This has been a really good year for doom, with Khemmis, Messa and Northern Crown dropping stellar platters of mawkish mopery, and Spiritus Mortis wants to help send 2016 out with even more funereal notes and appropriately bowed heads. This Finnish doom troupe has been around a while and The Year is One is their fourth album, but somehow I’ve slept on them and am just coming to grips with their material. I feel shame for that, as they’re very good at what they do and even feature Sami Hynninen (ex-Reverend Bizarre, ex-Lord Vicar) on vocals. So what does Spiritus Mortis offer doom-wise, you ask? A bit of everything actually. That’s because The Year of One is like a guided tour through the various sub-genres of doom, from classic to epic and occult, and the band does them all equally well. It’s not going to redefine any of the genres, but what band can with such a fixed, monolithic musical style? Instead, Spiritus endeavors to craft quality songs that play to the genre’s strengths while avoiding the pitfalls. Mission accomplished.
Opener “Robe of Ectoplasm” sports one of the year’s best titles and provides some jaunty, urgent doom with a rock vibe, something like the early Grand Magus material. It’s a great introduction for newcomers and gets the blood flowing without betraying the doomy atmosphere. Then things gets serious with “I Am the Name on Your Funeral Wreath,” which may just be the doom song o’ the year. This slow-motion monster channels all the might of classic Saint Vitus and Sami sounds so much like their original singer Scott Reagers that I was sent scrambling to see if they dug him up for a guest spot. This is classic doom through and through, with mournful riffs and sorrowful vocals doing their best bury you in despair. The mood is grim, the leads are heavy and everything clicks perfectly.
What makes this an interesting album is how diverse the approach is from song to song. “Babalon Working” shifts to a vintage Solitude Aeturnus style and nails it with greater heaviness to the guitars and vocals and something like a black metal vibe rising and falling as the song plods along, unwieldy yet somehow graceful. The riffs really pop and the urgency in Sami’s vocals simmers. “Jesus Christ, Son of Satan” keeps it dynamic, hitting somewhere between vintage Black Sabbath and the amped up doom rock of Cathedral with impressive results, before album centerpiece “Holiday in a Cemetery” reverts back to full Saint Vitus worship and plods menacingly for 10-minutes as Sami provides a dissertation on necrophilia and other niche hobbies that includes the immortal line “You can go to a beach while I fall into an abyss.” Equally lengthy closer “World of No Light” switches gears toward epic, sweeping doom like Pallbearer with hints of Warning in the vocal delivery and yet again Spiritus shows their universality with another killer tune capable of competing for Song o’ the Year. Good stuff!
At 53 minutes, The Year is One avoids feeling overlong despite several lengthy set pieces, which is proof of the band’s writing acumen. The production is also quite respectable, with no compression or loudness issues and a deep rich tone to the guitars.
Sami Hynninen sang on a few of my favorite albums by Reverend Bizzare, but he sounds like a completely different vocalist here, ranging all over the place to fit the moods of the disparate material. I was more and more impressed by his ability as the album progressed and when it ended I was nothing short of shocked. The man really elevated his game and has become the ideal doom vocalist in many ways. His emotive singing really kicks the material up several notches and provides it with a finishing sheen of quality. Guitar tandem Jussi Maijala and Kari Lavila also knock it out of the park with big league riffing rife with emotion. The simple but elegant leads on “World of No Light” are some of my favorites of the year and their heavier work on “Babalon Working” really seizes the ears.
The Year is One comes to us late in the year, but it deserves its place atop Mount Doom with the other big releases of 2016. This has every single thing a doom fan could want with just enough diversity to keep it fresh and vibrant. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go enjoy of deep back catalog. Toodles!