Hanging Garden – The Garden Review

Hanging Garden is that “other” Finnish melodic doom-death act that often gets overshadowed by the likes of Amorphis, Insomnium, and Omnium Gatherum. They’ve been around since 2004 and cranking out gothy melo-doom since 2007, and though they’ve been somewhat inconsistent over their career, the last few albums have been quite good with great moments scattered about. I was especially impressed by 2021s Skeleton Lake, which delivered exactly the kind of weepy, sadboi doom death I appreciate. That said, even at their best, they always struck me as the melo-doom B-team from Finland. I always expected them to have that breakthrough album that elevated them into the ranks of their better-known countrymen, but it never came. Now just a year and change after Skeleton Lake we get 8th full-length, The Garden, and with it, hope blooms anew for that big breakthrough. Has a new phase begun for Hanging Garden?

As with the past few releases, The Garden finds the band tinkering with their sound in small ways. The gothy melo doom sound is still there, but now they’ve introduced minor darkwave electronica elements that remind a bit of Depeche Mode. It’s not as strange a fit as it might sound and they do a good job merging these elements into their core approach. Things kick off in a bittersweet mood with the pretty but depressive “The Garden,” where Riikka Hatakka’s enchanting vocals pair well with the assorted death bellows and blackened shrieks. It’s all very restrained and perhaps too much so, but it’s an effective mood piece. The standout cut follows with “The Four Winds” and this is one of those moments where all the elements Hanging Garden work with come together in a glorious Jello mold of glory. It’s not far from what Insomnium do but the extra element provided by Riikka ‘s vocals takes it to a more gothy, folky place. It’s a beautiul, emotional song with enough sadboi power to sting and I want more like it. “The Construct” takes a BIG page from Draconian Times era Paradise Lost, with clean vocals sounding oh so Nick Holmes as keyboards plink sparingly in that classic Paradise Lost style. It’s a win for nostalgia’s sake and a nice addition. Other quality moments arrive with “The Song of Spring” where the Paradise Lost influence meets a bit of Rammstein, and “The Stolen Fire” which bubbles with a Tuomas Saukkonen-esque energy.

There are no bad selections, but a few do underwhelm, coming across as lesser versions of the better material. “The Journey” is pretty but a bit flat, and the darkwave interlude “The Derelict Bay” is intriguing but underdeveloped. Overall The Garden is better enjoyed as a whole rather than as separate tracks, and the lesser moments don’t disrupt the album’s mood or flow to a significant degree. The biggest complaint is the same one I’ve had with Hanging Garden forever. As good as some of their songs can be, they never seem able to maintain a consistent string of high-quality selections. I can spin The Garden from start to finish and it’s an effortless listen with plenty of good moments, but it’s not the kind of album I need to beat to death or tell my friends about.

Hanging Garden benefit from the myriad of vocal styles they bring to the party. Riikka is a big piece of the puzzle, with her beautiful but subdued singing feeling siren-like, and Toni Hatakka and Jussi Hämäläinen balance her soft croons out with death and black vocals and sparse but effective clean singing. They layer the vocals well, without things ever feeling gimmicky or forced. The backing music is often restrained and designed to accentuate the vocals, and as such, it works. I always felt there was a dearth of memorable riffs on Hanging Garden albums, and that criticism still stands. There are interesting musical choices, but a lot of what you hear could be on an indie or goth rock album with only scattered moments of real heaviness coming into play. I find myself wishing for a harder edge at times and for more pizzazz in the music itself.

The Garden is another enjoyable, mood-drenched release by Hanging Garden, and while it isn’t that must-hear kind of thing, it’s quite good and it’s a platter you can get lost in. I still think the band have that slobberknocker album in them. This might not be it, but it will still appeal to fans of melodic melo-doom-death. Give it a shot as your sadboi mileage may vary.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Agonia
Websites: hanginggarden.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hanginggardenofficial
Releases Worldwide: March 24th, 2023

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