Live albums are a dicey bag. Not every band has the capabilities to produce something classic along the lines of Live After Death or Alive in Athens, and most certainly not from the funeral doom genre. On top of that, to make your first album after a seven-year absence a live album that’s three-quarters new material? That’s some rather gutsy planning right there, and Finland’s Skepticism threw down the white cotton gloves with their fifth album (and first live recording) Ordeal, recording their album in front of a live studio audience.

Gentle clapping, Eero Pöyry’s somber keyboard melodies, and a cymbal splash here and there opens “You,” before guitars finally make an appearance two minutes into the proceedings, with Jani Kekarainen and session guitarist Timo Sitomaniemi providing simple riffs and sparse melodies. Heavy and foreboding enough, but when Matti growls cavernously over the keyboards and guitars, you start to asphyxiate from the crushing sorrow brought forth by the slow drumming, sparse keyboard melodies, and the occasional clean guitar break. It does drag on a bit, but you have to commend the band for taking a very adventurous leap in recording this live, even if it reveals some shortcomings in the actual structure of the songs themselves.

“Shortcomings?” you’re probably wondering to yourself. Let me explain… when I was younger, whenever I would hear a song off of a studio album I enjoyed, I would always wonder how it would sound live. Ordeal makes me crave what a studio version of this album would produce because, as good as it sounds production-wise, it reveals some major shortfalls, especially in the last two songs. First off, and I know this band has never truly had one since their first “7,” but the lack of a bass player really hurts them in a live setting. They got away with it in the studio, because Kekarainen can layer guitars over each other to fill out the sound. As a live band, though, the lack of bottom end shows, especially since the last two songs are live recordings of “Pouring” (from 1995’s awesome Stormcrowfleet) and “The March and the Stream” (from 1998’s Lead and Aether), and they are rather thin compared to their studio brethren. The other problem with Ordeal is that the album doesn’t really begin to find its proper processional march until the fourth track, “March Incomplete,” where the glacial pace, somber melodies, and the sheer atmosphere finally come together to rival their earlier work or my current “go-to” Funeral album. In fact, from that song until “Closing Music,” the strides made are quite beautiful, save for the weird guitar gallop in the beginning of “The Road.”

Skepticism Ordeal 02

Going back to the production, it sounds very clean and pristine, and that’s both a benefit and a hindrance. It truly does sound like it was recorded in a concert hall, where Lasse Pelkonen’s toms sound thunderous and full, and Pöyry’s keyboards swell dynamically. But that clean sound ends up dwarfing both the guitars and Matti’s guttural howls significantly. Part of the charm of Skepticism‘s earlier output was that their recordings were produced horribly, with Stormcrowfleet sounding like it was recorded in my old dorm bathroom, but they still felt ominous because of the production and the mastering. When you clean it up, as good as it sounds, it feels like the mystique is gone a bit, and that hurts the overall vibe of the album.

I will say that Ordeal grew on me bit by bit. It was a brave attempt at something that most metal bands wouldn’t even think of trying, and Skepticism should be commended for having the cojones to do this. It makes me wonder if Thergothon would make their second album live if they were to reunite as well.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: skepticism.fi | facebook.com/skepticism
Release Dates: EU: 2015.09.18 | NA: 09.25.2015

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  • eloli

    As much as I love Funeral Doom in general and Skepticism in particular, I don’t really see the point in this release.

    • basenjibrian

      I guess to introduce the new songs, one could argue.

      • eloli

        You’re right, but I don’t see the point in that… Funeral and Drone doom are home listening experiences IMO, they make for really boring live music. :D

        • basenjibrian

          Ah.. Understand your point. I guess if one is stoned enough, that is not true? (Not a fan of inhaling burning weeds into my already asthmatic lungs, but funeral doom seems perfect for intoxicated live shows! LOL)

          • eloli

            Dunno, I’m not partial to pot either.
            Funeral Doom’s unbeatable as mood music for those cold, winter nights when you just want to sit in front on a fireplace, enjoying some brandy and a good book. As a fun live experience, I have my doubts. If you like Funeral Doom, you should listen to Fungoid Stream, great, HP Lovecraft influenced band from Argentina, a personal favorite of mine. Hellight, from Brazil is quite good also.

          • Wilhelm

            You have a point. Funeral Doom is more of a meditative and personal experience. The live aspect doesn’t add much to the experience, especially for a recorded album. The good thing is that the studio production is going to minimal and dynamics are going to be high, which I feel most bands need to embrace.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Agreed with you on the live dynamics. More bands should start releasing “live in the studio albums”, keep the overdubs and studio trickery to a minimum and raise elements such as the musicianship, tighness as a band and ability to really play the music instead of fixing/assembling it on a computer.
            Many deep underground bands are doing it.

