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Aeternum Vale (2006)
 

Doom:VS is a side project of Draconian's Johan Ericson. While that band possesses far too many gothic elements for me to tolerate, his solo work is very solid Doom/Death with obvious influences from the older works of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Katatonia, but with a definite character of its own. This band was recommended to me by a friend, some years ago, but I took quite a while to get around to really listening to it, assuming most modern things to not be worth the time to listen to. That may be the case with Black, Death and Thrash, but it would seem that the various forms of Doom Metal are still growing stronger. Once I really gave this some attention, it did not leave my ears for many months and is still something that I find myself returning to when in certain moods.

Aeternum Vale, latin for 'Farewell Forever', was released in July 2006. From the initial moments of "The Light That Would Fade", one can tell that this is far darker and more serious than anything released by Draconian. The guitars are crushingly heavy, possessing somewhat of an oppressive feeling, which matches the overall atmosphere of misery and hopelessness. Unlike a lot of Funeral Doom bands, things never get too slow to where it feels as if nothing is happening. Obviously, the entire album is a rather slow-paced affair, yet there is enough diversity in the songwriting that each song really stands out on its own and you never find yourself getting bored. The guitar melodies are well thought-out and perfectly convey a feeling of utter despair. Johan utilizes harsh vocals for the most part, in a deep style but not to the point where it no longer has any meaning. Some vocalists employ such a guttural approach that it renders the vocals completely ineffective, but that is not the case here. There are bits of clean vocals, occasionally, but mostly in a backing capacity. The drumming is used sparingly enough, never going overboard and distracting from the riffs. Everything really comes together to serve the singular purpose of opening the gates to the darkness of hell that lingers within us all. As the album progresses, you can feel yourself being dragged deeper into the abyss.

"Everything dies within"

The lyrics, themselves, do not merely tell the tale of one man's sorrow. One really gets the sense that the message is that this empty world holds nothing but grief and misfortune for all of us. Still, despite the fact that we are all here in this miserable wasteland of nothingness, we must carry our own load and thus we suffer together and in solitude at the same time. This is emphasized by the woeful lead in "The Faded Earth", which almost digs into your chest and carves away at the hole where your heart once resided. These days, it seems as if a lot of bands have forgotten the usefulness of guitar solos and the fact that they can really add a lot of depth to what is going on, when used correctly. Perhaps, there is still some rejection of the typical, obligatory guitar solo that one would often hear in the '80s and even into the '90s, but many musicians do themselves and their music a disservice to neglect this. There is very minimal use of keyboards, as well as some spoken word parts, but these things are done tastefully. Occasionally, there are sections that use clean guitars, also. These quiet parts are not terribly common, but used enough to add yet another dynamic to the album. To further this, there is also some limited use of tremolo melodies to accentuate the typical Doom riffing.

The highlight of the album is "Oblivion Upon Us", starting with a sombre piano bit and then erupting into an abysmal dirge of utter melancholy. It features some quieter parts that have clean spoken vocals, adding to the dismal atmosphere. The faint hints of keyboard use really demonstrates that less is more. There is somewhat of a nightmarish feeling to this song, at times, then bleeding into sections that are more sorrowful and epic. This very memorable and somewhat melodic piece of music captures the feeling of misery and despair that awaits us all, those who continue to live in this empty and soulless world. Life is a big nothing. Any attempt to create meaning will only end in wasted effort and broken hopes.

"I see no end to all this pain... the world is dead through my eyes"

For the most part, Aeternum Vale is structured well. The song placement works and the tracks themselves are all at just the right length in the sense that they have time to take you on a journey into misery, yet they aren't too long to the extent where you disconnect from what is going on and become bored. "The Crawling Insects" may be the one exception, in that it seems a little weaker than the rest. The only song that goes past the ten-minute mark is "Aeternus". This is a good thing, compared to bands that offer up half a dozen songs that range from ten to twenty minutes. The running time of this album is just under fifty minutes, which is a solid dose of Doom without becoming tedious to listen to. The overall sound is really good, as well. Of course, Death/Doom is not supposed to sound all that raw or necro (with some exceptions), so the standards of production are completely different from the likes of Black Metal. Everything here is rather clear and this works well with the mournful guitar riffs, giving them the full ability to draw you in and crush your spirit. For fans of the older works of Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride, this is highly recommended and does well to build on that style.
 
(27 Nov. 2012)

 
 

Dead Words Speak is the sophomore album from Sweden's Doom:VS. For those not familiar with this musical entity, it is a solo project from Johan Ericson of Draconian. The music here is a solid and updated version of the type of Death/Doom that was seemingly more common in the early '90s, with bands such as My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Anathema and so on. However, despite some similarities to the older bands, Doom:VS is able to stand on its own and is much more than a clone. The second album shows a bit of improvement and still maintains the high quality that one would expect. Released in 2008, this record follows in much the same style as the debut, though with some noticeable alterations.

