Doom:VS is a one man act with a pretty spotty record of productivity, but man, when they drop an album, it really drops hard! The brainchild of Johan Ericson (Draconian), Doom:VS released back to back gobstoppers of morose doom/death with 2006s Aeternum Vale and 2008s Dead Words Speak and both stand among the genre’s very best. Then, the band vanished from the mortal coil and seemed to be consigned to history. Without much warning, they’ve made a huge return with Earthless and now Johan is joined by Thomas Akim Gronbeak Jensen (Saturnus), who handles all the death roars. Earthless delivers 50 minutes of morose, forlorn, but heavy-as-fuck doom with more sadness and pathos than you can stand and you WILL feel oppressed. The music is much like the older Doom:VS platters, but there is a strong Saturnus influence too, and the combination works extremely well. Sometimes they borrow from My Dying Bride, and other times they sound more like October Tide, but they always sound convincing and the riffs are top notch.
With six songs, each clocking in between seven and nine minutes, you’d think this would be a chore to sit through, but it flows effortlessly and though the music is pretty dirgey, they manage to shift tempos just at the right moments to keep things rolling along like a grim parade. The opening title track is fraught with morosely trilling leads that are pure gold and the music is so emotional you can almost see the individual notes break down and cry. It’s everything doom/death should be and hits all the right buttons (especially the cold trem riffs that pop in around 6:40). “A Quietly Forming Collapse” (excellent title) is equally wrist slitting with some truly unhappy lead riffs that smother whatever hope you may have squirreled away deep in the crevices of your dark heart.
“White Coffins” has Finland written all over it, with a real winter coldness to the riffs and a hint of Insomnium and Rapture in the leads. The sudden addition of haunting clean vocals on “Oceans of Despair” is very effective and reminds me a lot of Warning‘s Watching From a Distance, and “The Slow Ascent” benefits from a slight Primordial vibe to the riffs and song structure.
This stuff is slow, but not funeral doom slow and despite the length of the songs, it never causes me to drift or go moss peeping, and that’s the sign of solid doom/death. That said, it’s tough to say exactly why this works as well as it does. It stays pretty close to genre norms and isn’t the least bit innovative or progressive. It just works and that’s all that really matters.
Johan’s riffs are really a thing of beauty here. He was always a great riff writer, but these are some of his best yet. Always melancholy and somber, they flit between beautiful and crushing and maintain that delicate equipoise across the album’s length. The addition of Jensen on vocals pays immediate dividends, with his deep, powerhouse roars and odd shouts, he brings a lot of the Saturnus magic heard on albums like Martyre to this project and it’s an instant fit.
If you love your doom/death emotional and sad, rather than heavy and grinding, Earthless is your new Wookie co-pilot. Doom:VS continues to impress me when they deign to release something and if your only quibble with a band is that they aren’t productive enough, that’s not exactly an indictment. Excellent, emotional stuff right here.