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Gothic/doom is a genre that I've been enjoying a lot recently, and Norwegian act To Cast a Shadow are my latest discovery. Having come across them only a few hours ago I've already fallen in love with their second album In Memory Of, and I have a feeling that this will not be the last I hear of this band.
I was looking for death/doom bands when To Cast a Shadow jumped out at me, and surprisingly this is heavier than anything I'd come across beforehand. The presence of the bass is really felt across In Memory Of, and it is audible even with the rumble of the guitars as a near-constant accompaniment. Although it is rarely used to further the music by itself, just being able to hear it over the riffing is always a good addition to an album. The rhythm section of the guitars are fairly standard and not all that exciting, but the ominous and in some respects distant thunder that they produce really provides To Cast a Shadow a great platform to build a captivating atmosphere from. That's just what they do, and they do it well. There are no keyboards, but there are so many different layers to In Memory Of that there isn't any need for one. The lead guitar is capable of doing so many different things, from melodic solos where they take centre stage to subtle ups and downs that barely make it past the rhythm section. What they do often isn't complex, but it's just perfect for catching the listener's attention. This is never more obvious than on the crowning achievement of this record, the title-track that closes the album.
As far as vocals are concerned, when I heard clean female vocals I automatically expected To Cast a Shadow to utilise the fairly common 'beauty and the beast' balance. This is not the case, and the vocals are done almost solely by Gunnhild Huser (apart from on 'Betula', which lasts a mere eighty seconds and has Theatre of Tragedy's Nell Sigland singing). Sadly Gunnhild only stuck around for this record, but she makes her impact felt. She has a fair range, although she tends to stick to the lower end of her register. She's quite enchanting, and the slight echo that's been added to her voice only adds to the otherworldly vibe she gives off. Her voice never loses its strength even when she reaches the top end of her range, which is particularly impressive given the number of singers that do exactly that. She's very captivating on her own, but I can't help but feel that the music would be energised a bit if the very infrequent male growls cropped up a little more often just to emphasise her voice a little more.
In Memory Of is very melancholic, but one of its drawbacks is that it rarely reaches the point where a song is so beautiful I have to play it twice or thrice in a row. The only track that really makes me want to do that is 'In Memory Of', which is haunting from start to finish. I don't know what the key to that one being a success is relative to the others, but to me it feels like raw emotion. Nothing else here quite manages that. With other gothic/doom acts like Draconian that's what I get every second that the record is spinning for, and that's what makes it so enjoyable. Stale isn't a word that I would associate with this album, but the point of gothic metal is to make the listener feel something and too often To Cast a Shadow don't do it powerfully enough, despite having all the tools they need to do that. It's not a case of it being a total flop in that department, but it just isn't quite as good as it could have been.
Overall however I have to say that this is a very solid gothic/doom album and it's worth your time if you're a fan of slow, heavy and simplistic stuff. The title-track is definitely the standout for me, but others like 'Tormented', 'Morose' and 'My Misery' make this album quite complete and worth investing forty-five minutes in exploring.
To Cast a Shadow is a gothic doom metal band from Norway and this is their second studio CD. The songs are generally driven by very heavy, dense and crunchy riffing with extended clean guitar melodies weaving in and out of the arrangements. The riffing is traditional doom style, combining deep bass and rhythm guitars into a crushingly heavy, slow-to-mid paced atmospheric wall-of-sound with subtle but frequent changes in texture. The clean guitar melodies have a classic, somewhat power metal feel to them, and their variety and length provide an almost progressive touch to many of the songs. Although ‘In Memory Of’ is largely melancholic, there are occasional faster passages featuring a festive gothic groove reminiscent of Draconian. There are practically no keys at all.
Their female vocalist, Gunnhild Huser, is a superb and versatile singer. She usually sings with strong, smooth rather deliberate alto or soprano style that fits perfectly with the underlying doomy riffing, with frequent excursions, especially her choruses, to a bright, clear anthemic style that is often just thrilling to hear; it’s a rather unique blend of brooding melancholy and guarded hopefulness, the same emotions that are often expressed in the lyrics. There are several styles of male vocals but all are sparse and serve mainly to add atmosphere to a song: there are tortured growls and harsh shrieks to add menace, and clean and spoken vocals to add warmth.
There is something very special about ‘In Memory Of’ that is actually quite difficult to pin-point. It is absolutely hypnotic when given a dedicated, focused listen, yet can be quite nondescript as background music. Part of the magic is the subtly changing texture of the arrangements combined with their sheer power and majesty, and part of it is Gunnhild’s enchanting vocal delivery with her mesmerizing flow back and forth from deliberate alto and soprano to melancholy poppiness. Perhaps it’s the skillful and seamless integration of all these things together, but in any case ‘In Memory Of’ is one of the most emotive and engaging CDs I’ve heard in a very long time.
Originally reviewed at http://www.metalcdratings.com/