          • Kronos

            And with great results; see the last Idylls album

          • funeraldoombuggy

            Or how about not caring at all what kind of studio tricks go on. concentrate on songs and if it feels right.

          • Tom Hardy

            Skepticism have played live at churches. Doesn’t add much to the experience you say? ^_~ …

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Mmm… Holy shit?

          • Tom Hardy

            So NOW it’s okay for Skepticism to play live ONLY if they play at a church? Uhhh … right.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            What?

          • maartje

            I’ve had the opportunity to see Skepticism live a few times and I can say the live aspect adds a lot. You really get drawn into the atmosphere, a lot more than when you’re at home sitting in your sofa. That is, on the condition that the audience consists of people who like funeral doom. If there are a lot of people who just want to have fun on a Saturday night, they usually ruin the atmosphere.
            In general, I prefer gigs during the week, there are relatively more people who actually care about the music.

          • basenjibrian

            For Americans, AGALLOCH put on one hell of a live show. Even in smaller venues. Best show of the last twelve months for me, but they (Agalloch) introduce a lot of Cascadian Black Metal elements (and ideology) into their music. And, they have been doing it for 20 years!

          • eloli

            Remind me to never, ever go see Agalloch live. Life’s too short to waste on the half assed nature loving, misanthropic rants of some pseudo intellectual.

          • basenjibrian

            Oh gosh no. They were awesome live. Not half-assed at all. He’s too much of a veteran to be “pseudo” anything.

          • eloli

            In my book, any philosophy that can’t accept that at this point in history, there’s no sense in romanticism or ludditism, is the definition of half assed. But that’s just my opinion.

          • basenjibrian

            Oh geez. That is a rather DOUR world view, my man.
            But….no worries!
            I am more of the “Nature will eventually kick our ass” school and Mad Max movies are prophetic, but….

          • eloli

            I’m more of a “if it wasn’t for mechanized agriculture and antibiotics we’d all be dead in our early 40s” and “technology’s really cool, it makes work easier and makes your free time more enjoyable” guy.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Mad Max movies are not prophetic for one reason: The Stone Age didn´t end because we run out of stone, did it? Likewise, the Oil Age will be over long before oil runs out. Mankind is already working on alternative fuels and before long (20-30 years tops) oil won´t be “black gold” but just some gooey, smelly black crap. Or raw materials for plastic, if anything.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            More half brained than half assed, I would say.
            And for some perverse reason half brained people rarely go half assed on their endeavors.

          • Tom Hardy

            Fungoid Stream were good. You’re listening to Funeral Doom. What part of that do you want to be a ‘fun live experience’? By that same token, you wouldn’t want to listen to Blizzard Beasts I’d imagine if they weren’t playing out in the forest in the middle of an ice storm.

          • eloli

            IMO, live metal music should be fun, if it’s not, it’s more of a performance art happening than a live show. But that’s just my opinion, I’m sure there are lots of people who disagree with me and don’t mind not having fun on during a live music setting for some reason. Whatever works. :D

          • basenjibrian

            Well…there are different definitions of “fun” then. I am not really a “fun” kind of guy, so I guess “performance art happening” is not an immediate perjorative concept.
            But, I have also been to “fun” concerts as well. And even pretentious bands can be fun if the front man is amusing enough (Opeth!)

          • eloli

            Opeth has a lot of songs you can bang your head and shake your fist at, they’re fun.

          • basenjibrian

            Yes.
            There was some serious head banging going on at Agalloch, which is kind of my reason for liking the show.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            My guess is that a Funeral Doom show would be unbearable is one was sober.

          • basenjibrian

            I might (heresy ahead) argue that many shows in the “extreme metal” subgenre are not really very good live.
            A recent example for me: ATRIARCH is this mournful, frightening funeral doomish (sorta kinda) band from Oregon in the United States that make epic albums. They were a TERRIBLE live band. Obviously bored, they buried the vocalist’s eerie singing completely in the mix in order to maintain some kind of simplistic wall of sound bombast. Terrible show, but I still love the albums.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            “Extreme Metal” is an, err, extremely wide umbrella. But if that includes Death Metal, I have been to quite a few excellent shows. I guess it depends on the band. But I would also argue that really slow, “low energy” music doesn´t have good odds of ttranslating well into a live experience.

          • basenjibrian

            Of course of course. :)
            And as I say below, there are excellent doom metal and even Cascadian bands. And sometimes the more professional bands can create that amazing meditative atmosphere that Wilhelm notes below. :)

        • Tom Hardy

          Whether you pop on your CD or cassette or watch a band play live, they’re all different experiences. I’ve watched Evoken live and they’re really good to see as a live band. Guess the point I’m trying to make is what doesn’t work for you doesn’t generally work for everyone else.

