As a music critic I am strictly prohibited from judging albums by their covers, yet it’s a behind-the-scenes hobby of mine to analyze album art as a thematic companion to the sounds that lie within. A successful album cover shouldn’t just serve as a pretty face; from art style to color palette, it should be a reflection of the band’s ideas and personality, something that sticks in one’s subconscious as a valuable piece of the overall experience. Norwegian doom duo Hymn opt for an exterior aesthetic that’s more in line with black metal than doom on their debut record Perish, exhibiting a stark, monochromatic mountain ridge. From a distance the image seems to hint at an experience that’s melancholic, frigid, and exhausting. Unfortunately there’s some disconnect here, as to these ears only the latter descriptor applies. A more accurate illustration would be yours truly rendered unconscious by the album, strapped into my headphones, blissfully unaware while Perish blares away.
In constructing Perish, Hymn seems to have utilized the creative perspective of “design by subtraction.” The idea behind this philosophy is to remove any extraneous elements in the name of strengthening the core experience. Thus, Hymn’s approach is achingly simple: a collection of droning, down-tuned riffs accompanied by slow, deliberate drum performances and a harsh vocal delivery that falls somewhere between roaring and wailing. To this extent, the band accomplishes their goal of composing a record with an undeniably heavy feel. The end sound comes across as a balance between traditional and sludgy takes on doom, with occasionally blackened lead guitar work and a total of two fleeting blastbeat runs across the entire record. For those whose sole requirement for a doom album is that the guitarist never ventures above the fifth fret, Perish is likely to satisfy.
For me, however, Hymn’s trimming down of an already minimalist genre results in an absence of essentially everything I love about said genre. My favorite doom records aren’t just crushingly heavy; they carry an inescapable emotional heft supplied by guitar and vocals melodies that are unique to the style. Perish, in contrast to those records, is melodically starved. There is precisely one riff in the entire album that possesses so much as a whiff of feeling (the 4:40 mark of “Spectre”), but aside from this fleeting moment, Hymn only seems preoccupied with pummeling the senses (and my conscious state) into submission with walls of chuggy power chords. Incorporating clean vocals could have supplied some much needed hooks to accompany the rote guitar work, yet there are none to be found aside from eight measures of an intriguing, Messiah Marcolin-like (Candlemass) performance on “Hollow” that’s swept away before it can properly sink in.
Vocalist Ole Rokseth would be a comfortable fit for a hardcore band; I can feel every ounce of his energy being poured into his performance as he gasps between phrases, but in a doom context his shouty vocals begin to grate long before Perish ends. Speaking of the album’s conclusion, the closing title track of this record contains one of the most laughable moments I’ve ever encountered in the genre; near the three-minute mark, all instruments drop out except for a lonely bass riff. The bass is so buried in the mix that this passage is the first and only time I can hear it on the album, and it reveals that the sound of the bass strings rattling against the frets is somehow louder than the bass tone itself. This would be annoying if it weren’t such a hilarious production flub. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only poor choice in terms of instrument tone; in regards to “Serpent,” a track reliant on palm-muting, the guitar work loses impact because the notes being played are obscured by the sound of the pick scraping over the strings.
A good doom metal band should coax me into uncontrollably bobbing my head to its downbeat groove. Hymn does, in fact, make me nod my head; not to its rhythm or in acknowledgement of my inevitable demise, mind you, but rather as it lulls me to sleep with its lifeless riffs. I still suspect that Perish will find an audience, though, as Hymn are good at what they do. I just don’t see myself ever caring about it when there are so many modern bands on the scene that deftly pair heaviness with a genuine ear for melodic affect. In the case of Hymn’s threadbare approach, less is less.