I'll admit the first thing that drew me to funeral doom metal unit Descend Into Despair was the discovery that they hail from Romania. While there have been several noteworthy metal acts from that country (Altar and Magica are some excellent examples), just the mere mention of Dracula's homeland instantly brings to mind mythically haunting tones. Upon my first listen to the band's first full-length album The Bearer of All Storms, I was stoked to find that their music casts the same mausoleum shadow created by centuries of chilling tales from Transylvanian folklore.
Photo: Andreea Nechita
Since Bearer is described by the band as “a primitive, thoroughly cheerless voyage through the various sounds and shades of suffering and despair,” their target audience is pretty damn obvious; if you're seeking aggressive, up-tempo riffage, I'm afraid you'll find only emotional torment within these tracks. But if you're heavily into the anguished, mournful atmospheres of doom, laced with chilling gothic ghost-story elements, then this album is sure to be your chosen poison (served well-chilled, of course). It's also a major jump in scale from the band's original lineup, now expanded from the two founders – multi-instrumentalist Alex Cozaciuc and vocalist/bassist Denis Ungurean – to an epic six-piece unit. The result is an expanded sonic canvas, heavy with orchestral and choral elements, which allows the band to fully explore the vast depths of doom only hinted in their raw but intense debut EP Vanity Devotion.
Those symphonic textures open the album, lending profound cinematic weight to the intro passage “Portrait of Rust” and forming a solid framework for the burnished chords and marching beats. Ungurean's death metal-style vocal is harsh, but instead of pushing the aggression factor, his evil rasp takes on a strangely tragic tone. The track segues smoothly into the somber piano and grave chords of “Mirrors of Flesh,” which picks up the pace a bit despite the sampled strings feeling a bit thin. The backing tracks swell to grand dimensions for “Pendulum of Doubt,” which may be one of the slowest songs on the record, but it's also one of the spookiest, with an urgent energy generated by the well-layered guitar harmonies.
Even creepier is the excellent “Triangle of Lies,” which introduces clean melodic vocals, eerie ritual chanting and dissonant acoustic guitar – an effect continued in the ceremonial track “Plânge glia de dorul meu,” which takes on a distinct prog-metal vibe; a cathedral organ and choirs supply rich gothic textures for the ethereal “Embrace of Earth,” which also delves even deeper into European prog-rock experimentation. The horror overtones are cranked to 11 in “The Horrific Pale Awakening,” which punches up bass frequencies, hammers home a mighty kick drum and drops the rhythm chords even lower, transitioning to a surprisingly bright break with sparkling chimes before unleashing absolute hell in the gritty, gut-punching second half.
As I warned you earlier, The Bearer of All Storms is probably as far from a feel-good album as you're going to get all year. But those with a taste for ultra-dark ambient metal and gothic sagas of impending death (there are plenty of us out there, trust me) will find much to embrace in these vast, cold musical landscapes. There's doom metal, and then there's DOOM metal. This one's deserving of all caps.