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Majestic balance - 92%

gasmask_colostomy, June 13th, 2018

My general view towards funeral doom is that it needs to have incredible atmosphere, crushing guitars, or esoteric appeal to be at all worthwhile to spend time with, since much of the output from the genre is made up of boring and monotonous trudges through ringing guitar chords (riffs are not really a thing in funeral doom) with a vague approximation of emotion trying to keep the whole idea centred. I've said this before, but the balance between great music in this style and poor music is dictated by a fine margin. Towards Darkness get on the right end of it due to something between those three features that I said I needed and a little of another one: variety. I've rarely heard anything this slow avoid being repetitive this successfully and, in fact, it wouldn't be too difficult for other bands to take a leaf out of Solemn's book and try a similar approach.

One of the ways in which this does well is down to the structuring of the album. The two opening songs are both colossal slabs of slow doom that include lots of subtle keyboards and soundscapes, as well as an outstanding vocal performance, more on which later. They pack in just about everything that 10+ minute songs could require, such as mysterious and epic introductions, dramatic build-ups of heavy chords, flattening guitar presence, crashing drums, calm interludes, and extended melodies; then, just like that, the album changes tack and 'Nine Faces' weighs in like a movie score to a horribly inevitable disaster of massive scale. The album never quite returns to the lofty heights of 'The Summit' and 'Contentment', but that's not to say that the other big hitters 'Despair' and 'Continuity Error' don't pull their weight, merely that they opt for divergent paths instead of trying to capitalize on the same formula with diminishing returns. The clean, bass-led breakdown in the former, as well as the organ piping up from the depths of the latter's rolling verses, prove that there are more tricks to be used when the crown princes of slow are thinking clearly.

As for the other parts of the final product that contribute to its overall effectiveness, vocals are definitely up there. I don't know if I haven't listened to enough of this kind of music but Kevin Jones is a revelation, having an almighty roar on him that reminds me more than a little of several Swedish death metal bands; of course, the effect of using this voice amidst crashing slow tempos is electrifying, especially when it rears up unexpectedly out of the lull of the opener's interlude or suddenly piles in midway through 'Despair'. Simon Carignan also represents one quarter of the Canadian crew responsible entirely for keyboards and effects, which provide all the drama and atmosphere that those two enormous opening tracks require, while also being used for the long untitled piece that closes the album. That 16 minute instrumental means that the album proper only extends for around 45 minutes, since a totally atmospheric piece of ambient music doesn't test the listener in the same way as emotionally draining funeral doom; as a result, there is little possibility of getting tired of a style that usually taxes the patience much more severely.

In truth, it's tough to be too effusive about the merits of Solemn. Even minor elements of the sound are used to their full potential, such as powerful drum work that pulls the heavier songs through long passages of repetition, as well as an active bass presence that turns pauses in progress into intriguing interludes. Even the brief 'Alone' earns its place separating two more difficult tracks, while that ambient piece feels rather long though has a certain unnerving and uncanny quality, like a sinister night spent under the northern lights with the knowledge that a murderer is hiding somewhere in the snow. Naturally, if you don't like funeral doom, this probably isn't going to change your mind, but if you have found the subgenre tolerable in the past, you will almost certainly want to check out Towards Darkness. This debut album is quite something.

-- May Diamhea's feat of 100 reviews in 7 days remain unbeaten --