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Sumerian Cry (1990)

I first discovered Tiamat, back in high school, when I was trading mix tapes with my Latvian penpal. I was introduced to this band because she included a couple songs from the Clouds album. At the time, I was listening to a lot of melodic stuff from Europe, including Hypocrisy's The Fourth Dimension and Tales From the Thousand Lakes by Amorphis. When I actually sought out Clouds, I was a little disappointed and found it difficult to get into. But then I read about how their older stuff was completely different. That's when I discovered Sumerian Cry.

Sumerian Cry is the first full-length album from Sweden's Tiamat, rising from the ashes of Treblinka. There is a bit of debate regarding the style of music presented on this album, which features tremolo riffs (which were common with Swedish death metal bands), blastbeats and a morbid vocal style. The inverted crosses, corpsepaint and spikes should also signal that the band was still striving to create black metal, in the same vein as Samael, Grotesque and Imperator. As a matter fact, this is not so far removed from what Mayhem were doing around this same time.

On the other hand, this was recorded in Sunlight Studio and that is very obvious. It has a very similar sound to the early albums from Entombed, Carnage/Dismember and even Soulside Journey by Darkthrone. However, as a point of reference, this album is much more primitive than Darkthrone's debut. Stylistically, there are elements of black, death, thrash and doom metal here. While Tiamat does utilize various elements, the aesthetics, lyrics and overall atmosphere seem to be more in tune with early black metal.

Sumerian Cry was recorded during late October 1989, making Tiamat one of the first of the well known Swedish bands to record in Sunlight Studio. As previously indicated, the tempo changes quite a bit, throughout the recording, but the blastbeat seems to be fairly consistent. The guitars have the typical, heavy Swedish sound and Hellslaughter's vocals sound possessed! The sinister whispers also add to the darkened atmosphere. The songwriting is pretty primitive, but there are moments that foreshadow the band's more melodic and mature efforts.

The album begins with a short synth/acoustic intro, before the crushing guitars come in and "In the Shrines of the Kingly Dead" is unleashed. This song really sets the tone for the whole album. As a matter of fact, one can notice that this album may have influenced others in the scene, as some of the ideas that were briefly touched upon were later borrowed and expanded upon by other bands, such as Edge of Sanity and even Marduk, on Dark Endless. "The Malicious Paradise" stands out as one of the best songs on here, as well as "Nocturnal Funeral" and "Altar Flame". Two-thirds of the way through this album, one would assume that it is a very solid effort and worthy of some praise...

However, I will warn everyone to avoid the song "Evilized". It had potential to be a decent black metal song, but there's some sort of jazz section (!!) halfway through. I don't know what the Hell happened there and it was most unexpected. The first time I listened to this, I actually thought the CD player had switched to 'radio' or something. Sadly, this was a harbinger of things to come. Why they had to taint such a good album is beyond me, but it's only a minute or so. Still, I recommend just skipping past this song, entirely.

They salvage the album with the godly "Where the Serpents Ever Dwell/Sumerian Cry pt. 2". This song is extremely slow and doom-laden. The riffs create a very dismal and somber atmosphere. This one song sits alongside "The Malicious Paradise" as the best songs on this album and, possibly, my favorite Tiamat songs.

I strongly recommend this L.P. for fans of late '80s/early '90s black metal, such as Mayhem, Samael, Imperator, Grotesque and Necromantia. I would also recommend this for fans of early Swedish death metal albums, such as Left Hand Path, Dark Recollections, Into the Grave, Like An Everflowing Stream, Nothing But Death Remains and Where No Life Dwells, though it is best to keep in mind that this album possesses a much darker atmosphere than any of those could hope for.

(6 Sept. 2008)

The Astral Sleep (1991)

While Sumerian Cry was more of a direct continuation of Treblinka, The Astral Sleep is the first record with a more distant feeling. For their sophomore release, Tiamat chose to record outside of Sweden and the well-known confines of Sunlight Studio. Instead, the went to Dortmund, Germany to record at Woodhouse Studio (the same place where Unleashed recorded their debut album, earlier that year). The location and producer were not the only things to change; Tiamat's style had undergone quite a progression. No longer did they play black metal. The music on this album is actually somewhat difficult to label. To call it Swedish death metal would be pretty misleading. There are more traditional metal elements found here, as well as an atmospheric Death/Doom approach. Released in September 1991, The Astral Sleep would be one of the first albums to begin the process of 'maturing' that many Swedish bands would later do.

This is actually a fairly difficult album to review. I acquired this very late, actually, during the most pleasant period of my existence. Listening to it brings back memories of peaceful times, yet it is now stained with sorrow as this period is gone forever. At the time, I listened to this over and over for quite some time. Probably, within the first couple weeks of owning it, I had made up for the lost years of not yet possessing it.

After an atmospheric intro, that really sets the tone for what is to follow, "Lady Temptress" erupts with furious thrash riffs. This is one of the more up-beat songs on the album, possessing a lot of energy. There's a lot of variety in the vocals, going from deeper growls to near-tortured screams. The tempo varies, as well, slowing down near the middle, just before a killer solo emerges. The drum beat underneath this is total old school and really gives away the band's 80s roots.

