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It's albums like "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" that made me think that doom metal is the worst genre of metal and despise it for years on when I was a kid. Funnily enough, it became my favourite style of metal when I discovered real-balled doom. Well, I'd explain myself now.
Firstly, by giving this album low percentage, I am not saying in any way that the musicianship on this album sucks. On the contrary, it is pretty obvious even if you don't have the ear of a musician that the songs contain a good amount of complexity. However, I've always believed that being a virtuoso and throwing huge amounts of professionalism was never a merit in metal and rock'n'roll in general. Most of the time - the simpler music, the better and this counts a great deal for doom as well.
What is worst about this record is that it doesn't move me a bit. All it evokes in me is prolonged dullness. I guess the most horrific thing are the vocals, the opera-like high pitched wailing that never ends. At the points of the album when it's supposed to be the most dramatic and affecting your inner self - that's when it's most "meh". In certain songs like "Living sepulchre" when the guitar is quite tight and really fast I can almost picture in my mind an operetta - clowns dancing with wooden sticks pretending they are warriors. Really absurd. All this is giving me no emotions, more likely a headache. I am not denying that the guitar players are good, there is a pretty decent playing and good variations of ideas, but as I said - the point is not to play a thousand different melodies bumped into one song without any evident purpose.
My ears can hardly take anymore after the chorus in "Vessel". A band consisting of gothic princesses will be seriously impressed by these fine young gentleman. Yes, but not me, this singing sounds like the one of an eunuch that has fallen in love. That's really a pity, because there are various good doom riffs and the tight sound would be enjoyable if it wasn't for the feeling I get - of observing a soup opera. Truth is, "Vessel" is really good before the modern 'ala-power' metal singing enters. It adds a very light feeling to the whole idea and the further slowing of the guitar makes the song one idea dumber.
The self-titled song is a mass of melody and "we are about to touch your tender heart" type of melodies with.. thank Lord, no vocals. Then enters the epilogue, which in my opinion is the best part of the album (probably because it is ending?) and the only song that really makes me feel something in any way. It could be used for an ending of a fantasy film and is actually pretty relaxing.
I approached this album with a great deal of hope, but as it is quite obvious, it didn't answer my call. Maybe if you dig cheesy power metal and more light-hearted doom, you could go for this.
A fusion record that only tangentially uses "metal" as a framework for a much grander narrative, Vast Oceans Lachrymose (2009) is a modern neoclassical masterwork, a stroke of genius from a band that has had trouble producing consistent records. Flagrantly abusing melody to its full extent, while retaining the driving power of doom and NWOBHM-esque dynamics (with a dash of progressive structure), While Heaven Wept have created an enduring piece of power-art that could be massively enjoyed both by a thrash head with a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of the metal genre, as well as more traditional doom metal enthusiasts. In short, a monolithic sea-bound concept record of mythic proportions.
Full Disclosure: When I first heard this record, I could not get over "The Furthest Shore". I just kept listening to it over and over. So if you get stuck there and can't make it all the way through the record on the first try, then you're in good company. An opus in the sense that it can be remembered as While Heaven Wept's best work to date, Vast Oceans Lachrymose is a dense and overpowering record, one that at points may seem as if the inevitable conclusion stretches beyond the horizon, beyond the band's ability to resolve the magnificent wastes and waves harmonizing sound. Yet a deft composer's touch must be present to carry off such epic notions, and in no better record is this apparent.
The production on this record is absolutely flawless. Guitars, distorted and clean, sound as if plucked out of a sound capsule in the Mariana Trench, all blended clearly over steady and audible basswork. Metal musicians have had an uneven relationship with keyboards for almost 50 years now, and rarely is a mixing job this dead to right. The keyboards lay mystically in the background, giving the overall mix the bluish-black texture of deep sea, occasionally roaring forth for a harmonizing solo. The performances are captured as gloriously heavy with palpable weight, which, along with the frequent use of doom-metallish tempos, are cleverly used to drive the narrative and evoke all manner of wild emotion. The jazzy and flamenco-ish acoustic and clean leads are truly a joy to hear, recalling all manner of influences, from Santana to Pacabel to Maiden. The drums march out the massive repetitive patterns magnificently (note how crisply the ride cymbal comes through in the mix, essential on a doom record), and serve as the oars to carry the weary seafarer forward.
To even have a prayer of bringing the majestic story of the doomed voyage to life, Rain Irving had to give the performance of a lifetime. A hopeless crew needs a valiant captain, and Irving's edge-of-panic operatic style lends itself to the image. The harmonies on the entire record, not merely on vocals, but within the instrumentation itself, are heavenly: in spots they become classic and imminently memorable. In all excellent progressive metal the vocalist needs to understand his place, and here Irving drives the painful tale, written for him by guitarist and bandleader Tom Phillips, manically forward without making his presence over-felt (a fair trick to pull off on such an emotional record). The thing is all over very quickly after the last extended tune, "Vessel", clocking in at 6 songs and 42 minutes. A few ideas short of perfection, but as an allegory for the futile humanist search for meaning in a supposed meaningless multiverse, it comes through with top marks.
A cursory glance at the Artwork on the cover does not even reveal the complexity that lies within that work itself, but, much like the album, the truth is known if the serious listener delves deep enough below the surface. Interestingly, the band decided to leave off the lyrics that go together with the eponymous instrumental that closes the piece. They serve to inform we lost passengers, almost as a message-in-a-bottle type note, what the old wanderer who passed here before has already found.