From the first track, "Half Light", it is apparent that Johan has gotten a little more comfortable doing the clean vocals, as these make more of an appearance on this album as opposed to its predecessor. Normally, this would be a negative thing but he actually does it well and it adds a melancholic feeling to the music. His clean voice sounds quite hopeless and it not all that dissimilar to that of Mourning Beloveth. As for the harsh vocals, they are still deep but manage to convey some sort of feeling as well, rather than being too deep to contribute anything to the depressive vibe. The music is still slow and plodding, sometimes like Funeral Doom, but not without various dynamics. Occasionally, the guitars draw you into the depths, similar to the first Shape of Despair album, a swirling darkness that surrounds you and threatens to drown you in your own misery. From the frequent lead harmonies to the vocals themselves, this is never allowed to become dead and emotionless. One would not exactly call this very alive, as the overwhelming feeling that Doom:VS gives off is one of dying a slow death. The riffs are dark and oppressive, while maintaining your interest in almost a morbid way. Listening to this is almost like self-torture, as it tends to bring certain horrible feelings back toward the surface, or to connect with those that were already there. Yet it is difficult to turn this off once it has begun. The hellish feeling of Dead Words Speak goes beyond the lyrics of alienation, pain and self-loathing. The music, itself, paints a picture of a world consumed with an inescapable darkness that promises to devour your spirit.

The songwriting is a little darker than on the previous album, with a morose influence from early Katatonia seeming to have more of an effect this time around. Of course, this is heavier and better structured than anything that band ever recorded. The songwriting is very consistent, with a miserable and dreary atmosphere that remains throughout the entire album, draining the very life out of you. From the anguished sound of the title track to the funereal feeling possessed by "The Lachrymal Sleep", the songs seem to flow from one to the next in a most natural manner. It may even be that the feelings of hopelessness and sorrow increase as the album goes on. This is really where this band seems to excel, as a lot of bands within the realm of Doom Metal only go so far as to slow the music down, yet their material does not convey any sort of dark or miserable vibe at all. It is up for debate as to whether or not the primary purpose of the various types of Doom Metal is to be depressive or simply dark in a more general sense. I've always preferred the mournful approach, moreso than those that are heavy and slow with no real feeling at all.

If you are seeking Doom with an entirely gloomy and despondent atmosphere, then Dead Words Speak should suffice. From the melancholic vocals to the dreary and depressive guitar riffs, Doom:VS leads you down a path of sorrow and anguish, culminating in the spilling of blood and the opening of the coffin lid. This may not be the album for you if you are already diseased with severe depression, as the effect may only push you deeper into the hole. There is no hope to be found here. No silver lining and no sunrise in the morning. The dawn will never come. This terrible night shall last until you are cold and dead, in utter solitude.
 
(28 Nov. 2012)

 
 

Six long years passed since the release of Dead Words Speak. With Doom:vs being a side project, this is somewhat understandable, but still far too long. Rumours of a follow-up started a couple years back, and yet it still took this long for anything to come of it. With the release of Earthless, in April 2014, it would seem that it does not live up to the expectations set by the previous works.

The primary drawback to this record has to be in the vocal department. For one reason or another, Johan decided to bring in Thomas A. G. Jensen from Saturnus to provide vocals for most of the album. This was a horrible mistake, as there was nothing about the vocals of the first two albums that needed to be improved, really. Jensen's voice is too deep, losing what little feeling could have been added to the music. These sort of toilet-bowl gargles were fine for the old Broken Hope records, but here they are ineffective. Even worse, the clean parts that he contributes are completely unlistenable, possessing a nasal and whining quality. However, the worst of all are the parts that are neither harsh nor clean, but just sort of a hardcore shouting. Johan still contributes some clean bits, doing his best My Dying Bride impersonation, but these brief moments fail to save anything as they come off as forced and disingenuous.

The songwriting is much the same as before, featuring a good number of crushingly heavy riffs with a bleak and dismal feeling, as mournful melodies accentuate this melancholic vibe. Early on, Earthless is somewhat reminiscent of October Tide's A Thin Shell, with the title track not being too dissimilar from "The Custodian of Silence" is some aspects. There is no severe drop in quality from the previous releases, though it is by no means good enough to warrant such a long wait. One would think that Johan could have come up with this material, quite easily, back in 2010 or so. The number of truly memorable melodies is quite few, not nearly enough to make up for the problems this album possesses.

The production is about the same as the last albums in that it is pretty modern-sounding, but not so overdone as to lose the feeling of the music. Of course, being several years later, there is a noticeable difference. There is a bit more fuzz to the guitar tone than before, with neither helps nor hurts the music. To be honest, making the sound more raw would only have made the vocals even more unbearable, as this guy does not have an underground voice, at all.

Earthless
is filled with rather average material, with the exception of "The Slow Ascent", which includes some gloomy tremolo riffs. Of course, as with the rest of this disappointing album, Jensen ruins most of it with his terrible vocal performance. Johan may have a thing for Saturnus, but some people actually wanted another Doom:vs album and we got ripped off. So much for this band. Avoid this.
 
(30 May 2014)
















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