Funeral doom is the cilantro of the metal world. Those who like it tend to love it. Others wonder why anyone would want to
eat a little leaf that tastes like soap listen to a twenty-minute song with four beats per minute. On the occasions it’s reviewed here, there are usually a few predictable cries from the peanut gallery of “Only listened to 30 seconds! Why this boring? Me want fast!” That’s right. I made you sound like Cookie Monster. I hope it stings, because this is my review and I am squarely in the camp of funeral doom lovers. Jokes aside, I do understand a certain predisposition or ability to be entranced rather than bored by a glacial pace may be required to truly “get” the genre. But somewhere beyond the lovers and haters there is an elusive third group: beautiful unicorns who could be won over with the right album. I’m here to determine if Deliquesce, the second full length by Oregonians Maestus, is appropriate unicorn bait to win new recruits for Team Sad.
Leading an album with a title track is bold and creates expectations of a definitive moment right off the bat. For my theoretical listeners on the fence about the genre, Maestus could have put a better foot forward. Fans of funeral doom will immediately recognize that genre Ps and Qs are minded with “Deliquesce.” An ethereal keyboard intro sprawls a full two minutes before other instruments kick in. The guitar riffs are lead blanket heavy with a pleasing metallic tone, but straight down the center lane compositionally. Keyboards occasionally tinkle (stop laughing) over the riffs, adding a counterpoint to the blackened death growl vocals. It’s all solidly assembled, but far from special. One third of the way through the track’s 15 minutes, a clean movement begins that is so minimal, it sounds like the band momentarily forgot what they were doing. Even as the instruments are slowly added back in, it feels lackadaisical until the inevitable boom of the riffs crash the quiet. If this causes even my attention to wander, our funeral n00bs have little chance. It’s too bad, because from there the song takes interesting turns, with a blackened tempo change and a rousing twin guitar harmony near the end.
One of the hardest tasks for any band playing slow and heavy for 12- to 15-minute chunks is maintaining momentum. It’s not enough to have a mean riff or two. The whole landscape has to shift. Maestus know this, and although their quiet movement in “Deliquesce” is largely a momentum killer, their change-ups in other songs fare better. The clean guitar lines that carry quiet moments in “Black Oake” and strong closer “Knell of Solemnity” are the right mix of haunting and pretty, and especially in the latter, couple with huge blasts of distortion in a way that rewards patience. “Black Oake” takes turns evoking early Ahab‘s ocean-heavy gloom and later Ahab‘s penchant for clean stretches that wander too long.
The emotional core of Deliquesce lies in the Shape of Despair-like interplay between keyboards that depress and uplift and guitars that crush and soothe. Nowhere is this more successful than on “The Impotence of Hope,” a stunning track that shows how much potential these guys have. The main guitar line is like a slow, upward spiral that is always just about to break above the clouds. By the time it’s tremolo picked over a full black metal blast in the song’s final minute, the outburst feels earned. Clean vocals are introduced for the first time and add emotional punch as blackened rasps swirl around them. Although cleans show up again in “Knell of Solemnity,” they’re never over used and maintain their effectiveness.
Deliquesce is an album that fans of funeral doom will enjoy, but it’s unlikely to win converts for The Cause. The songwriting shows a band keenly aware of what makes the genre tick, but the best material is back-loaded, as the first song/title track is oddly the weakest. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the comment section below will fill up with
yammering about albums not reviewed here comments like “Hey! Me DO like slow!” I hope so, because Team Sad can always use more members.