While many of my writing colleagues hunker down amid inches of snow and ice, wallowing in gloom, I’m enjoying a haphazard but sporadically scorching Australian summer. The closest I’ve got to such frosty atmospheres recently was on an evening sitting outside where I outrageously had to retrieve a jacket in the middle of fucking summer. As such, my musical appetite generally stays on the lighter side at this time of year, in extreme metal terms that is. However, as it turns out, January, and life circumstances have forced my hand to embrace the darker, doomier realms of metal. Firstly, Hamferð impressed with their emotionally-charged descent into punishing doom-death as Hooded Menace’s latest offering lurks in the background. And now, the underrated Faal make a long-awaited return with their blackened take on the doom-death formula. The third LP from the morose Netherlands crew marks their first since 2012’s crushing The Clouds Are Burning album.
Despite the lengthy gap between releases and some line-up changes, the Dutch masters of misery are well…as miserable as ever. Desolate Grief marks another hefty chapter of the band’s funereal doom-death, forming an ideal soundtrack to wintry trudges through desolate, snow-covered fields or cold, black nights in front of the fire with a stiff drink in hand. It’s grim, soul-crushing stuff that should appeal to avid supporters of the depressive doom-death sound. Key to the success of the style is the ability to conjure a thick, oppressive and hopelessly bleak atmosphere to match the tortured lyrical content and devastating emotional pain attached. Faal nail this aesthetic effortlessly and importantly write and arrange compositions that sustain deep engagement and mostly manage to keep monotony and excess sluggishness at bay, across mammoth song lengths.
In fact, there are only five songs, one of which is the short, obligatory introduction. The remaining tracks pack a serious emotional and sonic wallop, each clocking in at over nine minutes. “No Silence” captures the band at their punishing best, low tortured growls working in-sync with the authoritative drums and guitars, while mournful melodies glimmer shadily, like pools of oil in the moonlight. The song takes its time, moving at a glacial funeral doom pace for long stretches. Eventually, Faal explode out of the gloom at just the right moment, before things get too plodding, unleashing a storming death groove to enliven proceedings, then winding down with a melancholic climax of dense, grim doom. These little change-ups and variations, along with Faal’s impressive use of melody, gives Desolate Grief an edge over the cookie cutter doom-death bands plying their trade.
Other highlights include the aptly titled “Evoking Emotions,” with its stark, grief-stricken melodies and casual gait powerful in their simplicity. The gripping harmonies, fierce bellows, and deathly bite bring a further spark, texture, and substance to the song’s somber atmosphere. “Grief” couples intense death metal surges with eerie melody and grey funeral doom dirges, making a solid impact. Each song holds the album’s finer qualities close to heart, but more stringent editing could have reaped further benefit. And while there are plenty of high points littered throughout, collectively the album falls short of outright greatness. Nevertheless, the tasteful use of keys and burly, nuanced performances stand tall, and the production delivers a mighty wallop of fat, organic tones, and overall heft.
Doom-death with a deeply depressive streak, featuring striking melodies and slick post-metal and blackened edges, Desolate Grief solidifies Faal as one of the unsung powerhouses on the scene and is a fine return from the re-jinked band. Generally, this style of doom is very hit or miss for me, but Faal strike a chord that resonates deeply and Desolate Grief is an endearingly bleak and well-crafted companion piece to Hamferð’s gloom-riddled early year highlight.