I’ve stated before that music resonates with me on a more emotional level than cerebral. Although many look to black metal for that negative nirvana, somewhere along the way, I realized that I much prefer the genre as a catalyst, keeping mostly to its blackened brethren. As such, I am likely not the reviewer you might expect to cover an atmospheric black metal band. Yet I’d wager I’m on the list for your death/doom needs. It so happens that Canada’s Finnr’s Cane are much more than their limiting label might suggest. Inspired by the rugged beauty of their country, third album, Elegy, draws great gasps of atmosphere and exhales somber doom with every breath, adding some much-needed weight to the genre. But, as Finnr’s Cane‘s music is often improvisational, and considering their penchant for rambling ephemera, I am left to wonder if the band can steer their vehicle in the appropriate direction.
If you’re unfamiliar with the band, Finnr’s Cane plays a genre-fluid blackened doom that’s never afraid to converge with the same elements that made similar acts so successful. Opener, “Willow,” borrows from Katatonia‘s playbook and churns with a deluge of elegiac post-metal before building to a disconsolate melody. Alternatively, “Empty City” offers an acoustic template, eventually flooding the fictional metropolis with a crash of distorted guitars and screams. Of the anonymous trio, its The Slave who feels most worthy here. Instead of a traditional bass, Finnr’s Cane utilize a cello to commit their low-end, which she executes with aplomb, flitting between foundation and lead. This extra depth offers a tangibility to the album’s atmosphere and further romanticises that ever-present portent of doom.
Elegy defies its genre tropes by actively making use of rhythm. Unfortunately, this indulgence both affords and detracts substantially. The doom sensibility is well considered, ebbing and flowing with appropriately crushing highs and lows. But every now and then they have to contend with moments of overt black metal that just seem forced, as if the band feels the need to qualify their genre label. Frontman and guitarist, The Bard, often indulges in blackened nuances and oscillates between rugged tremolos and more expansive riffs. These work as part of the album’s anatomy, but “Strange Sun,” which tears ahead with the record’s most traditional fare, is clumsy by comparison. Its one dimension is made even more glaring by “Earthsong,” an exceptional amalgamation of all of Elegy‘s intrinsic shades.
Finnr’s Cane‘s willingness to improvise and reinvent the album’s structure is constant but seems to grow sequentially. This means the album is undeniably back-loaded. The best example is the stunning closer, “A Sky of Violet and Purple.” This elaborate and moving piece manages to be emotive and progressive despite its bloated length and neatly sums up the record’s character. Well executed, often impressive, but ultimately a victim of its own scope. While The Slave enhances the melodrama with select keys and strings, the real spleen of the album is attended by The Bard and drummer, The Peasant. The Bard’s minimal vocals blur with his scathing riffs as the production mixes his crackling growls on a similar frequency to his raw guitar tone. The effect doesn’t always find its mark, but when it does, Elegy is nothing short of elemental.
Elegy challenged my shallow preconceptions of atmospheric black metal, and for this I’m grateful. Finnr’s Cane have written a fine album, but one that occasionally falls victim to the same self-indulgence that litters most ethereal endeavors. Fans of black metal and it’s more wistful whispers will find plenty to muse on, while doom fans like me may still mine to satisfying depths, despite the album’s consistency issues. At the very least, Finnr’s Cane are on an enviable trajectory; one I’ll enjoy following.