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Upon first listen I felt I had severely underestimated the timespan it had been since my last endeavours in listening to While Heaven Wept, when the first two tracks appear to be fast and verging on power metal! For a band I previously regarded as one of the most epic of all of doom this came as a shock, but after the quick one-two of "Hour of Reprisal" and "Destroyer of Solace" normal service appears to be resumed when "Obsessions Now Effigies" crawls into more conventional WHW speed, not to reappear for the duration of this strangely configured, confused and oddly short album.
Even now that I'm aware WHW are not the epic doomsters of old and today claim as much an 'epic metal' tag as anything else, there is still an odd quality to what is only their fourth album in a 20-year existence. Verging from a Candlemass-meets-Rhapsody-Of-Fire style in the earlier tracks, to the fluff of the middling "Obsessions…" and "Unplenitude", is it "To Grieve Forever" and "Saturn And Sacrifice" which represent the obvious doom but they both finish before giving all that they can, leaving only 11-minute closer "Finality" to play it's full set before disappearing into the night.
On vocals Rain Irving does not hold back, showcasing the kind of energy in his delivery that could make even the dullest of doom come alive in an explosion of colour. His operatic tendencies link in nicely with many of the climaxes of the music (especially in "Finality") but in those moments does it appear that the very essence of WHW's epically sculptured music sounds cheesy and forced. Just listen to "Unplenitude" and argue it does not sound impatient; an odd fact for a band who've recorded so rarely in the past.
It seems like the desire to spread their wings has flown While Heaven Wept into territories they were not ready for. If they wanted grandiose epic (ala Ereb Altor) the pace would need to be slowed, or for the truly epic the song structures would require lengthening and better quality control (ala Solitude Aeturnus). As it is, we're left with an album that among it's brighter moments of passion and charisma falls flat when trying to achieve it's main ambitions, a touch disappointing for a band with better work behind them.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
There is one problem, and one problem alone with While Heaven Wept's Fear of Infinity; the album was released after the epic Vast Oceans Lachrymose. Unfortunately, Infinity does not live up to very high expectations, but at the same time is a solid offering from these epic doom metalers; and this fact pains me very much.
The album starts off with two fast tracks in Hour of Reprisal and Destroyer of Solace. These tracks build off the faster pace the band introduced on Lachrymose and adds a pleasant new dimension into a genre where slow and mid-tempo tracks are the norm. But the album loses steam with the track Unplenitude. The track is a reworking of song recorded earlier in the bands history (and trust me, it sounds MUCH better than the original) but the acoustic track, which don't get me wrong is beautiful, sucks the life right out of the album. I do not have a problem with the song, so much as its placement on the album.
The album picks up again, after the doomy, appropriately named, To Grieve Forever, with Saturn and Sacrifice. The track mixes the slower elements of WHW with the faster material offered earlier in the album. The closer, a 10 minute epic, Finality, seems to be a long song for the sake of being long and does not offer much to catch the listeners attention.
Perhaps I will come around to this album and perhaps I am being too harsh. But I cannot help but feel the band did not fully expand upon the groundwork laid out in the previous album. Those who are familiar with WHW catalog can hear the growth between the releases of Of Empires Forlorn and Lachrymose, but one will find it hard to hear any growth in Fear of Infinity.
As doom metal bands go, While Heaven Wept are just out there. The loudly cosmic cover art says it: it's not one of those stoner doom type covers with a lot of '70s psychedelia either, it takes the familiar (for doom) image of the downcast human face and throws it out into a fanciful galaxy of colours. There's no retro conventions to be found visually or aurally with them, doom is just the starting point for a wildly eclectic yet keenly focused channeling of emotion via doom, heavy, power, epic and, I'm sure, a bunch of other heavy metal derivations. It shouldn't surprise you, after hearing this, that Rain Irving counts Fates Warning among his favourites, as do Scott Loose, Jim Hunter and, of course, Tom Phillips.
