It’s been said that “when the gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers.” I first came upon Loss and their brand of unrelenting funeral death-doom back in 2011 when Steel matched wits against the almighty Despond. Prior to this, I’d never been exposed to anything that sounded so grudgingly drawn out or so full of crushing personal failure. It mesmerized me! Not the funeral doom genre itself, but rather the arresting approach specifically promulgated by Loss. It’s been six years since Despond, and lo and behold, Loss are gifting us with a new experience aptly titled Horizonless. Though part of me prayed for a new album by the Tennessee band, a bigger part secretly hoped I’d never hear from them again. After all, what were the chances they wouldn’t become victims of the infamous sophomore slump? My prayers were answered, and after some cajoling, I gave Horizonless a listen. One part Lycus, two parts Mournful Congregation, and a dash of 40 Watt Sun (née Warning) – is Loss the hero of their own beautiful tragedy?
Continuing on from where Despond left off, Horizonless comes apart with “The Joy of All Who Sorrow.” Pounding, isolated drum-work decisively makes way for some of the most overwhelmingly tortured vocalizations I’ve yet experienced from Loss. Doing away with the expected predominance of Michael Meacham’s guttural growls, Loss instead releases John Anderson, Tim Lewis and Jay LeMaire who take regret and suffering to a dynamic new level. From the monologue fighting the bass thrum around a third in, to the gurgling black metal inspired evil spewed out in the final third of the track, Loss feel re-energized and their harmonies are as excruciating as the lyrics conveyed. This vocal variety continues on throughout the album, with the most noticeable high-points being the cleans supplied by Tim Lewis in the title track followed by the guest vocals of Wrest (Leviathan), Stevie Floyd and Billy Anderson (sound engineer and producer for everybody from Agalloch to Pallbearer) on “When Death Is All.”
As with Despond, Horizonless features a variety of song lengths that work hand-in-hand to make an otherwise overwhelming album seem somehow more palatable. “I.O” and “Moved Beyond Murder,” are the shortest tracks here, and though they could easily be throwaways if used within another project, on Horizonless each has a specific and contrasting role. Dominating “I.O” are the soprano pickings of a mandolin, cutting through oppression with it’s femininity, Jay LeMaire charms the instrument, coaxing out a sense of spontaneity, vulnerability and radiance that would be tough to replicate with a more traditional instrument. “Moved Beyond Murder” takes the opposite path – here Michael Meacham uses an analogue synthesizer, bell and chants in much the same way as Caïna would, conveying focus and a chilling lack of emotion. Meacham’s unrelenting sincerity only serves to leave lines like “oh what I wouldn’t give to drag a knife across your throat” buried like a blade deep into your subconscious.
The remainder of Horizonless, drags along mostly at a glacial pace, with Loss‘ core influences (Mournful Congregation and Warning) at heart, and a steady eye on avoiding stagnation. Cavernous growls, dense fuzzed-out riffing and exaggerated drum lines are the nuts and bolts of Loss. The moments that really ended up staying with me, and having the biggest impact, are where Loss bend the rules – tactfully injecting the melody of In Mourning, sinking into the doldrums occupied by Eudaimony and Deadspace (“Naught”), or picking apart the resonance of Ulver (“When Death Is All”).
Horizonless proved itself a multi-dimensional construct, showcasing a unique blend of melodic harmony, bleak contrast and grinding torment, and from a sonic standpoint, Billy Anderson worked the production to play to each one of the band’s strengths. This album leaves you feeling that Horizonless finds Loss more at home in their own skin, and other than perhaps rethinking the overwhelming 65-minute length of the album, there’s nothing I would encourage Loss to change or approach differently.