I wrote four years ago that “doom” metal is best when it is onomatopoeic. It should not just be a four-letter descriptor for a genre and should instead invoke feelings of cataclysm which match those four letters which can be as long as you want them to be. Doom. Doooom. Doooooom. Oceanwake arose from their Finnish lake with an understanding for this quality but have progressively widened the lens through which they viewed their craft, absorbing post-metal and progressive influences such that their sound is no longer so easily pigeon-holeable. 2019 brings with it their fourth release called Lights Flashing in Mute Scenery and I was compelled to write about it because Steel Druhm will
subject me to 24 hours of gorilla flatulence in the office prison cell if I do not praise me if I do so.
This may be the record that tips the balance in favor of categorizing the band as post-metal and not doom metal, though doom is the foundation underneath the superstructure constructed. All of the instrumentation incorporate a range of sounds: the vocals comprise deathly roars, somber chants and clean singing; the guitars feature passages of pretty delicacy and those of earth-shattering doom; the drums are sometimes crisp and splashy and other times primal and thunderous. The fluctuation in different combinations of these sounds and use of the spectrum between the listed extremities conjure the notion that exploring textures matters most at this stage of their career. It is perhaps “Travelogue” which typifies the development on Lights Flashing, which explains why it was a single; it demonstrates through gentle guitars, shamanistic rhythms and a hazy style which edges against heaviness that Oceanwake are now trying to do things which could be done loudly in a variety of ways. The textures are achieved with typical tools of their composite genres but it feels like a dynamic record nonetheless.
Though it is a dynamic record and one which features an appropriate diversity of sounds to maintain my interest, I think the overall song-writing is a step back. Though somewhat bloated and occasionally meandering on Earthen, it felt more sophisticated than it does here, perhaps on account of the monumental lengths of its two tracks. This permitted a certain expansiveness and sense of progression which is absent here, as the songs feel more isolated. While this was almost certainly by design as it affords individual tracks with individual ideas a little more room of their own, I lament the loss of the subtle and unhurried transitions and compositional depth which enraptured my attention last time. It was a deliberate and careful writing style where pay-offs with a big riff or beautiful quiet passage felt not just hard-earned but particularly satisfying. Lights Flashing is simply more fragmented which is good for dipping in and out but does not stand up to what was previously achieved.
On the note of what was achieved previously, Earthen was a hefty slab of doom and couldn’t claim to be ‘compulsive’ listening on account of its track lengths. While Lights Flashing addresses this potential issue of size, notwithstanding my commentary above, dividing the record into seven parts yields something which is actually less compelling and addictive. I did not expect to find fewer notable passages, given the natural, frequent divisions that more songs offer, but this is indeed the case. The core riffs anchoring the tracks are solid but hardly outstanding, such as the opener on “Titanomachia.” Similarly, the scene-stealing, softer passages are few and far between; the solo beginning at 1:35 on “The Occult” is lovely and the beginnings of the crescendos on “Currents” wander prettily into heavier layers but I’m not floored by their beauty. There are fewer must-listen moments throughout which has led to fewer listens on my behalf.
While my negative words outweigh the positive, I don’t intend to conclude this as a negative review. There’s still plenty to like about Lights Flashing and it may just offer a convenient entry point to these Finns for those concerned by previous records comprising just a few mega-length tracks. It’s a highly atmospheric platter of post metal which traverses an emotional spectrum and which never deviates too far from its heavy, crashing, doom metal roots.