Cemetery Lights – The Underworld Review

Cemetery Lights - The Underworld 01When I was younger, I didn’t care much about production. Usually, I would look past an album’s sound and simply focus on its riffs and songwriting. That’s changed in my time writing here, as I’ve listened to a lot more music and started to care more about how an album sounds. Even still, it’s rare to find an album whose production outright ruins it. Most of the time, awful production goes hand in hand with awful music. Most of the time, quality music isn’t pared with a production job that sounds like somebody ran into the studio and started randomly twisting every knob within arm’s reach. Most of the time.

Cemetery Lights is a one-man black metal project from Rhode Island led by “The Corpse.”1 Bad production and one-man black metal aren’t exactly strange bedfellows, and while Lights’ 2018 EP The Church on the Island did have a pretty raw sound, it was still listenable and quite interesting with its haunting atmosphere and unique sonic approach. With debut The Underworld, Mr. Corpse has collected a set of songs from earlier in the band’s history and placed them together in an album about Greek mythology.

Corpse is a talented musician and clearly put a lot of effort into The Underworld, but let’s go ahead and address the brontosaurus in the room: this album sounds bad. Not bad as in “raw” or “poorly recorded,” but bad as in “who the hell thought this mix sounded good?” The bass guitar is louder and more prominent than almost any other instrument except the drums, which are also overbearingly loud. The cymbals clatter prominently while the bass drums patter along with an overly boomy sound. The whispery rasps are placed below the bass and drums, while the guitars are buried beneath it all and have all the strength of wet toilet paper. The result is that during the faster moments, which comprise a good portion of these 37 minutes, the drums and bass overpower almost every other element and suffocate any semblance of atmosphere in their bassy fuzz.

It’s a shame, too, because the underlying riffs and arrangements are actually quite good. While I definitely hear the Greek black metal influence that Lights claim in the promo blurb, often the riffing reminds me more of the tight ritualistic style of Polish blackened death band Throneum. This riffing is then interspersed with soaring, oceanic melodies and cleanly picked moments that lead to some pretty decent compositions. Opener “Erebos” is a prime example, beginning with a sly baseline and simple, tightly woven riffs that soon become more dramatic before breaking into some softer moments and then getting heavier again for the conclusion. It feels composed and adventurous, and with better production, it would actually be a really solid song.

Cemetery Lights - The Underworld 02The one exception to the production woes are the lead guitar parts, which ring through the other elements like the mythical Sirens of yore. In songs like “Elysium” and “Isles of the Blessed,” they carve out some nice Mediterranean melodies and add a welcome dose of mysterious atmosphere to the proceedings. During the slower moments, the bass and drums aren’t as suffocating and as such the more downtempo songs here are actually quite listenable and enjoyable. “Olympos” is a great example, beginning with echoing notes that evoke the feeling of standing at the foot of the titular mountain, before moving into passages of mid-paced riffs and lurching rhythms that make heavy nods to early Rotting Christ and other Hellenic acts. Yet my favorite song is closer “Fields of Asphodel,” which sounds like a lost Nocternity track with its echoing leads, slow deliberative pace, and moments of shaman-like spoken word.

If every song was like “Fields,” this might be a good album even in spite of its production. Sadly, that’s not the case. There is a quality black metal album buried in The Underworld, one with a keen sense of composition that takes welcome influence from the Greek black metal scene and has riffs that quiver with archaic mystery. Maybe there are people out there who can stomach the way this album sounds, and for them, Cemetery Lights have just delivered quite an enjoyable debut. For myself, I simply can’t get past the sound, and as a result, I can’t see myself ever revisiting The Underworld nor recommending it to anyone else.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Labels: Nuclear War Now! Productions | Bandcamp
Websites: necrophilosoph.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/necrophilosoph
Releases Worldwide:
September 7th, 2019

Show 1 footnote

  1. Who’s apparently also the current drummer of Martyrvore.
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