"Mountain of Doom" couldn't be more appropriately titled, as it is exactly as described. Beginning with some keyboards and an acoustic guitar, this slowly builds up. From the earliest moments, there is a sorrowful feeling present. As with the album as a whole, this song has an epic sensibility as the structure is more complex than one might expect. The general pace of the song is slow, but it is not static. In the latter half of the song, the speed picks up, briefly. While many of their contemporaries were seeking to emulate Entombed, Tiamat went in a completely different direction and created something quite unique.

"Now I'm there
Enjoying my peace of mind
In this lair
Death is what you'll find"

"Dead Boys' Choir" is more of an interlude than a real song, clocking in under two minutes. The feeling conveyed is dark and dismal, still maintaining the mood from the previous piece. Lyrically, it is fairly close to earlier efforts.

"They are gathered here in the fivepointed star
To close up ritual of a time so far
End what was not ended before
To meet the lord Satan they highly adore"

The pace picks back up with "Sumerian Cry Pt. 3", which is a very dynamic song. Not only is there quite a bit of variety with the vocals, going from deep growls to raspy ones and then insane screams, but the drumming includes brief blast beats and the guitar riffs are vicious yet quite melodic at other times. There's even some strange keyboard effect added in.

"On Golden Wings" sees the furious energy completely drained. It begins with a sorrowful acoustic section, reaching into your brain like a icy claw and pulling terrible memories to the forefront of your mind. As the song really gets going, it is not quite as doom-laden as one may have expected, though it has its moments. Later in the song, there is a quiet acoustic piece accompanied by a brief and wailing guitar lead that fades into oblivion.

The next song is "Ancient Entity", which is the longest one on the album. It begins with a murderous scream, joined by more energetic guitar riffs. This is one of the more epic compositions on the record, being quite memorable as well. The atmosphere is still dark, though not utterly oppressive. Lyrically, this one tells quite a wicked tale.

"Beneath the fullmoon
Covered in gloomy clouds
Obscure funeral spirits
Evil shadows on haunted ground"

From slower sections with keyboards and a brooding atmosphere to faster parts that include wild lead solos, this song really has it all and is a very good representation of The Astral Sleep. Some of the riffs would not have been out of place on Sumerian Cry, or even the old Treblinka demos.

"The Southernmost Voyage" creates a very somber atmosphere with use of keyboards and acoustic guitar. This is a hint of the style that would become dominant on the release that followed this one. Vocally, it is more of a spoken word piece than anything else. There are some dark whispers to accompany this, but no singing of any kind. A miserable lead solo floats in the background, giving this song the feeling of some cloudy nightmare.

The bleak feeling carries over into "Angels Far Beyond", which begins with a slow doom riff. Keyboards are, again, utilized to accentuate the atmosphere. They always seemed to fit more naturally into death or doom metal, as opposed to black metal. Perhaps that is because their use was, generally, more complimentary rather than being the sole source of feeling. This track also includes a nice, old school galloping riff as the speed increases for a few moments. A soulful lead solo shoots out like hands from an old grave, pulling you toward the moist ground. However, this passes before you find yourself below the surface. Demonic laughter ends the song, almost as if to remind you that you can be taken at any moment.

"I Am the King (of Dreams)" is more straightforward, featuring a blast beat and more intense riffs. The vocals are a bit deeper, also. This song is another that would have fit nicely on their debut album. Its placement displays the brilliance of the album, as none of the songs are in the wrong spot. Everything was arranged in the proper manner, so as to take the listener on quite an epic journey. By the later part of the song, a hellish guitar solo rises up from the depths, before fading into nothingness.

"A Winter Shadow" starts out as a song would usually end, giving a unique feeling to it. This one, also, makes use of some sparse blast beats, before going into more of a mid-paced riff. For the most part, this song has a more relaxed tempo. As it fades, the outro gives the sense of awakening from a surreal dream, learning that the life you thought you had was the dream and a new reality awaits you.

The best comparison I can make between The Astral Sleep and its predecessor is to liken it to the change Morbid Angel made from Altars of Madness to Blessed Are the Sick, in a sense. However, in this case, the progression went even further. Tiamat's second album is more epic and melodic than their previous material, though it still retains a vicious side as well. This would, finally, be eliminated on their third album.
(11 July 2009)

Clouds (1992)

In 1992, Tiamat returned to Woodhouse Studios, in Dortmund, Germany, to record their third full-length album. On this, their second collaboration with producer Waldemar Sorychta, the band continued their evolution. It is difficult to believe that this is the same group of musicians that recorded such things as The Sign of the Pentagram and Crawling in Vomits, back in their days as Treblinka. It is easy to follow this progression, through the previous two albums, however. By the mid-90s, many black and death metal bands began experimenting with their sounds (often, to the dismay of their fans) and it seems that Tiamat was one of the first to do so. Released in September 1992, Clouds sees the more overt death metal tendencies fading, ever more, into the background as they go down the path toward eternal doom.

