Passage is likely not a name familiar to many outside of their native Montreal, Canada. Their self-titled debut was released in 2005 and they failed to follow it up in any way until now. Talk about a momentum killer, eh? Dubious marketing choices aside, the band traffics in melancholy doom death and they take many pages from the dog-eared tomes of Paradise Lost, Saturnus and My Dying Bride as they seek to crush your spirit under weighty riffs and heart-wrenching melodies. The listener can tell the band studied the masters long and hard, and learned many a lesson, and at times they can approximate the moods and atmospheres made famous by the genre’s progenitor’s. However, one does not simply shake off a 12-year layoff and the doom rust is evident in the overall delivery and writing choices.
Opener “Melancholy Under Darkened Skies” is bound to leave a great first impression, as the band gets all the pieces of the doom Tetris to fall correctly. It’s a slow, somber and effective mood piece owing a huge debt to Saturnus, while liberally applying accents from Mandylion era The Gathering and even Pallbearer. Clean, fragile vocals play off guttural death croaks as funerary melodies weep and trill tragically. Spoken word pieces reoccur and all that’s needed to make it a complete Peaceville reunion party is a mournful violin. It’s effective and a high point, but it’s also derivative and you’ve heard this all before from many other bands.
“Dismal” wisely poaches from Rapture, mixing goth-rock melodies with death vocals, though November’s Doom references also worm their way into the coffin before the song fades out. The band hits their stride on “The Sadness That Haunts Me,” with it’s dark blend of Paradise Lost and early Katatonia, and you can hear the potential is there, but the material struggles to reach the next level and escape mere imitation of their influences.
This is the problem that under-girds As Darkness Comes. It will remind you a lot of the big names in doom death, while never equaling them or infusing what came before with their own identity. It’s not lost on me that the best moments come during the extended instrumental “Grievance,” where the band goes for dreamy, introspective post-metal experimentation. It’s a beautiful song and it prevents me from subconsciously playing “Name That Influence” as the music unspools. The remainder is a mixed bag o’ cats, with lengthy pieces like the title track and closer “Passage” exploring a great deal of territory, all of which you’ve heard elsewhere. In those extended run times lurks some good ideas and well executed playing, but also some awkward, sloppy transitions and moments that don’t quite work.
At 57 minutes and change, this becomes a bit of an endurance test. I can’t deny the band is talented, but they need to edit down their songs to remove the extraneous and the chaff. Sound-wise things are fine, though at times the drums can sound a wee bit muffled.
My biggest complaint is with the clean vocals by Sebastien Robitalle. His voice works well sometimes and even reminds me of Patrick Walker (Warning, 40 Watt Sun), but at other times he comes across as weak and unpolished. As there are a good amount of clean vocal segments, this becomes a problem. His Nick Holmes-esque shouts and semi-harsh delivery is also a mixed bag, generally finding a hoarse sweet spot but occasionally sounding cartoonish and crude. There’s no such objection to his death roars, which are very effective and satisfying. Sebastien and Wayne Taylor are more successful with their guitar-work, nailing those weepy, bittersweet melodies so essential to this style. They play with real emotion, especially on “Grievance,” and it’s this element that gives me hope for future releases.
I struggled with this album. I genuinely like a lot of it, but the glaring moments of missed execution and a nagging inability to self-edit makes As Darkness Come a qualified success. I’m fairly sure Passage has the capability to improve and create something much bigger, but that will require some tweaks and of course, a timely follow up release. 12 years is too long to make folks wait, even doom fans. I’ll be watching (from a distance) for the next chapter.