Celestial Season – Mysterium II Review

After taking some 20 years off, Dutch gothic doom-death act Celestial Season roared back in 2020 with a startingly ambitious comeback album called The Secret Teachings, then followed up in April of this year with Mysterium I. Now just a scant 7 months later they’re back with the second part of a planned trilogy, dropping Mysterium II in time for Christmas stocking stuffing. For those unfamiliar with Celestial Season’s sound, they’re in the same space as classic My Dying Bride and early Anathema, with slow-moving, melancholic doom compositions infused with weeping string sections and forlorn piano lines. Since their comeback the band has renewed their 90s gothic doom sound with good results and they know how to cast a pall over a cheery evening. While Mysterium I was a good album full of bleak despair, it suffered from a feeling of sameness and lacked a heavy punch, with things becoming a wash of restrained sadboi gray. Mysterium II picks up where I left off stylistically, but can it find a way to lurch out of the ether and throttle your ennui more forcefully? Let’s hope!

Right off the bat, Celestial Season remind you that they were one of the innovators of the whole gothic doom thing with opener “The Divine Duty of Servants.” It shows the band at their gloomy best and they even manage to incorporate some jazz horns alongside the heavy riffs and doomy dirging. It’s a song that hits all the required elements to arrive at a solid Peaceville-era moment. “Tomorrow’s Mourning” is very much in the same soundspace as the Anathema debut and its gothy plod with weepy cello and violin works well over most of its 9 minutes, but the transitions to heavier fare are poorly done and sound a bit amateurish, pulling you out of the mood the song strives to create. Still, a lot of good happens during the song’s lengthy runtime

The strength of Mysterium II is the closing tandem of “The Sun the Moon and the Truth” and “Pictures of Endless Beauty – Copper Sunset.” These songs embody the best of modern-day Celestial Season and show that they still have much to offer the doom world. The former dabbles in post-metal dynamics with haunting, cold trem riffs floating into the void as soft vocals team with death roars. It reminds me a lot of A Swarm of the Sun, and that is a great thing. It’s exactly what I want from this genre and a very listenable dose of misery. “Pictures of Endless Beauty” closes things out in grand fashion with a beautifully depressive ode to darkness that would make vintage Saturnus proud. The violin/cello work is spot on and when teamed with the trilling doom leads, every ounce of emotion is wrung out of you. Downsides? Once again there is a general sense of one-note writing hanging over the material. There are few spikes in aggression, and much of it drifts in a hypnotic, dreamy haze. Death vocals are not used as often and when they are, they’re pretty restrained. It’s all beautiful but it can become sleepytime gorilla music and fade into background noise without focused listening. On the plus side, the 40 minutes does go by fairly fast and though several songs crack the 7-minute mark, none feel too long or bloated.

Once again guitarists Pim van Zanen and Olly Smit are tasked with weaving large-scale doom environments with their morose and downtrodden noodling, and they hit the mark more often than not. There aren’t many truly heavy riffs or extreme moments, with guitars mostly content to trill and noodle in funerary manners. More aggression would help shake things up a great deal, but the playing is well done nonetheless. Stefan Ruiters does a fine job with his vocal work, though I would love more intensity in his delivery. There are a lot of soft, spoken word moments and not enough bellowing like he just stepped on a Leggo. The string and piano work is a big part of the band’s sound and as always it’s well done. The addition of the post-metal influences and the sparse use of horns add some needed diversity and even more of that would be great.

Ultimately, Mysterium II feels like more of the same, but it’s ever so slightly superior to Mysterium I. There’s a nice ebb and flow to the album and though it remains very tonal, it has a few minor divergences. This will make a good mood piece for the coming winter months, and I can see this playing as I watch the snow fall while sipping bourbon-reinforced coco hobo wine. Onward to Mysterium III we go!

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Burning World Records
Websites: celestialseason.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/celestialseason
Releases Worldwide: December 2nd, 2022

« »