As a card-carrying member of the unpaid, overworked Metal Reviewer’s Guild, I’m forced to squeeze my music listening into the small deadly spaces between a full-time job, commuting, family responsibilities and the oft heard of, seldom experienced phenomenon of sleep. This means a goodly portion of my time with any given album is spent while riding trains and subways to and from New York City. Rare are the albums that allow me to press play and drift away into sonic bliss, removed from my commuting doldrums as I’m transported to a brave new world. Greek upstarts Ocean of Grief have given me just such an album with their brilliant debut, Nightfall’s Lament. Culling carefully from early Amorphis albums like Tales From the Thousand Lakes and later purveyors of melodic death/doom like Slumber, Insomnium and Enshine, they’ve crafted a jawdroppingly beautiful and sweeping soundscape that swaddles you in a mortuary drape Snuggy®. Thus enrobed, you will partake in the doleful greys and washed out blues the band paints with so expertly. An album you need to experience as a whole rather than a mere collection of songs, Nightfall’s Lament is a shockingly well-executed debut from a bunch of unknown musicians poised to appear on a lot of people’s radars.
The best way to describe the album is a sort of unofficial sequel to Tales From the Thousand Lakes – a kind of loving fan fiction based on that influential slab of melodic doom death. As such it warms the cockles of my Steely metal heart by plunging it into an icy Finnish lake. Opening monsterpiece “In Bleakness” is a gorgeous and painfully forlorn cut that functions like a funeral for your joy, filled with sweetly sad guitar harmonies sure to fill your soul with brooding melancholy. The rafter-shaking death roars of Charalabos Oikonomopoulos are deadly effective, the guitar-work is brilliant and emotional and the entire construct is perfectly suited to long periods of wintry solitude and introspection. And the band is just getting loose.
“Eyes of Oblivion” is equally if not more lush and beautiful, rife with weeping guitars acting like faint rays of light flitting through oppressive winter skies. It’s exceptionally downbeat yet powerfully bewitching, and its nearly 8 minutes pass by in a flash, leaving despair in your heart and ashes in your mouth. There’s a palpable Slumber vibe running throughout “Fiend of the Overlord” which is brilliantly teamed with early Amorphis influences that recall “Black Winter Day.” Elsewhere, “Painting My Sorrow” delivers an enthusiastic nod to Insominium for yet another big dose of sad boy doom/death sure to put something in your eye that rhymes with ear. Traces of early Katatonia and October Tide drift in during “The Breeding of Death,” and everything rounds out with the brilliant “The Release of the Soul,” which could have closed out Tales From the Thousand Lakes equally well.
Running 46 minutes with just 7 tracks, I’d usually take some time here to complain about the need for editing and trimming. The average song length is 6 minutes, but none feel excessive or overlong. It helps that the album has an amazing flow on par with Insomnium‘s Winter’s Gate, and like that magnum opus, this is best experienced as a whole, but any way you slice it, this thing requires no slicing. No weak songs, no unnecessary moments, the only quibbles I have are minor. While I love Oikonomopoulos’s death vocals, an occasional cleanly sung verse or 2 would add diversity and carry dramatic impact. I can even hear the places they should go. Another issue is the band’s formula itself. Largely devoid of peaks and valleys, the songs are based around somberly trilling guitar lines. Some may find this too “one-note,” but if you’re really good at the note you choose, it works, and this surely does at a high level.
What makes Nighfall’s Lament so effective is the amazing guitar-work by Filippos Koliopanos and Dimitra Zarkadoula. From start to finish, the album is loaded with downtrodden doom riffs and beauteous melodic trilling that carries you along on gossamer strands of sadness and majesty. They borrow from many established acts, but inject enough of their own identity into the compositions. This is a joy of an album to spin because of their other-worldly playing and adroit phrasing. Adding just the right amount of atmosphere, keyboardist Aris Nikoleris stays entirely in the background, never taking a lead role or allowing his playing to usurp the guitars’ primacy. Understated and tasteful for the win.
It’s hard to reconcile an album as great as Nightfall’s Lament coming from such a young, unknown band, but Ocean of Grief capture a lot of Greek lighting in a bottle. This is a virtual shoe-in for my year-end list and I’ll be watching these cats so closely there may be restraining orders in my immediate future. If you love the melodic doom/death genre, sprint, do not walk to get this album. Winter is still here and this goes with the cold and dark like beer goes with other beers. An unexpected gem that must be proclaimed far and wide across the metalverse.