreadful yet enrapturing anticipation of the oncoming storm.
It hits and no level of imagining can prepare one for its intensity. Massive gales strike the island, nearly ripping the enormous trees from their roots, shaking the very limestone foundations of this lonely isle, threatening to tear this land from the earth (or whatever mysterious dimension this is) itself. But the gales are just the beginning, and this massive onslaught of nature has only just begun.
It seems that with each new feature introduced by the storm, it's unimaginable that it could be any more enormous until the next element hits. First are the enormous, wracking thunderclaps that threaten to cave the sky itself in; like massive drums played in caverns reaching to the center of the earth, they explode across the skyline, breathtakingly deep and arduously slow, each one illuminating the dark landscape to nearly that of day, cracking the clouds and warning of possible lightning striking the land as it hovers so dangerously over the island.
The gales intensify and have a nearly musical quality, like an enormous and desolate organ, delicately (or as delicate as something so massive can be) carving out entrancing and triumphant yet mournful melodies from the air itself. The ground itself begins to shake; not from force of the gales or the thunder, but of its own power, a tremendous earthquake nearly shattering the forests and soil of the island into thousands of broken pieces, adding to the symphony of the wind like great guitars, impossibly deep and rich in tone, echoing the wind's simple melodies and adding even more crushing intensity to the storm.
And then, in a brief moment of peace before the storm explodes yet again, it begins; the growls of a creature nearly beyond comprehension. Not even a shred of it is visible upon the horizon, but its world-shaking calls are tremendous nonetheless, a throaty growl that seems to propel the storm ever onward. It comes from a beast so enormous that one couldn't be sure they'd even recognize it if they saw it; it's of an enormity beyond any scale one would know.
These natural forces form a choir of sounds and wrench beauty from the agonizing force. Some calm is almost found in the near destruction of the island, where the intensity is so great it nearly manages to stand still due to its achingly slow beating of the landscape. The sounds are enormous and crushing yet fragile, slow, simple melodies unfolding and evolving over what feels like millennia, with the impossible depth of the sounds reverberating for long seconds after each note is struck. Occasionally, and only very occasionally, the guitar-like shaking of the earth will pierce through the other torrents of sound with an ever-so-slow set of tones, a bittersweet melody emerging from nothingness before descending back into the earth.
And finally, after what might be minutes, what might be endless aeons, the storm departs, leaving only its whispers of infinite glory and destruction behind it. The landscape is battered and crossed with deep scars gorging into the earth; and yet the forest is alive, perhaps more alive than ever, now burst into even more glorious color and beauty than could be imagined. This is 'Stormcrowfleet'.
This album has been a revelation for me, nothing less. As a fan of the death and black metal genres, doom has always seemed a little of a casual listen. Even albums like Cathedral’s Forest of Equilibrium, whilst going for the emotional jugular, have made solid use of heavy metal aesthetics and are less than compelling in terms of their musical approach. Dopethrone by Electric Wizard is a fun album due to its depravity but seems to revel in the shit that it presents as constitutive of our world. Finally, the output of bands in the vein of My Dying Bride are for the most part reprehensible for their torturous approach which finds common concerns in emocore.
Skepticism approaches from a wholly other angle and as such were already in my good books. When my interest in Cathedral resurfaced recently, I determined that I’d not yet discovered all that doom had to offer. Upon first listening to this band I was struck by their contempt of genre, and in a good way. Metal is notorious for demanding borders to it’s genres whilst at the same time venerating as holy those who manage to transcend them, a little. Skepticism hits you initially with its huge keyboards and thundering drums, the thin guitar is often textural as it parallels the louder keys. The sense one gets (and perhaps visualises, as this album encourages it more than many others) is undoubtedly of a vast scale, what ever it is: oceans, storms, battlefields, the cosmos, glaciers, and the quintessential human inner conflicts. The feeling one has toward these visions however, is inevitably distant and patient, which the approach of MDB is literally unable to achieve. This distance can lead to alienation and resignation, but also to colossal glory. Much of this grandness is maintained by a minimalism of sounds within a framework of some of the most massivest ever production: The first drum beat after the intro doesn’t even use a snare, just bass and hi hat. The result is not a minimal album, nothing near it, but it forces you very quickly to delight in every sound the band makes, on its own firstly and then as a whole. The pace of the music gives you time to do this and the result is a stark contrast to the important work of, say, Immortal, which thrives on battering the listener incessantly to build upon a sensation. The way the sounds are laid out, particularly influenced by the keys (or organ) used with their low attack, constitute what can best be described as slowed down dynamic waves of feeling. They aren’t manifest in changes from one part to another, rather one is constantly riding up and down the throb of the melodies, and this flux is the jewel achievement of the album.
