25 years is a damn long time for a band to exist, though not so much if you’re a doom metal act. Officium Triste celebrates that milestone this year, but somehow The Death of Gaia, sixth full-length overall and first with Transcending Obscurity Records, is the first time I’ve heard this veteran Dutch act. Mind you, my first experience with doom metal was via The Peaceville Three growing up, and since I live in America and had no access to anything from Officium Triste‘s then-label Displeased without paying an arm and a leg for it, they flew under the radar for me. Well, it’s time to correct that. After a week with The Death of Gaia, I can confirm that the album moved me to tears. Sadly, I can also confirm that not once did I sob or cry when making those tears.
But first, I want to point out the positives. The way the orchestration sounds on here is lush and vibrant, often recalling several of the more painfully beautiful moments from Funeral‘s landmark From These Wounds. Also, Pim Blankenstein’s harsh, guttural growls punctuate and cut a dark path throughout The Death of Gaia, and paired with how crystal-clear his enunciation is, he’s clearly the standout performance on the album. Also, the playing is solid by all the musicians involved, and there’s not a single bad performance by the band.
But my god, is this album tedious. As soon as the orchestration ends on opening track “The End is Nigh,” it’s apparent that the same care that went into the mix for the orchestration was nowhere to be found elsewhere, as the drums sound muffled and powerless, and the guitars are just… there. Also, other than the guitar solo, there’s nothing there that grabs the listener. Worse still, “Shackles” takes the opening riff and drags it out past its expiration date so badly that by the time the song finally builds to something during the second half, it’s no longer effective. The biggest problem lies with “The Guilt,” which feels like one or two ideas recycled endlessly, and flat vocals by guest singer Mariska van der Krul that follow along to the guitar melody to a perfectly-cross T that’s performed with the same overflowing excitement that I possess in listening to it.
But, as I said above, there are some solid moments. The last two tracks in particular showcase just how moving Officium Triste can be. “Like a Flower in the Desert” thankfully picks up the pace a bit and sounds a little like Tales from the Thousand Lakes-era Amorphis despite some hokey lyrics and some bizarre clean vocals. Closer “Losing Ground” makes great use of its ten-plus minutes, and is easily the most diverse and passionate moment on the entire album, deftly weaving an impressive and depressive atmosphere that I was craving for throughout the album’s run time. But they come so late in the track list that, combined with an overall flat mix, they become severely crippled and less impactful.
I tried hard to like The Death of Gaia, as any band who’s stuck it out with the likes of doom metal giants like My Dying Bride, Anathema, and Paradise Lost deserves to be heard at least once. But after spending a good, solid week with it, I’m left feeling indifferent, and that’s not what doom metal is all about. I want to feel a sense of catharsis, but that catharsis never came. Instead, I’ll continue to crank out the classics to get my purge on.