Long ago, I was introduced to this band (and many others) thanks to a mix tape from a European pen pal. The songs that were to represent Tiamat were taken from this album (as well as a live song, from the E.P. that followed this). As such, this was the first one of their albums that I owned. Honestly, it took a little getting used to. I was expecting something slightly different. However, I gave it a chance and came to appreciate it for what it was.

"In A Dream" begins with strange keyboard effects and an acoustic melody. This straddles the line that separates melodic death metal and simple doom metal. The guitar riffs are heavy and depressive. The vocals alternate between clean and harsh, with the latter dominating the album, despite not being as extreme as in the past. The song is mid-paced and only speeds up for a brief time, late in the song. There are some traditional metal lead solos, as well. The production is fairly clear, yet seems a little soft. It's as if the rough edges have been smoothed down.

The title track starts out with a decent old school drum beat accompanying a complimentary riff. The song soon shifts into a higher gear, not really getting fast, but keeping up a decent pace. The lead solo is pretty epic and fits nicely into the song. The song isn't very dark, as the lyrics seem to convey a nearly optimistic message. This track has a relaxed kind of feeling, similar to what Amorphis would do, a couple years later.

"Smell of Incense" opens with a nice solo, though the main riffs aren't any more intense than what you'd find on Metallica's Black Album. As the riffs shift from doom to thrash, it is impossible not to notice that there is no edge, whatsoever. I actually like this album, but it certainly is rather light. People say the band went soft on Wildhoney, but I think it happened two years earlier, on this record. The lyrics aren't dark enough for this style of music, which has a lot to do with this, since the vocals are easy to decipher.

The next song features a very doom-inspired riff to start things. "A Caress of Stars" takes the atmosphere to a darker place, despite the keyboards and clean vocals. It all works well together in creating a much more dismal feeling. The haunting guitar melodies manage to take you in their powerful grip and to squeeze the life out of you. The quieter parts are executed quite well, giving off a sense of melancholy. This really drains the energy out of you, making you wish for nothing more than to crawl into a grave and pull the dirt over you, entering the eternal sleep. So far, this is the best song on here.

"You left me for dead"

This feeling is carried over into "The Sleeping Beauty". The live version of this song was actually the one that got me interested in the band, though it took some time to get used to the studio recording, since I'd heard the other one countless times before this. It starts with a sorrowful acoustic melody, joined by thunderous drums. This is followed by a very haunting doom riff, one that is sure to remain in the dark recesses of your mind until the grim day of your ultimate demise.

"What I need I'll never feel
This world is for me unreal
So I drink to darkness with a candle lit
And through the whole night alone I sit"

The overall pace is a little faster than the live version, which doesn't suit it as well, in my opinion. The vocals aren't as harsh here, either. However, this does not kill the doom-ridden atmosphere. There is a section where the pace increases, though this is brief enough. Later in the song, there is another acoustic melody, adding to the empty feeling.

"The more I drink, the more I see
That suicide could be the key"

"Forever Burning Flames" adds a sense of dread to the album, as the sinister aura is even darker than the previous songs. This one is mid-paced as well, only speeding up right after the chorus. The keyboards are less experimental and serve to create tension. The lead solo, near the end, adds a lot of life to the proceedings. This is one of the only songs to feature any actual death metal riffs, as the rest is dominated by the slower doom metal sound. This is also found here, for the most part, but it seems to alternate between the two.

The next song wastes no time in kicking into gear. "The Scapegoat" has the most intense opening riff (if one can use that word, here), giving the impression that this song is going to be faster or more forceful. Within only a few moments, it becomes clear that this is not the case. This song consists of slower doom riffs and melodic riffs that are more in line with traditional metal. The theme of the song appears to be a personal one, almost some sort of revenge on those who opposed the band in its earliest stages. I've always found such writing a little boring, so there's no need to focus on that.

The album reaches its end with "Undressed". Despite the odd title, it bears some of the best riffs on the record. Of course, it is slow and sorrowful, being filled with doom and gloom. The vocal performance is a bit odd, but the guitar melodies make up for it. Within a couple minutes, there's another acoustic part that is slightly reminiscent of Testament, followed by a woeful lead solo. The real brilliance comes once the verses conclude. The song takes on a far more epic nature and the melodic solo work, joined by the keyboards, conveys a mournful sentiment.

"I opened my veins"

As the song slows down, more and more, it carries you up, only to let you crash. As the instruments fade, nothing else is heard but the sounds of a heart monitor, in a hospital. Slowly, you can hear the person flatline. The sounds that follow are very ethereal, produced by keyboards, giving the impression that someone has died and is now floating off toward another realm.

Overall, this isn't the best Tiamat album, yet it is enjoyable, probably just due to the sentimental attachment to the period when I first heard this. Truth be told, there are some definite wimpy parts that drag things down and the overall vocal approach is pretty annoying and a far cry from the band's previous recordings. Looking back on it, it would be more accurate to call this doom metal with traditional and death influences. If you appreciate such albums as Tales From the Thousand Lakes or even The Fourth Dimension, you may want to give this a chance, but I don't really recommend it for anyone else.
(10 Aug. 2009)

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