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With cover art featuring a joyously glowing daisy, you’d be forgiven for thinking this album was some kind of hippie chillout extravaganza had it not been for the fact you are currently perusing Ave Noctum. Of course, reality is far from that – this is the 2nd full length album from Danes Woebegone Obscured, having taken the best part of 6 years to follow up from their debut. Taking their time is clearly ingrained in their very spirit, as it seems like to tackle everything in a slow and agonisingly drawn out manner (in a good way). The five tracks that make up this album clock in just shy of 80 minutes of funeral dirge hell/heaven (depending on your persuasion).
Dissonant chords crash into each other, shimmering and echoing like oceanic turmoil, clean and harsh vocals share the limelight, with massive melodies shining through the ringing discordant turbulence, shuddering and billowing like giant lungs sighing forth a death rattle. There’s a lot to like here, and at times I’m reminded of some of the true greats of the scene in their soundscapes. Continually allowing a seemingly never-ending expanse of depth and space in their sound adds to their bleakness, slowly flattening you in an anaconda-like grip of depression. However, it’s not all plain sailing. The clean vocals sound a bit weak from time to time and are often overused in my opinion. Also, a couple of the tracks seem to lose their way around the halfway point, before returning to the sonic drudgery that started them off so well. It is little niggles like this which can turn a great album into an average one, and I’m afraid that for me, this is what has happened here.
The label blurb mentions Woebegone Obscured in the same sentence as Evoken and Thergothon. Sure, those are easy comparisons to make. However, Woebegone Obscured aren’t on the same sort of planet as those two monoliths of the genre. Those guys measure on the Richter scale of subsonic crush, whereas these Danes are still in the embryonic stages of knowing how to attack your listener with slow, creeping death/doom. Sure there are many signs of greatness here, but ‘Marrow of Dreams’ doesn’t quite have the nuance and judgment to quite tip you over the edge. Yet. I will be watching their progress very closely from now on however. Not bad at all, but not quite the finished product I think the band were hoping to achieve.
Originally written for www.avenoctum.com
Though I laud these Danes for expanding greatly upon the sounds of their 2007 debut Deathstination, I still found myself having several hangups with a complaint I usually lodge against doom metal albums which overstay their welcome: if you haven't got enough material to really swell out a track between 13-20 minutes in length, then it might be better to chop them down. Not that there's anything particularly terrible in how Woebegone Obscured 'pad' out the intended epics, but as a sort of transcendental, 80 minute listening experience, this one often seems more empty than full. 'Empty' in the way that a lot of doom metal bands feel this genre needs to feel, perhaps, but hardly conducive to a mesmerizing or compelling auditory escape, so as much as I attempted to engage with the naturalist imagery of the packaging in contrast to the dreary glories of the compositional style, I just never sunk into that next level of immersion.
That said, Marrow of Dreams is an acceptable listen if you're in the mood for just something slow that might sort of fade off into the background, mood music for glade-gazing and cloud-counting which maintains a fraction of the gloomy edge of its predecessor. In fact, this is sort of like a 'life' alternative to the 'death' of the debut, and conveys its sense of sadness and expression in brighter shades than that crushing murk. There are still some pretty pure death/doom tunes like "In Suffering Darkness Dwell" which border upon the funereal, but even there the glacial melodies or cleaner strings woven throughout have an almost abstract notion of warmth that permeates the dusky, drawn-out chords. With almost no exceptions, I greatly preferred the more spacious and ambient-imbued passages of the album, where the strings really breathe, or where the cleaner melodic vocal tones reign supreme, or perhaps you'll hear a natural sample or two, but this is not exclusive, since the chugging and growling is almost inevitable, and it's almost constantly mundane in construction with no real creativity beyond the fact that there are often other atmospherics measuring off against it. Intuitive and simplistic as a rural trail, but lacking thrills or surprises around any corner.
Even though they occasionally drift into awkwardness, the variety of the vocals is actually a stronger point, with the more ethereal, tonal voices balanced against death/doom gutturals and a slightly higher rasp, it seems like there are multiple personalities in contemplation against the mourning naturescapes. The guitar melodies are also quite solemn, like a slow rain on tree leaves as it crashes to a forest floor, sort of reminded me of what I liked so much about Paradise Lost's amazing Icon record, only nowhere near as catchy or concise. This blend of slower, almost folkish doom atmosphere also had me reminiscing over the Yearning debut With Tragedies Adorned, a little known Finnish album which conjured up a comparable, rustic sense of environment with rays of sun glaring off hillsides and woodland canopies. Alas, where those works had the benefit of tighter songwriting, this one just tends to drift along the river for far too long, never quite losing sight of its purpose, but nevertheless rambling on inoffensively. It's not a bad album, but perhaps a little more indulgent in its vacuity than I was prepared for, and as a result not much about it stood to memory, very few moments inspired me to return to them repeatedly.