"I set my heart out to sea,
Hoping someday my love would return to me,
Yet the years have passed like waves,
And I have fatigued with age,
In lachrymal oceans vast,
Deserts of time have washed away
The passage of time implies progression,
Yet I've become stone,
Watching worlds dying,
Negating the solace I've never known"
Wasn't really sure what to expect with this band upon downloading this album- (yeah, I own it now, along with the rest of their stuff that's in print) it's a pretty godawful band/album name, one of my e-bros insisted it was all saccarhine and what not- but fark this is one beast of an album. A polished, sprawling, catchy, heavy album that is a total classic as far as I'm concerned.
Whether opening with the strongest track is a good idea is still up for debate, but the flat out opening riff combined with that vaguely Floyd-esque comedown of "The Further Shore" will attract most people with a pulse. The bands throws everything at the song; freight train opening riff, a few million breakdowns, huge doom riff, weepy, super extended crawl to the ending, the vocalist wailing all over the place. It sticks, though, and I guess that's what I didn't expect. Whereas this sprawling, long form doom/power thing really doesn't work in the hands of lesser bands (altantean kodex, I'm looking at you, ya boring knobs!!!!), here it ends up triumphant, uplifting, consistently interesting and has you playing air instruments like a man possessed.
TIght instrumentation, good songwriting and everyone being restrained, that's the key ingredients. The vocalist isn't afraid to shut up for long amounts of time, always has something worthwhile to sing when he steps up to the mike, and fits in brilliantly with the musicians- watch him wailing his balls off around the four minute mark of "To Wander the Void" and notice just how well it fits when the band switch gears from a crunching doom riff into a freight train Fates Warning section. Most likely the most triumphant moment of the album? Yeah, the rest of the band is clearly really able on their respective instruments; memorable bits are thrown out regularly on all instruments, and while you certainly couldn't say this is "minimalist", even when things are particularly fast and all over the place a coherence, a servitude to the song remains.
Said restraint pays off, too, for the tunes thrown out here are as varied as they are excellent (except for the really shit, made-in-5-minutes-on-a-bad-keyboard Epilogue). From the epic opener, to the frantic 'Living Sepulchre', to the weepy instrumental that's the title track- a track that does actually fit that awkward album title- shit's all over the place, but still full of the signature WHW attributes (definitely not an album to listen to on shuffle by the way, the album flows super well). Bombastic, monstrous guitar tone, excellent usage of dual leads, keen usage of dynamics... All in all a well oiled band full of energy and fire giving it everything. Not a bad sound to call your own!
There's no weak points here, save for the epilogue (which is why this doesn't get 100%) but that's really easily avoided so no dramas. Even the bass is audible, meaty and catchy! Overall as far as heavy, epic metal goes this is probably the best shit I've ever heard. Utterly monstrous.
I have had this one for maybe a month now, spinning it over and over, but I waited to review it for two reasons. One: Tom assured me that the promo version was not the final mix, and I wanted to hear the real album; and Two: this is a big, dense, rich album that takes a lot of time to really absorb. I have been waiting for six years for While Heaven Wept to follow up their massive "Of Empires Forlorn", and I confess there were times I almost thought I'd never see this album. But after all the waiting, "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" proves to be almost nothing like what I expected, and more than I could have hoped for.
I call this doom metal, because there is still a powerful doom element to their sound, and the lyrics are still very much in the doom mold. But this is not even close to the straight doom of their older works, and nothing like the current flood of stoner garbage and retro-Sabbath wannabes. While Heaven Wept have followed logically on their previous work while striking out into bold new directions to create a unique and powerful sound. Opener "The Furthest Shore" is like an overture for everything to come, establishing the sounds you will hear. It starts with a pounding rhythm which was very much not what I was expecting. I was looking for a slow build, as on "The Drowning Years", but no, this album gets right to it. No ‘intro', no fooling around. These songs are heavy, melodic, and emotional, highlighted by impressive playing and heartfelt leads that raise the atmosphere to another level. The sound is just big – big in ambition, big in arrangement and intent, spacious and powerful. With an opening song as huge and epic as "The Furthest Shore" you would expect the others to be less exciting, but that is not the case at all. They follow up with the pounding monster of "To Wander The Void", the addictively catchy "Living Sepulchre", the haunting "Vessel"…hell, there's just no bad songs on here, or even any that are not awesome in some way.
A big difference from the last album are the vocals of Altura singer Rain Irving, who takes over the lead spot from Tom Phillips this time out. I was skeptical, as I thought Tom's voice was a highlight of "Empires", but Rain has won me over with his powerful, visceral performance. He hits the highs clearly and easily, while maintaining a level of grit and emotion I would not have expected from a prog singer.
Big, heavy, orchestral and involving, "Vast Oceans Lachrymose" is a massive effort from a really visionary band. I hesitate to use the word ‘progressive', because this album has nothing to do with the kind of music that normally means. This album is progressive in the genuine sense of reaching for a new sound by putting together old sounds in new ways. If all you want from doom is slow and heavy, then this may not be what you are looking for. But if you want powerful heavy metal music that does not so much break boundaries as ignore them, then do not skip this album. Worth the wait, worth it a hundred times over.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com