Celestial Season – Mysterium I Review

Second acts for bands are always interesting. Sometimes the years away from the tussle and grind of the record release schedule does a band good, allowing passion and creativity to flow anew as it did back in their early days. Sometimes that same passage of time provides maturity and a seasoned confidence that informs the new material. In the case of Dutch goth-doom act, Celestial Season, we saw a bit of both of these progressions on 2020s The Secret Teachings. Coming off a 20-year hiatus, the compositions felt surprisingly creative, confident, and adventurous. They retained enough of the original sound from their heyday but were unafraid to wander into new soundscapes. Two years later we get the follow-up, Mysterium I. This time the music is much more firmly set in the early-mid 90s goth-doom headspace, sometimes coming across as the album that could have/should have followed their 1995 Solar Lovers opus. While it lacks some of the adventurous experimentation of its predecessor, it will definitely feel comfortable and familiar to those who were dialed into this niche genre circa 92-96.

The corpse viewing table is set with opener “Black Water Mirrors” which is the very model of an early 90s goth-doom piece, replete with weeping violins and moaning cellos accompanying the forlorn doom riffs and death vocals. It’s quite beautiful and evocative when everything comes together, recalling the early works of My Dying Bride and especially Anathema’s Serenades debut. The issue comes with the way the song lurches from these moments to more upbeat segments with stripped-down riffing and a rock-based vibe. The two styles don’t play nicely together and the transitions feel awkward, hurting what could be a really emotional slab of doomworks. Things are smoothed out a bit thereafter with straightforward goth-doom nuggets like “The Golden Light of Late Day” which feels like a lost track from Anathema’s debut. It’s a soul-killing winner with tasteful strings and enough weeping melancholy to water a small garden. Elsewhere, there’s a strong Moonspell flavor to the mopery on “Sundown Transcends Us,” with its slightly more vibrant energy and hippie rock inclinations.

Other interesting moments include the hypnotic gloom of “This Glorious Summer” where vague hints of early Agalloch flit at the edges of the dooming. “Endgame” reintroduces some of the heady experimentation from The Secret Teachings as the band attempts to marry goth-doom, rock and something like early Sodom. Alongside these kinds of compositions are a few that feel more traditional, and to some extent, safe, like the closing title track which is very pretty but doesn’t stamp itself on your brain in a lasting way. The album as a whole can sometimes feel one-note and overly restrained. There are moments of real beauty and intrigue mixed throughout, but the decline in diversity leaves some of the material feeling too tame and lacking in personality. At just under 44 minutes, Mysterium I doesn’t feel overly long, but certain tracks do, and some trimming would help make things more digestible.

With seven members aboard for the ride, Celestial Season has a lot of moving parts, even though that isn’t always obvious in the material itself.  Guitarists Pim van Zanen and Olly Smit once again produce an abundance of mournful trills and emotional moments, without ever going too heavily into crushing doom leads. As with the last album, there are moments of great beauty to be found in their playing, and these pair very well with the violin and cello. Stefan Ruiters does a good job on vocals, hitting effective death croaks, dramatic spoken word pieces, and a few stops in between. While some clear, emotive clean singing would add a lot to the album’s bleak tapestry, vocals are kept in the death/spoken word space. However, there are no real knocks to be had on the band’s musical ability and prowess as this is a talented troupe. The actual compositions just feel a bit more tame and predictable this time out.

Mysterium I is a solid slice of goth-doom that often feels like a time capsule from 1995. It may cling a bit too tightly to what came before, but the band is very skilled at this kind of music and even the weakest cuts are still interesting enough to hold your attention and compel a downcast mood. I definitely prefer The Secret Teachings, but there’s enough here of note to keep me coming back when those wondrous 90s Peaceville days beckon me to engage in a major sad-off. Tis the Season.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Burning World
Websites: celestialseason.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/celestialseason
Releases Worldwide: April 25th, 2022

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