Noumena // Death Walks With Me
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Winter is coming…back!
Label: Haunted Zoo Productions
Websites: noumena.info  |  myspace.com/noumena
Release Dates: EU: 2013.04.19  |  NA: TBA (C’mon!)

Noumena_album_cover_smallSteel Druhm has been banging the drum for little known Finnish act Noumena for quite some time. Ever since stumbling on them, I’ve been a huge fan of their brand of morose, melodic death and I spin their Absence and Anatomy of Life albums all the damn time at Casa de Steelo. In fact, I think Anatomy of Life stands as one of the finest examples of melo-death ever recorded. It had all the quintessentially Finnish “dead puppy under the Christmas tree” melancholy you’ve come to expect from countrymen Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum and Rapture, mixed with the guitar wizardry of early In Flames and rounded out with haunting female vocals (and winning guest vocals from Tuomas Tuominen of Fall of the Leafe/Man-Eating Trees to boot). Because it was so good, it was highly vexatious that they went into limbo immediately after releasing it and were not heard from again for seven long years. After making me wait so long for a follow-up to that classic, I was expecting copious amounts of superb make up metal to scratch that seven year itch.  While Death Walks With Me was a long time in the making and is the first to feature female vocalist Suvi Uura, all the things I loved about their sound are still there and they haven’t lost their flair for somber, beautifully emotional and downcast music. It can’t quite match the brilliance of Anatomy, but after such a lengthy layoff, this is a very impressive return to form featuring some top flight tunes guaranteed to bring Finnish gloom to your living room.

The Noumena sound isn’t arcane or revolutionary by any means. They employ many of the same elements that made the last few Omnium Gatherum albums so great. The guitars perpetually trill and overflow with rich, melodic harmonies while Antti Haapanen spews sub-basement death growls (at times almost approaching the  nether regions inhabited by Mr. Chris Barnes himself). The addition of Suvi’s pristine, but haunted vocals adds an extra layer of Scandinavian grimness and the band has a knack for dropping her in at just the right moment. Opener “Handful of Dust” is much like their older material, but more rocked out, with aggressive leads and a lively, almost joyous mood (it’s Finnish, so “joyous” is entirely contextual). The fret-work of Ville Lamminaho and Tuukka Toumela is just as engaging and tasty as it was on the earlier albums and they churn out one irresistibly hooky riff after another as the song rolls along effortlessly.

The album features both straight ahead melo-death numbers like “Play Dead” and the title track, and morenoumena moody, gothy tunes where Suvi gets to shine, as on “Sleep,” “Nothing” and “Sundown.” Both styles work well and the back-and-forth breaks the album up and keeps things interesting. “Sleep” mixes in acoustic guitars and a soft mood and the way Suvi’s sad vocals play off Antti’s roars reminds of recent Black Sun Aeon material like “Solitude.” It drips with mood and emotion and it’s tailor-made for a cold winter night’s drinking and dark reflections. Beautiful and powerful all at once and expertly wrought.

Though I was impressed by almost all the songs, I really gravitated to the mid-paced, rocking churn of “Let It Run Red,” which channels the better moments of Insomnium and is full of tasty guitar harmonies. Other songs tickling my pickle include “Mysteries of Motion” with its stellar, Rapture-esque riffing and frigid feel; the richly gothic, ghostly charm of “Season of Suffocation” where Suvi is backed by forlorn riffs, ghostly saxophone and more despondency than you’d find at the average hospice; and lastly, the very Woods of Ypres-like closer, “Sundown.” This one is painfully unhappy and when Antti chants “this is my life, and I’m not good at it” as mournful cellos/violins sigh in the background,  it’s enough to turn your blood to ice. Fucking dark stuff!

SuviOf the bunch, “Only the Silent” is the sole track that failed to impress due to a rather generic approach and the lack of their usual mega-hooky riffing. While there are no songs here to equal prior classics like “Monument of Pain” or “Prey of the Tempter,” the level of writing is surprisingly high considering the long time away and it’s almost like there was no break in the band’s productivity. I was surprised by the amount of mellower material here and while I liked it all, I could have done with more outright aggression. Still, songs like the title track get points for mixing elements of black metal into the riffing.

Death Walks With Me was up against some very high expectations and for the most part, they met and exceeded them (except for the cover, which reminds me of the last Steel Druhm family camping trip). If you like any of the big names in Finnish melo-death, you’d be insane not to check this out and eagerly hunt down their back catalogue. These guys are one of the best in the business and criminally overlooked. Don’t be a criminal overlooker! Steel Druhm can’t beat the Noumena drum all by his lonesome.

