What’s with all these “calm” themed titles lately. We had The Calm Hatchery a few weeks back and now this. For whatever reason I always read them as “clam,” which results in unintended hilarity. I mean, who hunts a freaking clam, right? They’re mollusks and just lay around waiting to be harvested. I live on an island so I know of what I speak. Anyway, this band is made up of the same guys that bring you the excellently blackened Viking metal of Ereb Altor. Isole is their traditional doom project, though it also has more than a little epic Vikingness running through its cold Norse veins. Under this banner, the well-travelled gentleman deliver heavy, but melodic and emotional doom, borrowing extensively from masters like Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus and of course, While Heave Wept. Albums like Throne of Void, Bliss of Solitude and Silent Ruins offered everything one could want from the style, but something felt like it was missing on 2011s Born From Shadows. This, paired with the strength of the last two Ereb Altor platters forced me to shift my primary loyalty to their camp. The Calm Hunter may be winning me back though, because in some ways this is the While Heaven Wept album I wanted, but didn’t get with Suspended at Alphelion. It’s not the most consistent of their releases, but it has some great moments and a few surprises too.
The opening title track is highly reminiscent of While Heaven Wept‘s classic works with heavy, crushing riffs and harmonized vocals dripping with beautiful melancholy. It has a weepy, glum atmosphere and expertly walks the line between heavy and melodious while adding a bit of prog flair to keep things interesting. It’s a great tune and recalls the band’s excellent early albums like Throne of Void. Better yet is album standout, “Dead to Me (The Destroyer Part I)” which fuses a Katatonia vibe and gothic sensibilities with traditional doom ideas. The somber singing is gripping and when the chorus peaks with chanting of “you are dead, dead to me,” it’s doom metal perfection.
They maintain a high level of song craft on “Into Oblivion” where a hint of Grand Magus can be detected along with the usual Candlemass worship. The riffs are razor-sharp and they shake up the doom nicely with some unexpected death vocals. The remainder of the album is quite strong, but there is a drop off from the stellar beginning. “Perdition” mines the tombs of Solitude Aeturnus and Memento Mori, and the vocals at times sound a lot like Scott Reagers of Saint Vitus fame, which is a cool touch for hardcore doom aficionados. They even inject some nifty little Tool-isms on closer “Regret (the Destroyer Part II).”
What I suppose could be called the album’s weak spot, “Alone in Silence,” is far from a bad song, but lacks the interesting little embellishments and nuances the rest of the album offers. Instead it comes off a bit too traditional and safe, as well as a bit long at seven minutes. Luckily, this is the exception rather than the rule and most of the songs avoid dragging. It’s also a fairly concise doom platter at 51 minutes, so fatigue never becomes an issue.
Isole‘s biggest appeal for me has always been the vocals, which are a team effort. Daniel Bryntse and Crister Olsson both sing and I believe bassist Jimmy Mattsson handles the death roars. Bryntse has a great voice for doom. It’s crisp and strong, but somehow fragile and plaintive. His delivery on songs like “Dead to Me” practically ooze with emotion and he makes material feel sincere and authentic. The riffs the pair creates as frequently top-notch, though sometimes they resort to stealing from the early Candlemass albums a bit too heavily. The inclusion of more “progressive” influences and ideas this time is a nice touch and gives the music more character, and I hope they develop this aspect on future albums.
The Calm Hunter is a very good album that just misses being a doom highpoint for the year. Though they aren’t able to maintain the high level of writing heard on the first three songs, they definitely bounce back from the minor disappointment of Born of Shadows and the new ideas and influences they’ve included are welcome indeed. If nothing else, they’ve dragged me back to the Isole brand until Ereb Altor ups the ante and wins me back. I’m a fickle, fickle man… who likes clams.