As far as metal goes, Finland is renowned for producing some of the most morose, depressing bands to ever drag themselves out of bed and into a recording studio (Children of Bodom notwithstanding). Among their ranks is the heavy and atmospheric Hanging Garden. Their previous album At Every Door was reviewed here back in 2013, drawing comparisons to A Perfect Circle and Katatonia with added death and doom metal elements. Two years later, Hanging Garden return with the even gloomier Blackout Whiteout.
On opener “Borrowed Eyes,” Hanging Garden doubles down on the Katatonia comparisons, and could easily be mistaken for that band’s recent material if not for a brief outburst of death metal vocals at the two-minute mark. “Whiteout” builds upon baritone vocals and gentle keyboard work reminiscent of Massive Attack, slowly boiling over into a melodic, understated chorus. So far, this material is delicate enough to barely qualify as “metal” anymore, yet the depressive atmosphere is pervasive.
“Whiteout” transitions directly into “Embers,” a track led by strummy guitars and elegant piano work. The 7-minute “Eclipse” also involves the use of electronic textures and jangly guitar work, bearing a strong resemblance in tempo and feel to the previous two tracks. Like “Borrowed Eyes” before it, “Eclipse” uses death metal vocals as a brief accent towards the end of the song.
A quick refresher on At Every Door reveals a far heavier version of Hanging Garden, one that made liberal use of guttural vocals and doomy riffs, to great effect. But that dynamic has made itself scarce on Blackout Whiteout. Distorted guitars are seldom heard, and the death metal vocal style only appears prominently on one track, “Words That Bear No Meaning.” This surprises and somewhat disappoints me, since that element was one of the main things separating Hanging Garden from the countless other bands out there playing in a similar style. Granted, the band has upped their game musically to make the more melodic content effective, both sonically and emotionally.
As the next few tracks pass by, there becomes precious little to latch onto within songs, or to even separate one song from another. Occasionally, a new sonic element will make itself known — the heavier riffing and guitar melodies on “My Rise Is Your Fall,” or the jingling percussion on “Unearth” — but by this point, it’s too late. Songs blur into one another, sharing similar tempos and feel, creating a listening experience that is pleasant enough but not particularly memorable or attention-grabbing. The aforementioned “Blackout” does a good job of throwing everything into the mix, incorporating orchestration, clean and harsh vocals, and even some lead guitar during its 8-minute duration to end the album in grand fashion.
Part of Hanging Garden‘s appeal, at least to me was the juxtaposition of depressing, atmospheric rock against bursts of death metal vocals and heavier musical sections. By dropping the more “metal” elements of their sound, Hanging Garden now has songs with no real peaks or valleys, just a straight line from beginning to end. By relying only upon the delicate, melancholy part of the equation, they’ve created an entire album of cat lady-core, wallowing in melancholy without tension or release. Granted, Hanging Garden‘s music is still achingly beautiful and sonically textured, but on Blackout Whiteout, that’s all it is.