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  • shmoo69

    Love this band – massively underrated (along with Rapture – whom if you read this – put your back-cat on itunes!)

    • I agree, Rapture is another underrated band and I mention them every chance I get in reviews.

      • shmoo69

        Last time I checked they were without a label – which I find staggering considering the amount of money that’s thrown at drivel like amaranthe :(

        • Yeah, that makes me sick to think about. If they got on Kickstarter or Fundraiser, I would happily send them cash to get a new album out.

          • Agreed, Ive been a fan of Rapture ever since I heard Songs for the Withering back in ’04. Then when Silent Stage came out, I was HOOKED. I don’t think I have gone more than 6 months since then, without playing at least one song from that album. I have been waiting ever since for a new album!! I think that AMG should do a “From the Vaults” review of that disc (like you did with Damn the Machine) just to spread the word!

          • I thought about doing a Retro-spective piece on them, but they seemed too recent. Instead, I drop their name wherever appropriate (like here) to get it out there.

  • Finally some death metal…

    • All we do is review death metal.

      • But does it talk about DEATH?, otherwise what’s the point?

  • Eryops

    I guess for us poor North Americans, it’s ordering through Europe.

  • Dude!!??! wtf, i’m listening to Anatomy of Life and it’s amazing, how is it possible that they are so unknown and apparently underrated.
    Btw, thanks again for another fantastic album that it’s going to my collection

    • I’ve often wondered the same thing. Very overlooked classic!

  • Rob Mcdermott

    Can’t wait to hear this. I have a copy of Absence, which took me forever to track down, actually had to get it 2nd hand via the US. I assumed these guys were disbanded… So this has come as a pleasant surprise. Cheers!

  • swlong

    Just out of curiosity, what are your guys’ top 5 (or so) melodic death metal albums of all time?

    • 1. Amorphis – Tales From the Thousand Lakes
      2. Omnium Gatherum – New World Shadows
      3. In Flames – Jester Race
      4. Noumena – Anatomy of Life
      5. Noumena – Absence

      • Wow, that high??? Btw, I personally prefer Absence to Anatomy of Life :). And I’m glad to see Jester Race on there, with the crap they release now, one sometimes forget that In Flames once kicked a lot lot lot of ass…

        Also, doesn’t Dark Tranquillity deserve to be near the top too? The Gallery is my personal all time favorite DM record.

    • Mike Eckman

      Man, thats a hard list to make. Theres so many great albums out there. Looking at Steel Druhm’s list below, each of those 5 definitely could make a case. I think I would definitely throw Jester Race, or even Whoracle in there, but how could you pass up any Opeth? Their music is so entrenched in melodic death, its hard to imagine a world without them. The song “To Bid You Farewell” off Morningrise got me interested in melodic death and it just went on from there, so I’ll have to throw that up there too, but picking a favorite Opeth album is nearly impossible for me. Im also a huge fan of Dark Tranquility, and I’ve never gotten tired of Projector (even though many DT fans consider that to be too commercialized of an album, I love it). Haven and Fiction were both great too. Wow, Im really rambling…I cannot make a top 5 list….

      • Mike Eckman

        Hijacking my own post….how could I forget Kataonia?! Their late 90s stuff like Brave Murder Day through Tonight’s Decision were great, then I lost interest in them for a while, but their most recent, Dead End Kings is pretty killer.

  • Mike Eckman

    I am really having a hard time getting into this new Noumena album. I loved Absence and Anatomy of Life, and was really excited to hear this latest offering.

    Where the last two albums have that perfect blend of melancholy, melody, death, and clean singing, this new album just seems rather generic. Thats not to say that its bad, just with recent stellar efforts by In Vain, Be’Lakor, Omnium Gatherum, and Insomnia, I really had high hopes that Noumena’s 7 year hiatus would turn out something really special.

    One of my complaints is with the addition of Suvi Uuras vocals into most of the songs. Im sure she is a talented singer, but her voice doesn’t compliment the music for me. It sounds as though they felt they needed to “insert female singer here” and copy and pasted her lines in the mixing studio.

    There are some good tracks on this album, my favorite is actually the title track, but in my opinion, the best on this album is the worst on the other two albums. Maybe I’ll come back and revisit it later in the year, but so far, this album does not hold a candle to more recent melo-death releases.