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I Wish You Were Here With Me Tonight - 90%

Frankingsteins, December 17th, 2007

The second album from Harlow doom-metallers Warning was released in late 2006, a staggering seven years after their debut release. Although this was primarily due to frontman Pat Walker’s pursuit of an acting career, the extended duration is entirely appropriate to Warning’s funereally slow style. As musical taste is entirely subjective, each individual will respond in varying degrees to music that is designed to evoke emotions of sorrow, whether it’s a particularly sad Mahler symphony or everything recorded by Radiohead ever. For me, ‘Watching from a Distance’ is the most intensely upsetting and hopelessly forlorn music I’ve ever heard, partly because of the associations it has to the depressing time at which it came into my collection, when I felt compelled to endure its languid melancholy repeatedly.

This album collects five songs ranging from a comparatively short seven and a half minutes (I said comparatively) to a monstrous twelve, and excepting slight deviations in delivery, the tone is perpetually dismal and sorrowful, translated in the music through an enormously slowed tempo of drawn-out notes. Rather than sounding like an average-speed song slowed down, Warning’s funeral-doom style constructs guitar riffs and vocal melodies that stretch across the minimalist soundscape, backed by a drum that hits once a second or less, in an incredibly effective attempt to create a bleak and isolated atmosphere. Taking its cue largely from classic Swedish doom band Candlemass as well as more local influences such as Cathedral and even Black Sabbath, Warning associates more thematically with the depressed death-doom, lovelorn lyrics of fellow Brits My Dying Bride and Anathema, without resorting to the death metal vocals and blasting drums of either.

The slow, extended sound will be the most startling aspect of this album for newcomers, especially as it never speeds up in a significant way throughout (though the shorter second and fourth songs do stand out as less sombre than the longer main ‘trilogy’), but for seasoned doom metal fans the main area of interest will likely be the vocals. Pat Walker, also the guitarist and song-writer, follows the memorable example of Robert Lowe from Solitude Aeturnus (now the frontman for Candlemass) in his pained high singing, with a nasal tone reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne in the early days. Avoiding the bombastic tenor approach of Messiah Marcolin, Walker’s distinct voice adds a great sense of character and personalisation to this album, something I find lacking in the indistinct death metal grunts of My Dying Bride and their contemporaries, and although the nasal edge will likely get on some peoples’ nerves, it’s clear that his acting training has taught him how to express himself clearly without going over the top. Perhaps more vocalists should take up that career, to avoid sounding too melodramatic.

With the focus being on creating and maintaining a tone that lasts through the album, the other musicians naturally have less opportunity to show off their credentials, but carry out their duties admirably. Walker’s guitar dominates the proceedings as expected, taking second place only to his vocals and filling in with higher and more melodic ending sections in place of inappropriate guitar solos once the lyrics are over, but Stuart Springthorpe’s drums are the real foundation. Usually following a repeating pattern of a cymbal tap followed by a drum hit, but varying with each song, Springthorpe’s playing is necessarily repetitive but avoids being dull or too noticeable. The only real weak link is Marcus Hatfield’s bass guitar, which becomes lost behind the loud, constantly roaring guitar sustain and is only really noticeable at the start of the fourth track.

1. Watching from a Distance
2. Footprints
3. Bridges
4. Faces
5. Echoes

An obvious comment to make is that much of this album sounds very similar, especially on the first few listens before the nuances of each song define themselves, but recently I’ve come to regard the longer odd-numbered tracks as a different entity to the slightly shorter second and fourth songs, which diverge thematically and musically to some extent. The unofficial ‘trilogy’ is wisely separated by these seven to eight minute pieces, which prevent the similar crashing riffs from blending too much into each other, and allowing some time away from Walker’s tales of lost love. The lyrics of tracks one, three and five are all addressed to an absent ‘you,’ clearly a loved one who has left of their own will rather than a dead family member or pet, and although many of the remarks made are a little predictable and clichéd in the ‘that’s exactly how that would make me feel’ way, the non-commercial nature of Warning’s music means that it’s more easily believed and less of a publicity stunt, though of course Walker’s acting experience could negate this reliability.

These three songs are all based, as is the norm, on a main crushing guitar riff, becoming heavier as the album goes on to culminate in ‘Echoes,’ with Walker warbling his regrets and losses every so often in an irresistible sing-song fashion around the riffs. The album encourages loud volume, perfectly suited to the high quality, deep production, and while the chorus sections are easy enough to learn after a couple of repetitions, the rest of the words can easily be substituted with whatever you imagine he might be saying as you lie in your empty double bed, clutch her side of the duvet and sing along through the tears; the melodies are easy to follow, and weave nicely through the riffs. The songs all start and end abruptly, the riffs appearing and disappearing from the speakers, but each of these three songs features a nice ending section lasting several minutes in which Walker’s guitar takes the place of the vocals and leads out on a slightly higher scale, complimented in the excellent third track by some backing ‘ahh-ahh-ahh’ singing behind the noise.

Tracks two and four are slightly shorter and thus more palatable for newcomers to doom metal, and are equally as good as the longer, more traditional trilogy songs. ‘Footprints’ describes the lead-up to a battle that the speaker felt safe he would never have to face before being confronted with the reality, which may be a metaphor but I prefer to take at face value to differentiate this song from the others. Walker’s vocals in these two songs take on a more warbled, gruff tone, sounding a little like Saxon’s Biff Bryford on occasion, and on the whole there’s more abundant energy to these songs than the sapping effect of the others, sounding more like early Candlemass here. Track four begins very suddenly, wasting no time moving from a brief bass riff to some instant vocals, and is necessarily slightly more upbeat to maintain interest at this late point before the black hole of the final song.

‘Watching from a Distance’ is an intense album in exactly the opposite way to a relentlessly violent Cannibal Corpse album, and is the finest doom album I’ve heard from recent years. The repetition could be seen as unimaginative, and doubtless many will find the whole experience dull (especially if they’re in an incredibly happy place and have never had their heart broken... b**tards), but Warning’s music combines most of the strengths of the genre and pushes it to the extreme, using only the three basic rock instruments along with Pat Walker’s excellent voice to create a truly funereal atmosphere without needing to resort to clichéd organs or violins. This is pure, unadulterated and deeply gloomy doom from the school of Candlemass and St. Vitus, but without the headbanging potential of either. Sigh. I’ve gone all melancholy now, better stick on some Manowar...