          • eloli

            I’m pretty aware that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for others, my guess was that using “I” personal pronoun made it clear it was a simple opinion from the get go and never intended to be taken as a fact. :D
            Btw, who plays cassettes these days? :D

          • Tom Hardy

            A lot of people still buy cassettes as far as underground music’s concerned. A majority of bands prefer to put their demos or EP’s out professionally released through labels on cassette before a vinyl comes into the picture a few months down the line. I hope your next question isn’t who plays vinyls these days ; )

          • eloli

            You already answered my question: obsessive über metal nerds who are dangerously close to crossing over towards full time hipsterism. :D
            I had to live with cassettes for a decade and a half, they’re the shittiest medium ever, but if listening to them boosts your underground self esteem, go ahead, whatever floats your boat. :D
            Also, when I picture “a lot of people”, I tend to picture at least a stadium sized crowd, not a few hundred scattered nerds here and there. :D

          • basenjibrian

            Well not responding for Tom, I, at least, am far too old to be a hipster. I buy 95% of my music digitally anyway. :)
            But I am definitely obsessive. :)

          • eloli

            My metal collection (+2,500 titles) is made up of purely physical formats, mostly CDs and some vinyls. I still keep around 50 cassettes (which I never play, of course) of stuff that has some emotional value to me or that’s too obscure to have been released otherwise.
            Of course, everything’s backed up digitally. I don’t consider myself that obsessive, it’s just that heavy metal’s been my hobby for more than 30 years now.
            My wife, on the other hand, begs to differ, she calls me a borderline hoarder. :D

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            As someone who had more than one cassette either swallowed by the tape player or baked by the sun inside the car, I was more than glad for CDs to replace them.

            I am still unable to fathom any “real” advantage cassette tapes may have over current formats, in spite of having read quite a few articles defending the format.

            It all reeks of hipster full of bullshit trying to defend the undefendable.

          • Tom Hardy

            I have a few cassettes, sure. Some are for albums that are exclusive cassette only releases while some are of albums I really like. And I also own a couple of records like EP’s only out on 7’s or 10’s or records of albums I enjoy. I don’t see what’s hipster about that? I also don’t know you mean by ‘underground self esteem’ or how that’s directed at me for.

          • eloli

            It was just a jovial jab against cassettes, coming from a really old school guy who had to live with the format for a decade and a half.
            Really, only a contrarian hipster would defend this format at this point. :D

  • Wilhelm

    How hard could it be to find, even just a session, bass player for this band? You don’t even have to be good or sober to keep up with the Funereal pace. I dig this band a lot – what a cool thing to do!

    • funeraldoombuggy

      It’s actually much harder than you think to play slowly properly.

  • An odd choice.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    For a minute, I thought that was a Depend diaper on the front cover, but now I see it’s a shirt and coat.

  • Tom Hardy

    As a long time fan of the band, I honestly can’t wait to listen to this. I understand your point Grymm about the bass, but another way to look at it is why be something else just for the crowd? Historically it would be 20 years since they had a guest bass appearance on a full length. Putting that into perspective, Theatrics aside, I personally would rather listen to them as is. I’m filled with cautious optimism to be honest, after reading your review, thanks man. I’ve watched some of their live shows on the tube and they sound great. However, their outing at MDF proved less enjoyable for fans as well.

    • Grymm

      Sorry about the late reply. The way I see it is funeral doom relies on a suffocating atmosphere. Some of that suffocation comes from having a deep low end, which Skepticism never had (except maybe in the studio?). So when you throw this out live and there’s none of that beef, it tends to fall flat, and this genre *needs* that desperately.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    As far as I know, this is probably the first ever Funeral Doom live album. Will check Metal Archives for that.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Watching the embedded video and looking at the drummer feels like watching a regular video in slow motion ! Hell, even the guitar strumming looks like slow motion!

    It is amazing, it must take a lot of patience and restrain to play this slow.

    And the audience members? I bet they all are thinking “I should have brought a chair”.

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    How bizarre.

    • Grymm

      How bizarre, how bizarre.

      OOOOOoooh baby (oooh bay-bay)
      It’s makin’ me crazy (it’s makin’ me crazy)…

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        No! Bad Grymm!

      • Luke_22

        I thought I’d erased that memory.

  • Jesús! 46+ comments in less than half a day for a 2.5. And a band I haven’t really heard before. Something is abrewin’.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      That’s usually the way it goes. The Operation: Mindcrime review has 99 comments and counting.

      • Yeah I can get that one from all the mockery but this one seems to have ignited some animosity.

        • Kronos

          Every once in a while threads balloon out of proportion, often because some sub-discussion gets started. Such is the nature of comments sections.

  • Kronos

    Apart from the lack of bass, the synth strings really hurt this as well; they sound really out of place. They got the concert hall and live equipment and everything, yet couldn’t hire even a bunch of highschoolers to play their string parts? Come on.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Tough gig coming on in the middle of all the Maiden madness