Vocals are a heavily breathed wash of low end texture; they stretch out gently over the phrases, providing a thin but warm layer, not a binary presence. Drum work is painfully restrained (though the music isn’t as ludicrously slow as some others have noted, and it’s pace is nothing of a novelty), but gloriously delivered, with snare, toms and bass all contributing a rich timbre with extended sustain. Keys dominate in volume, but often opposing passages are dominated by riffs reminiscent of Disembowelment; songwriting is almost entirely riff based, and here it suits our demands. Clichés are delivered with confidence and style, they are, after all, what gives albums that feeling of melodic power.
This album needs little effort to transcend the hindrance of genre label ‘doom’, for its creation renders an experience that few have created: it ponders the epic, romantic and tragic visions of its world, much like a slower and less abrasive Burzum. A superlative effort of appropriating elements of an often juvenile genre to create an astonishing and mature sonic world.
Once in a while, there comes an artist who chooses to follow only the voice of his own creativity. Skepticism uses nothing except the desolate landscapes of Finland to inspire its art. As you draw in these thunderous sounds, you will wonder whether this is even music at all, or whether it is the voice of the ancient evergreens that have seen the passing of two hundred winters, or the very soul of the mountains speaking from across the aeons. Skepticism’s magnificent compositions will transport you to far away lands. They are like sitting alone in a gothic cathedral and hearing nothing but the echo of your own heartbeat resonate off the masonry walls. And it is only in this supreme silence that you become aware that there is an invisible force that binds all of existence together.
A great composer once said that the essence of music is in the silence between the notes that are played. Skepticism exemplifies this balance of opposites. Long intervals of silence can be excruciating to a listener, but they are pierced by deliberately long and massive guitar notes and drums that approach the pace of a funeral dirge. Every note is played to its conclusion before the next note begins. A pipe organ is used to great effectiveness in most of the songs. Unlike Bach’s colorful and complex arrangements, this organ wraps each piece in an icy shroud. The drummer in this band cannot be compared to any other – enough said. And the vocals… never before has a voice so successfully become an instrument in and of itself.
Skepticism will surely leave you numb, but the emptiness will slowly fade to tranquility and awe.
“The forest is around me
In silence the pines stand tall
With the wind they whisper their tales
As their wisdom is everdarkgreen.”
Imagine, you’ve just survived fighting a war in which many loved ones have perished. You’re sitting silently, reflecting on the great, honourable people who died for the great cause that you’ve finally achieved. A great deal of this album evokes that feeling. It conveys silent reflection upon a painful yet glorious and heroic experience, no doubt in a setting of beautiful naturalism as represented by the album’s organic flavour. This is one of the great, evocative doom recordings.
This album isn’t purely a sad piece, there are darker, ominous moments in which the keyboards tend to sound more like a church organ and the melodies are all far sludgier. See track 2 for details – it greatly contrasts to the reflective previous track. Perhaps it’s a flashback into a time where a presence loomed across the sea, and war seemed likely. Track 3 is indicative of being called to said war – riding out to meet the terrifying enemy (I get the impression that this enemy may be beastly) with grave expressions of devotion – a “no turning back – this is our cause” mentality. This is very epic, the most purely epic and majestic song so far, by itself it seems to symbolise a great heroic quest yet it’s part of something even bigger. Skepticism have the ability to create vastness out of simplicity – something few can master. Track 4 is the victory, there’s no doubt about that. Sunlight, finality, triumph. This is certainly the “happiest”-sounding song on the album, yet still retains that tastefully sorrowful touch.
“The Gallant Crow”, track 5, is the masterpiece. Absolutely epic as hell, painfully sad, beautifully ambient and reflective, this would probably be the perfect soundtrack to end a great epic war film. This is one of my favourite songs of all time. Worth the money by itself, but worth far more when listened to in context. The final track is a mountaineous 12+ minutes long, and incorporates almost all of the above into one crushing finale. “Fuck me,” you think to yourself as it fades out and you reflect on the romantic journey you’ve just experienced. It only takes 1 listen to absorb.
With grand yet mournfully toned keyboards layered over booming doomy guitar passages and typically snail-paced powerfully-produced drumming, Stormcrowfleet doesn’t push so many boundaries purely in the aesthetic sense, but the moods captured are quite unique. The vocals are also very powerful – cold, drawn out growls that possess very little variation in tone or dynamics, giving the album a desolate touch. There are also ambient keyboard sections, creating the dynamic contrasts and anti-climaxes necessary in epic, reflective pieces of metal.
Mm, not much more to say. Buy this, even if you don’t usually like doom metal – you may just find yourself captivated.