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Wijlen Wij (the name is a Flemish play on words, roughly translating as ‘we,deceased’) is a Belgium-based funeral doom supergroup, and this 2007 eponymous debut album has been their only release to date. All four members of Wijlen Wij are noted for their work in other doom bands, with the most prominent being vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player Kostas Panagiotou, of Pantheist renown, and the indefatigable Stijn van Cauter, who contributes vocals, guitar and bass, and who’s involved with numerous projects, including Beyond Black Void, Until Death Overtakes Me and Fall of the Grey-Winged One, as well as sometimes playing with Pantheist. Kostas and Stijn are joined by a rhythm section consisting of drummer Kris Villez, also of Pantheist and In Somnis, and bassist Lawrence van Haecke, of Solicide, yet another band that Stijn van Cauter is a member of.
With a line-up like that, the omens were always going to be good for Wijlen Wij producing something pretty special, and throughout the 72-minute duration of this album, they deliver top-notch funeral doom with great finesse, Kostas’ synth work in particular adding any number of sophisticated, progressive flourishes, although the band never neglects its central mission objective of creating an overwhelmingly morose, oppressive atmosphere, with massive, filth-encrusted riffs ground out of hugely distorted, downtuned guitars.
The album opens with its shortest track, ‘L'Anathème’, which begins with an eerie combination of chanted monastic vocals and imposing minor-key organ work, leading into a mesmeric, droning hurdy-gurdy melody, creating an atmosphere redolent with medieval flagellant ecstasies and crusader militarism, like a mixture of Creed Of Iron-era Graveland, classic Bathory, and even neo-folk and neo-medieval acts like The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud and The Soil Bleeds Black. Any doubt about Wijlen Wij’s doom credentials, however, is immediately dispelled by the cathartic blasts of buzzing, abrasive guitar which roar in over the melody, accompanied by booming timpani bashing out a fatalistic beat like the brutal overseer of a slave galley. Clean, chanted vocals maintain the epic feel of this song.
The title track, ‘Wijlen Wij’, which follows, steps down the pace for a more orthodox 11-minute doom dirge, Kostas’ low, growling vocals rattling around below a sinuous keyboard melody, hemmed in on all sides by those fearsomely distorted guitars. This isn’t the kind of extreme doom purveyed by the likes of Moss, Monarch or Habsyll, which achieves its effect with overwhelming slowness and heaviness, it’s more along the lines of Nortt, Skepticism and Thergothon, with a doleful, dreary atmosphere embellished by wan melody and choral chanting. Sections of the fourth track, ‘Falling Stars’, are actually quite rapid, with chugging guitar riffs and harsh vocals bringing the sound closer to rough, mid-paced black metal than doom.
Wijlen Wij save their best for last, however, as the album closes with the grandiose 21-minute opus ‘Bridges’. Almost preposterously vast, deep vocals rumble out through echoing abysses as the guitars and keyboards construct an imposing edifice of sound, church organ notes evoking epic visions of gilded gothic excess which in turn give way to a cinematic scorched-earth battlefield vista of weary war-drums and elegiac orchestral strings, augmented by clean baritone vocals in English. The song even find time for a quiet plucked guitar interlude and soaring tremolo solo at around 16 minutes, before building towards a fittingly expansive close.
The album is let down a bit by its uninvolving cover art and packaging. The cover is a crusty, green-black void looking a bit like tree bark, simply adorned with the band’s name in a curvy black-letter font, and the insert only contains the lyrics of the title track, a sonnet in Flemish with no translation given. I guess it could be argued that less is more, but this deficit of information and imagery doesn’t really act as a spur to the listener’s imagination – I for one would have liked to see more visual cues to the Wijlen Wij aesthetic. Having said that, however, this album is definitely a worthy addition to Aesthetic Death’s discerning doom roster, which also encompasses Wreck Of The Hesperus, Esoteric and, more recently, Murkrat and Eibon. And I actually prefer Wijlen Wij to Pantheist – there’s a rougher, harsher feel to this band, compared to Pantheist’s sophistication and intricacy.
Wijlen Wij is a limited-edition release of 1000 copies, and the bad news is that this album was almost sold out at the time of writing. Given that all the members of the band are busy with other projects, the prospect of a follow-up album seems uncertain, and the band’s website is making no promises along those lines. But any self-respecting funeral doom fan owes it to themselves to add this monumental work of medieval mournfulness to their hoard of grave goods, ready for interment.
This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine:
Ever wondered what a hybrid of Until Death Overtakes Me and Pantheist would sound like? Look no further because you’ve found it! The music contained within this release is just what you would expect from the union of these two bands.
This is fairly heavy Funeral Doom Metal. The guitars drone throughout the release while sounding fuzzy. The drums are minimalistic and sound programmed (and slightly under rehearsed) in places. The bass doesn’t do anything amazing either. The keyboards remind one of ‘Long Winters Stare’ (at least in the first song) and also one is reminded of Pantheist. The vocals are chanted and growled (again reminding one of Pantheist).
Over all this is 2 parts UDOTM and 1 part Pantheist, using various trademarks from either. The speed is slightly faster than you would expect from a Funeral band. There are some faster moments as well (faster being a relative term here).
Over all the production is alright, not being anything too special. This is more or less what one would expect from some of the biggest names in the Funeral Doom movement. The first three or so songs aren’t anything that special; the latter half of this album is where it starts to pick up.
This is far from mind blowing, but this isn’t generic. This is worth picking up if your into the extreme end of Funeral Doom Metal.