I don’t listen to a lot of contemporary death/doom metal bands. Although, in saying that, Loss’ latest album, Horizonless, is certainly one of this year’s bleakest and best releases. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the gloomy magick of funereal metal circa ’17. It’s simply that the dirge/death/doom arena’s earlier practitioners (bands like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Winter, Mournful Congregation and Anathema) appeal to me more than many of today’s slicker doomsters.
Those older bands are my yardstick when it comes to dark and depressive metal (and you can throw Thergothon, Disembowelment, and Skepticism in there too). I just love the classically desolate atmosphere that shrouds those bands’ work, and that same grief-stricken aura makes its presence known on New Zealand band Enter the Soil’s new album, That Amber Lit Morning.
Enter the Soil is a one-man band helmed by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Justin Chorley. The band was formally named Hirsute and released a couple of works under that moniker. And if you’re a fan of those aforementioned death/doom progenitors, or the early years of Opeth or Katatonia, then Enter the Soil (and Hirsute) definitely draws influences from that era.
Enter the Soil’s unique selling point is that NZ metal is most famed, internationally, for its hard-hearted black and death metal. But Enter the Soil offers something strikingly different — romanticism.
Metal obviously loves death, in all its myriad gruesome forms, but we’ve also all felt that romantic and theatrical appeal of the spectre of death and its embrace. That’s something Enter the Soil taps directly into on That Amber Lit Morning. The album’s grimmer-than-grim story follows the “tragic end for a young boy who played too close to the river”, and that tale is woven around aptly evocative and dramatic music.
Epic tracks like “The Day the Boy Drowned” and “The Coffin and the Moth” (which call to mind Triptykon as much as Thergothon) are filled with sweeping and sorrowful melodies. And Chorley’s growled vocals and thick chugging riffs add extra sonic and emotional heaviness to proceedings.
Chorley’s songwriting and playing, and That Amber Lit Morning’s production, represent an impressive feat for a sole musician. But the obvious risk with any unassisted project is that there’s no one to tell you when to apply the handbrake — if it’s needed. Thankfully, there’s no obvious evidence of hubris or exhibitionism running riot on That Amber Lit Morning. A formidable track like “The Inevitable End” stretches out for 11 crestfallen minutes, but Chorley doesn’t fall into the trap of repeating himself needlessly, or fleshing out the track with tedious filler.
In fact, all of That Amber Lit Morning’s tracks are long-form funeral marches filled to the brim with lamenting music. That’s all a boon for fans of slow-moving and soul-destroying death/doom. But, of course, some folks find the sombre elements that death/doom fans love to be mind-numbingly boring. That Amber Lit Morning’s tone and tempo are certainly (and markedly) mournful — so they might well be a barrier, for some.
The main point to take away is that grief and suffering aren’t emotional states easily cast aside. They haunt us, perpetually, all across our lives, and that’s why albums like That Amber Lit Morning matter.
That Amber Lit Morning’s brooding riffs and woebegone narrative allow us to immerse ourselves in misery — and the album drives a stake into our heart of hearts with bruising and expressive music. It feels good to wallow in music like that sometimes, maybe more than we’d like to admit, and Enter the Soil is clearly happy to provide an ocean of solemn music for us to luxuriate in anytime.