For as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been more interested in bands that try to be unique than ones that take an established convention and do it well. Leonov is a band from Norway that has just released their sophomore album, Wake. Their promotional material describes their music as “celestial doom,” which intrigues me greatly. What is celestial doom? What does it mean? Are we contemplating the small, brief existence of mankind in the vastness of space? Are we exploring the ideas of loss and nothingness? I have no idea. My attention has been captured nicely here, but can Leonov follow through?
As it turns out, the celestial doom label makes thematic sense. Wake creates celestial beauty through melancholy leads, subtle synths and airy, ethereal singing. These atmospheric elements are contrasted nicely with a heavy, gritty bass and guitar tone. The post-doom vibe created by Jon-Velte Lunden’s drumming and Morten Kjelling’s bass work is a great foundation for the affecting guitars of Ole Jørgen Reindal and Rune Gilje. Together, Leonov evokes a sense of sorrow, longing and isolation that is haunting. Wake is an album that wants to make you feel regretful and reflective, and, for the most part, it succeeds.
The longer songs on Wake achieve this haunting vibe by crafting otherworldly beauty with the help of strong singing from Tåran Reindal, and superb instrumental passages throughout. Leonov’s melodies combine wistfulness and melancholy in a moving way. The best moments of the album arrive in its two longest tracks: “Shem,” just shy of eleven minutes, and “Wake,” which clocks in at fifteen. Each song manages to be constantly engaging by creeping forward at exactly the right pace towards an emotional climax. In “Shem,” guitar leads soar across a thick backdrop of power chords and airy synths. Reindal’s beautiful voice ties everything together with ethereal grace; she opens the song with devastatingly bleak chants before unleashing waves of remorse on the listener. Every sound feels rightly placed, and no moment is wasted.
The production on Wake is both a blessing and a curse for its overall sound. For the blessing, the album is expertly mixed, creating an atmosphere that is easy to get lost in for a very digestible 43-minute runtime. Every instrument has room to breathe and everything can be heard and appreciated clearly. Not every song is great; “I Am Lion, I Am Yours” never really goes anywhere, for example, but the consistency of Leonov’s sound never goes away. There’s something to be said for songs that just sound good, and Wake delivers this constantly, from the darkly groovy riffing of the album’s opener right up to its final minutes, when “Wake” releases a steady build-up into the well-earned emotional climax of the album.
The curse manifests itself in the production of Tåran Reindal’s voice, which is consistently drenched in reverb. Considering the “celestial” nature of Leonov’s sound, this could be a smart move. Problematically, however, reverb covers every sound she makes throughout Wake. As a result, any cathartic connection the listener might feel with her performance is crushed when her voice passes a certain level of intensity. This is never clearer than in the closing passages of “Oceanode,” where Reindal repeats the same phrase—“safe from harm”—several times. For the first few, she cries out with everything she’s got. The reverb is distracting, and it severely dampens the impact of her passionate wails. After this, she sings the same phrase in a quiet monotone. Here, the reverb is an asset, enhancing the coldness of the moment. There is certainly a benefit to vocal reverb, especially for this kind of music, but the constant use in Wake wears thin quickly, and erodes—but does not undermine—the core of the album’s strength.
Wake is a solid post-doom offering that warms my icy heart with every listen. This is far from being an album without flaw, but it does manage to remain consistent and interesting throughout its runtime. At its worst, it’s still a conceptually interesting bit of music. At its best, it takes you to the stars, just for a short, contemplative, while.