In the world of metal, this is turning out to be the summer of doom... and I mean that in the best possible way, of course. Not only did we get sweet offerings of evil from Witchsorrow and Hour of 13 (click the band names to read reviews), this week brings a double dose of doom from Italian band The Foreshadowing: their third full-length release Second World, as well as the North American debut of their 2010 record Oionos, both courtesy of Metal Blade Records. While they still fall within the heavy doom genre, this team of six from Rome demonstrates a more gothic slant to their sound and more traditional melodic structures, placing them closer to the monolithic sound of Swedish icons Katatonia (who, by the way, also have a new album coming out this year – expect more news on that soon). Second World is my first serious exposure to their music, but I never wade in the shallow end of the pool, so to speak... so let's dive headlong into a detailed breakdown of that record as well as a look back at its acclaimed predecessor.
Founded in 2005 by Allesandro Pace (formerly of Dope Stars Inc.), The Foreshadowing soon unveiled their first record Days of Nothing, a concept album about a supernaturally-triggered apocalypse – and you can't get a more fitting concept for a band branding its sound as “gothic doom.” The album drew them much acclaim in Europe and landed them a supporting slot for Lacuna Coil on Norway's 2009 Summer Darkness Festival. Oionos (“Omen”) followed shortly after to high chart placement and rave reviews, especially among gothic metal fans, and the band picked up prime positions in major fests like Wave Gotik Treffen and Summer Breeze. They also picked up some points for an ultra-dark cover of the '80s Sting classic “Russians”... which I didn't think would work in a modern-day context until I actually heard it.
Other standouts on Oionos include the colossal title track, the ominous dirge “Outsiders,” the macabre love song “Hope, She's in the Water,” and the tense but moving ballad “Survivors Sleep.” For my money, the strongest melodic work on the album is the hook-filled “Chant of Widows,” probably because it bears a strong kinship to legendary Finnish metallers Amorphis, whose best-known songs tend to fall more into the pop-rock camp. Even the instrumental tracks “Soliloquium” and “Revelation 3:11” are powerful entries that paint a vivid image of a desolate landscape.
The band steps up their game in a major way with Second World, which is not technically a concept album, but maintains a cinematic story arc, represents some of the best vocal work by frontman Marco Benevento, and benefits hugely from an expansive production canvas thanks to multi-talented Dan Swanö (whose credits include Katatonia, Opeth, Therion, Dissection and Marduk, to name only a fraction). The chilling sounds of fire and rain form the backdrop for the thunderous chords of the opening cut “Havoc,” which immediately indicates the band's intention to go darker and heavier. An urgent finger-picked guitar line and deep, resonant vocals make “Outcast” one of the album's most powerful and commanding cuts, and possibly the best track in their body of work. A low, galloping riff drives “The Forsaken Son,” which expands into a surprisingly warm and bright chorus. The title track explodes out of the gate with massive stacked riffage, but gives way to a brooding, down-tempo funeral march. The clean opening chords of “Aftermaths” give way to a smoldering melody with smooth, deep multi-tracked vocals and some wicked lead guitar harmonics. “Ground Zero” sounds a bit like a continuation of that track, in the same key and nearly the same tempo, but Benevento sings in a slightly higher range reminiscent of Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt and the energy level is toned down considerably.
The closing organ pattern fades into “Reverie is a Tyrant,” which is one of the most intricately produced tracks, layering lush keyboards beneath a mid-range plucked riff and rich vocal harmonies, peaking with a cathedral-sized organ and bell breakdown before ascending to a sweet guitar solo. The a cappella chanting of “The Lord's Prayer,” segueing into acoustic guitar and a haunting vocal delivery lends an eerie Medieval touch to the pensive piece “Colonies.” “Noli Timere” has a less conventional progressive-metal structure, and one of the band's darkest melodies, adding up to a gothic mini-masterpiece. “Friends of Pain” makes for a superb coda, driven only by layers of glassy, echoing keyboards and Benevento's smoky, vampiric lament... guaranteed to raise goosebumps.
While Oionos is an impressive piece of work, and the acclaim is well-deserved, Second World is nothing short of a gothic metal masterpiece. While the band still remains cloaked in mystery on this side of the Atlantic, I'm thinking this release is going to perk up a lot of ears over here. Mammoth production and commanding but heartfelt lyrics come together as a cohesive saga, proving that album-length storytelling is one of the band's greatest strengths... but even as stand-alone pieces, each of these tracks is a compact tale on its own.
Check out my favorite cut “Outcast” below...