Life is pain. The human condition is one of brief, fleeting moments of joy hemmed in on all sides by the ever-present specter of death and loss. The loss of loved ones, the loss of safety and comfort as your aging body fails and falls to ruin, and ultimately, the frigid closure of death. Clouds writes every note of their music from this cold place at the edge of mortality, with the debilitating awareness of the darkness that hovers just past our tomorrows. Their brand of atmospheric doom death is rife with grasping despair, and in their hymns to misery you can almost hear mankind’s collective resignation and submission to the inescapable fact that we all become dust in the fullness of time. Their 2016 scar diary, Departe was a study in tragic beauty. It provided few rays of light or glimpses of hope, but it was possible to drag oneself through to the other side, sadder but wiser. Dor is a continuation of Departe, but with fewer hand holds with which to escape the pit of despair the music slowly digs for you. This is the doorways to the grey wastes of human emotion, sunless and forsaken.
Your journey through the doldrums begins with the album’s longest piece. The nearly 11-minute “Forever and a Day” channels the sullen, melodic sensibility of Solstafir alongside the goth-doom of Katatonia as plaintive clean singing reveals a broken soul. But the band takes things to a darker, heavier place via the earth-shaking death bellows of Daniel Neagoe (Eye of Solitude). There are the expected nods to My Dying Bride, with somber violins and minimalist piano keys floating by as the funerary dirge marches over the cliff, but this is Clouds‘ own vision of doom. Everything feels joyless and bleak, but the beauty of the thing is undeniable. “The Last Day of Sun” is shorter and more accessible with world-weary, 80s goth-centric singing paired with cavernous death vocals over a slightly up-tempo presentation and a chorus reminiscence of the best moments of Black Sun Aeon. It’s unbearably downcast, but transcendent, even uplifting in a cathartic way.
The title track luxuriates in sparse, melancholic instrumentation – a dolorous violin line here, a few disconsolate piano keys there, leading the listener into a tranquil pasture before slamming the sledgehammer down with enormous death roars that genuinely startle. It’s another example of how well the band balances beauty and brutality. The band is joined by Gogo Melone (Aeonian Sorrow) on “When I’m Gone” and she imparts a touch of Anneke van Giersbergen’s charm and empathy, bringing added beauty to the uniformly grim panorama. The most direct moments come during “The Forever Sleep” where Pim Blakenstein (The 11th Hour) delivers a powerful indictment of God, religion and the struggle to maintain faith in a higher power when personally beset by tragedy. This composition feels more bitter and angry, and though it’s still depressing, it’s like a minuscule oasis of respite on an album designed to crush your spirit into pulp. Closer “Alone” borrows several pages from A Swarm of the Sun with achingly poignant singing over sobbing violins and piano, sounding like painstaking final goodbye to a loved one. It hurts to hear, but you can’t stop listening.
The success of Dor springs from how the band make these long-form odes to suffering feel so listenable. There are just enough hooks to keep you engaged despite the minimalist nature of the songs. This is a slightly more immediate album than Departe. However, the 50 minute runtime pushes the limits of what one can tolerate given its oppressive nature, and by the final moments I feel fatigued. Most songs run over 8 minutes, and though the high level of song craft makes them digestible, each could have been trimmed by a minute of two.
With a shifting, evolving lineup, things are guaranteed to be at least a bit different from Departe. Though Daniel Neagoe returns, the guitar-work is now handled by fellow Eye of Solitude members Indee Rehal-Sagoo and Xander Cozaciuc, with a new drummer and bassist on board as well. Neagoe’s singing is sadly effective and his death vocals are among the best in the business. He brings just the right amount of grief and rage, and his vocals are rightly the focus of the album. While much of the backing music is exceedingly simple and sparse (sometimes too much so), it sets the dour moods and usually hold them without undue flash or bombast.
Dor is the soundtrack to the inertia of severe depression where everything, even existing, becomes too great of an effort. The blackness spreads across the confluences of your synapses, robbing you of the will to thrive and rejoice in the all too brief miracle of life. You need to be in the right mindset for this assault on your optimism, but since we flawed humans love to bask in depressive soundscapes, you’d be hard pressed to find many deeper, darker pools of suffering to dip your toes in this year1. Be careful though, lest that dip end up pulling you beneath the inky waves, forever losing sight of the clouds above and the hope hiding just beyond.