I have been unkind to doom as of late, doing my best to spurn its demands for attention by avoiding the majority of releases possessed of its lugubrious character. What set this off was the confession in my review of Blackburn Souls by Lord Vigo at the beginning of the year that my patience for doom has worn thin. I no longer have the stomach to hear a single chord reused ad nauseam like a prisoner trying to stretch out a meal made from a caught rat. I’m tired, impatient, and tetchy — moods that ill-suits the emotional commitment required by doom. Here in the twilight of 2017, a small measure of guilt has settled on my shoulders for neglecting the genre, so to remedy this I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and see whether the nearest doom-laced promo can spin my apathetic wheat into joyous gold. Which brings us to Sonorous Æon, the debut album from Norway’s Æsthetica, a record I hope will reignite the cooling embers of my once blazing passion for doom. Christmas is upon us, so let’s hope that the bearded, obese home-intruder and his flying venison bring me some good cheer this time around and not another lump of coal.
First things first, you may be looking at the band name and album title and wondering what the band’s fascination is with gluing an “A” and an “E” together. It turns out that the ligature “æ” is a diphthong named “ash” commonly found in Scandinavian languages. Combined with the bleak, monochrome album art an expectation develops around a blackened take on doom with some local folk flavouring. This is not the case and we are instead treated to a stripped-down interpretation of Electric Wizard with Brave Murder Day-era Katatonia. The churning riffs that underpin opening track “Haze” are accompanied by fuzzy, acid-washed lead guitar, an agreeable séance that parallels “Wing of the Lord” by Witch Mountain. It is not complexity or ferocity that greets the listener but measured sobriety, chaste music that concerns itself with simple — but not simplistic — arrangements.
The focus on restraint is heard best on “Todesfuge,” and aside from some spoken word the track is an instrumental affair, ebbing and receding with clean picking, distant chords, and sparse percussion. Like “Afgamistam” by Botch, the music builds layer-by-layer over time, a horizon beset by a roiling thunderstorm ready to swallow any left to gaze at its abstract beauty. The band is at their best when they detach from their bodies and soar through an astral plane of meditative experimentation like on “Gates,” sinking into nothingness with the therapeutic click-clack of drumsticks stretching for infinity.
The culmination of Æsthetica’s potency is on “La Paz,” a rambling, reverb-heavy mental unspooling. The Electric Wizard influence is at its strongest here, due in part to the singer doing his best at a Jus Oborn impression. But this is where things started fraying at the seams. I balked at the vocals with great conviction, the singer’s habit to sing under the note had me convinced that the band would be better served to transition over completely to an instrumental act. At least initially. Over time and repeated spins of the album I started to acclimatize to the vocals and acknowledge that although they were remedial in execution, they managed to be sanguine when it came to matching the tone of the music they accompany. Case-in-point: when “La Paz” is chanted in succession during the chorus and is joined by a sinister, plunging riff a shiver races up my solar plexus and draws a smile from my lips.
For all the pleasure wrought from Sonorous Æon I did find myself vexed by how many of the tracks went on for too long, like Æsthetica had run out of things to play and thought repetition an alternative to innovation. Furthermore, the languid, post-metal aspect of the music means that the impetus to throw on the record will be dependant on a particular mood taking you over, one that likely involves staring wistfully out of a rain-peppered window. So, did I have my “road to Damascus” moment and find myself possessed of a lust for doom once more? Not quite, but Æsthetica did remind me of the gratification the genre can bring, so when I’m next confronted with a doom-epauletted promo I will be sure to treat it with respect rather than revulsion. It’s not a Christmas miracle but it isn’t “bah, humbug” either.