When you think about the month of August, what does your mind conjure up? Afternoon swims in your background pool? Grilling your favorite killed prey on the barbecue with an ice-cold beer clutched in one hand? Unbearably hot heat waves? Whatever it is, I’m sure you are not thinking of one-person doom metal, and yet I am seemingly bombarded with just that this year. Earlier this month, Spirit Adrift impressed me with their (err, his) debut, and now singer/guitarist/songwriter Jayn H. Wissenberg, aka Darkher, is throwing her gauntlet into that particular ring with her debut full-length, Realms.
Many of you will dispute whether Realms can easily classify as a doom metal record, as there are also whiffs of Portishead and slight tinges of folk here. What’s not in dispute is just how well this album is put together. Plainly put, I’m having a difficult time putting Realms down long enough to write this review. After an ambient opening, “Hollow Veil” gently lulls the listener into a My Dying Bride-like crawl, with Wissenberg’s quivering voice recalling both Beth Gibbons (Portishead) and Loreena McKennitt. In fact, that latter comparison holds firm throughout Realms, as Wissenberg’s haunting voice easily matches McKennitt’s ethereal wails. With ambient guitar effects supplied by Wissenberg’s husband Martin and simple-yet-effective drumming by Shaun Taylor-Steels (Vestige of Virtue, ex-Anathema/My Dying Bride), “Hollow Veil” sets up Realms for a beautifully eerie jaunt for the next 38 minutes.
One thing to note is just how bare the songwriting is on Realms. Wissenberg paid careful attention to the songs’ construction, allowing the songs to breathe and take lives of their own. “Moths” features just a lone acoustic guitar sparsely plucked, allowing her alluring voice to carry the song to its somber end. “The Dawn Brings A Saviour” follows the same blueprint, except this time with a fuzzed-out guitar humming and generating feedback from behind, as if to signal a soul’s flame extinquishing. Darkher coats Realms with breathtaking moments, but it’s the closing one-two punch of “Foregone” and “Lament” that lingers far after the album’s expiration. The former sensually saunters forth like a jilted lover, intensifying with Wissenberg’s wails during the second chorus and Taylor-Steels’ progressively heavier drumming towards the finale. “Lament,” in comparison, fades in with a beautiful guitar melody, soothes with Wissenberg’s voice, and builds to an emotional climax with her wails and cries fading back out, laying the album and the listener to rest. Emotional and draining, in the absolute best possible way imaginable.
Produced by Jayn Wissenberg, there is little to find fault here. My complaint is that some of the drums sound just a bit flat here and there, and there are some noticeable moments when the electric guitar sounds a little fried (“Foregone” being a prime example). Mind you, that’s the only fault I can find with this album, as Realms stuns from beginning to end. The songs don’t overstay their welcome, the run-time is perfect, and there’s not a single clunker to be found. In fact, I’m listening to “Lament” for the eighth time today as I type this. Don’t be surprised if this song ends up as my Song o’ the Year winner come year’s end.
Much like Myrkur and Sylvaine before her, Darkher staked her claim as a force to be reckoned with in doom metal. Realms, with its ethereal songwriting and emotional singing, impacted me like few other doom metal releases this year. If she continues to grow with her songwriting, I see a long, fruitful future for her. As such, Realms is a great launchpad. Color me impressed.