Since we got ourselves into the whole album premiere business not too long ago, I wondered what kind of album it would take to warrant a premiere of my own. Shockingly, I didn’t have to wait very long. Thanks to a certain Muppety influence, I
acquired was deemed just barely worthy of access to a monumental death-doom album that very quickly rose to the top of my year-end contenders list. Imagine my sadistic ecstasy as I rushed to resuscitate The Drowning from the promo pool, only to discover that one sparkly sponge absorbed the Assign To bubble weeks beforehand. Joy Accordia! I’ll not be forgiven for this, not for an eternity.
So rejoice, dear readers! Revel in the glory of quite possibly the best death-doom record released this year, and perhaps the decade. Bold claim, yes? No. This is science, scrub. Behold the crushing abyss that is The Radiant Dark!
Over the past year, AMG & Co. have come to know me as this exuberant and generally friendly entity with a deep passion for music—metal in particular. What you don’t often see is that I am cowardly, fearful of everything, and desperately pushing against that just in order to function. You don’t see the side of me that is bitter and angry for stupid reasons, the side of me that spars with emotional instabilities and countless insecurities. Few people realize that every day I struggle to silence the deafening voice in my head screaming that maybe the only reason I am alive today is because I refuse to accept that I don’t deserve this life that I’ve certainly wasted. But keeping these malignant thoughts hidden behind a veil of unending pep (or pretending to, at least) is often just as destructive as the disease itself. When these darker aspects of my personality demand the spotlight, I turn to music as my primary catalyst to get the healing process under way, and nothing released this year has been as effective a catalyst as Welsh death-doom outfit The Drowning‘s fifth masterpiece The Radiant Dark.
This is not your grandfather’s funeral doom-death record. It is also not Eye of Solitude‘s Canto III, but you might think so when mournful synths lift the curtains. You might also suspect that Déhà lent his hand by the time you reach the closer (“Blood Marks My Grave”), but you’d be wrong again. The Radiant Dark is another beast entirely, most closely reminiscent of Vainaja but by no means a carbon copy. With their eyes set on *cough* transcending obscurity *cough* once and for all, The Drowning here deliver a diverse and energetic death-doom record that caused me to unintentionally headbang my headphones yards away from my ears on countless occasions, resulting in immediate withdrawal as I scrambled to recover my precious.
The key to The Radiant Dark‘s success is exquisite songwriting. Granted, for some this record will constitute a bit of a slow burn, since it opens with one of the more funereal selections (“The Triumph of the Wolf in Death”). But there is no denying that guitarists Jason Hodges and Mike Hitchen expertly kick axe from beginning to end, spinning killer riffs across the entire spectrum ov doom and seasoning them with heaps of death metal spice. This explains how a funeral doom-death album gets away with gallops and chugs that make a college meathead shotgunning a keg look like Tinkerbell nursing a cup of imaginary tea (“Harrowed Path”). Drummer Steve Hart plays an equally important role by keeping things from moving too fast or too slow, his stalwart performance hitting that Goldilocks spot for 57 minutes straight. And whoever is responsible for the lyrics? Pat yourselves on the back, because these lines are poignant, dramatic, and yet still brutal enough to make the most battle-hardened warrior weep (“All That We Need of Hell”).
Every track from The Radiant Dark contains lustrous nuggets that not only come from straight outta nowhere, but also make it impossible to pick a favorite. There’s the barnstorming final minute of “The Triumph of the Wolf in Death,” which features vocalist Matt Small spitting verse in front of a smashing riff like he’s auditioning for Archspire. Or perhaps I might interest you in the devastating drop right around four-minutes-thirty on “In Cold Earth,” which will suck the air out of whatever room you happen to occupy?1 Maybe you’d rather sample the bone-rattling chorus that introduces the final third of “I Carve the Heart from the Universe,” bleeding its blackened heart out while it exsanguinates your own? On The Radiant Dark, there is no wrong move when it comes to selecting a favorite moment. They are all excellent, and the songs that surround them equally so.
There is only one attribute of The Radiant Dark that isn’t so radiant, and that is the production. I’m no expert on the subject yet, but even I can tell this album needs a better mix. Richard Moore’s bass begs to be heard more clearly, and the vocals need to be taken down a peg. Plus, one or more of the cymbals sound like glass. Other than that, nothing affects my enjoyment of the material on display whatsoever. The Drowning‘s latest opus may not be a true alternative for actual therapy,2 but I feel better knowing that I can share my darkest days with The Radiant Dark.