With its obsessively pristine and calculated BIG production, this is awesome to play loud, particularly what is probably the best opening trio of songs I have heard yet this year. 'Hour of Reprisal' wastes no time in getting going, straight into double-bass drumming and blastbeats complimenting the dramatic vocals. No intro or slow build, just pummeling metal incorporating everything from blasts, tremolo-picked riffs and grooving swirls of downtuned guitars into the knife-edge between utter depression and cathartic uplift that the band has struck upon. All clear during the very first song, and it's not even that long - then at under three minutes, 'Destroyer of Solace' adopts more traditionally doomlike vocal melodies, at least until its incredible power metal chorus. Best of all, these first three kings run into one another, making for what seems like one eleven-minute epic that mercilessly batters you with one emotion-charged lead and crashing synth backdrop after another. The pinnacle of this epic is 'Obsessions Now Effigies', a triumphant march of gunning guitar motifs and trawling drum patterns, with Rain Irving sounding lost, broken and stunningly powerful all at the same time.
The second "half" of the album, or rather the last two thirds, takes its time to get going - but still doesn't advance to the same level of eclecticism and energy present in that opening three triumphs. 'Unplenitude', I believe, is an older song, as I've seen it crop in demo form on collections of music by WHW that I, regrettably, do not own. It doesn't really do much here, with a rather saccharine piano thing going on, a repetitive chorus (despite its presentation in Irving's fantastic voice) and general lack of substance. Never mind, its function is to set the scene for 'To Grieve Forever', which completes the mid-album relaxation before the chugging doom and double-guitar march of 'Saturn And Sacrifice' and the closer. 'Finality's eleven minutes features a mixture of metallic thrust and emotionally fragile passages, which gives the preceding twenty-six minutes of this diverse platter some of the context and wholeness it needs.
One remarkable thing about the album to mention is its length. It's barely thirty-eight minutes long, five minutes shorter than its predecessor. For a sound this huge and with such grandiose concepts afoot, the vinyl-friendly run time is... totally bloody refreshing! Anyone else sick of overblown, flabbily conceptual overkill albums spinning out into hours of thinly-stretched material? Personally I'd rather be left wanting more than thinking, fuck, should I bother trying to find the bits I liked and put those songs on my iPod, or just forget this whole thing? Neither! I should listen to this album.
Despite some wavering in compelling-ness in the middle, this album is wonderful as a whole and gets me more pumped than any power metal I've heard in a while, plus its more aptly depressing than any doom I've heard in a very long time. This is by no means as flawlessly perfect as its predecessor, that's all. Play this right after Vast Oceans Lachrymose however, and the resulting hour-twenty of material, bookended by complimenting epics, is very satisfying - not to mention, over before you know it. This band has hit upon the most successful combination of ambitious melody and emotional doom metal since My Dying Bride's The Light at the End of the World. Forget all those hundreds of millions of Helevorns and Mar de Griseses, their overwrought melodic doom melanges have only been pale foreshadowings of your discovering While Heaven Wept.
Since their beginnings and up until now, While Heaven Wept have successfully shown themselves as the epitome of musical evolution itself: hundreds of lineups, a broad repertoire, and whatever the hell you ever want to imagine. WHW has truly achieved success. I remember a comment by Tom Philips himself saying that Fear of Infinity was going to be THE album. Well, it is THE album.
Spinning in the vein of VOL, this album places you in a huge catapult and shoots you at incredible speeds into the unknown. You never know what to expect while listening to all this. It's so immense and varies a lot. Of course, WHW's trademark is present all the time: acoustic interludes, brutal climaxes, baroque-like music lines here and there and an epic (Finality). It's practically like saying that WHW took the crème de la crème of themselves, made a puzzle with it, and assembled a 37:11 masterpiece.
The only one thing I dislike is... well, only 37 minutes? But in the end, I see music albums like books. You can have a huge book that won't fill you at all, but also you can have a rather small book that will totally lift you from your seat and fill your head, heart, and soul with knowledge and whatever. The same thing happens with this "less than 40 pages book for your ears".
I listened to it in the dark with earphones and trust me, it's a unique experience, just like any other WHW album. I praise the fingers that pulled those strings, pressed those keys, hit those drums, sung those words, and the mastermind(s) behind everything.
Highlights: Destroyer of Solace, Obsessions Now Effigies, Finality.