When I was a wee little Grymmling, I played bass in a band with my old high school friends. Inspired by the local music at the time, we aimed high with our lofty ambitions and hoped to be on the same hallowed page as our inspirations. To put it bluntly, we weren’t anywhere close. However, we were young and hungry. Finland’s Cemetery Fog are similarly young and equally hungry. After three demos, their debut five-song EP, Towards The Gates, landed upon my grumpy, bitter old lap. Does ambition and an unquenchable inner fire succeed at bleeding upon your ears, causing you to twitch with excitement and anticipation?
Short answer: no. But you wouldn’t know that from the intro, the aptly-and-originally-titled “Intro.” Basically, it’s a short but very effective piano melody that conjures up images of graves in the moonlight, headstones gleaming, with that feeling of Nosferatu glaring at you silently. However, once the first-proper song, “Withered Dreams of Death,” kicks in, all hopes are dashed and dashed hard. Picture, if you will, The Karelian Isthmus-era Amorphis jamming out early Celtic Frost, but without the talent of the former or the atmosphere of the latter. Guitar riffs that scream “hey, I just discovered drop tuning!”, embarassingly sloppy drumming, and an overlong playing time kill off all good feelings of doom and darkness. Also, KEYBOARDS THAT ARE WAY UP IN THE MIX FOR NO REASON, TAKING YOUR FOCUS OFF OF THE SONG.
The other two proper songs fare no better. “Shadow of Her Tomb” lifts generously from Black Sabbath‘s eponymous trademark song before degenerating into mediocrity, more bad drumming, more simple riffing, and a really kooky “haunting” female vocal. The awkwardly titled “Embrace of the Darkness” has good ideas, but has a middle part that can be best described as a sub-par Opeth if Mikael Akerfeldt received a lobotomy and decided to hire Coven 13‘s David Landrum to moan off-key over poorly mixed acoustic guitars. Also, MORE KEYBOARDS TAKING OVER EVERYTHING NEAR THE END.
So why that score and not lower? Guitarist J. Filppu has some good death growls. He reminds me of a younger Tomi Koivusaari (Amorphis) at the beginning of each song. I loved Tomi’s voice, in fact it was the sole reason why I never, ever let my brother water his warhorse upon the seashore [Sound policy – Steel Druhm]. Sadly, Filppu degenerates into what Koivusaari would sound like if he got into a brawl with Strong Bad and lost horribly. Also, look at the band pic. These two dudes are so young. We all don’t sound like Decapitated coming out of the womb. However, there are literally hundreds of death metal bands in Finland alone, including one death/doom hybrid that is in the running for Album of the Year. They have to step up their game hard if they want to compete and get somewhere. Just because you can write long songs doesn’t necessarily mean you should. These are all just ideas meshed together haphazardly, and ideas don’t make songs, especially if the shortest proper song is just a hair under seven-and-a-half minutes long. Also, THE KEYBOARDS ARE UP WAY TOO LOUD.
If this were a demo, I’d be way more forgiving. Since this is an EP released on an actual label, I can’t let this slide. When the intro and outro far outshine the band’s actual music, there’s a huge problem. At least the album cover makes me want to play The Bard’s Tale III for the millionth time, so there’s that. I just wish there was a lot more.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192kbps mp3
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Website: None to speak of
Release Date: Out Worldwide 08.01.2014