Thursday, June 25, 2015

Seremonia - Kristalliarkki [2015]

It sometimes happens that a band on such a creative spree suddenly starts to slow down for unknown reasons, closing up their inventive faculties for a safer approach. That aside, Finland has always stood for me as a creative bastion of heavy metal, rearing an expanse of cultural marvels and oddities with frequent use of their native tongue even on records which distinctly appeal to the Westernized culture, and therefore I count myself lucky to have witnessed sundry acts like Seremonia which exemplify the kind of diverse metal tradition I talked about. Finland is an endless pool of awesome, whether your tastes lie in their murky, archaic old school death metal milieu spearheaded by bands such as Convulse, Demigod or Purtenance or the relatively more recent black metal of Horna, Sargeist and Beherit, each conjuring their unique tapestry of grimness, and Seremonia belongs to an arguably more 'hippy-centric' circle among these. Their album ''Ihminen'' was one of 2013's highlights, so I was naturally elated to find they'd released a fresh disc: coming back to what I said at the beginning of the paragraph, it's somewhat disappointing to hear that the Finns didn't exactly explode with the same bonafide panoply of ritualistic Black Sabbath psychedelia as before...

...but even though they've sacrificed some of their creativity I'd say ''Kristalliarkki'' (crystal sheet if Google translate is to be trusted) kicks ass, to say the least. For newcomers, this is a great surprise of 70's doom/rock with psychedelic influences from the same era, and the Sabbath influence obviously weighs heavily here, but there are also bits and pieces that reek of stoned Finnish mysticism and queer folk textures anointed with queer and jumpy keyboard sequences that sound quite unlike anything I've heard, except its predecessor. So you can be sure that the Finns don't dip every single riff, pattern or oomph-laden sound effect into the Black Sabbath sink, since every crevice of those morose 70's doom/stoner progressions are filtered with at least a minimal dose of 'cemetery hippy' elements, which is a term that the band uses define itself, not an inaccurate one at that. If anything, I've found the dazed 70's keyboards here more prominent than on the debut, and assuredly they have a killer handful of keyboard solos at their disposal, and perhaps than just the sheer abundance of keyboard and gummy synthesizer sequences I loved that individually they channel different emotions, ranging from the atmospheric dolor of ''Jokainen Askel'' to something jumpier.

The guitars are meatier, too, which could be a positive development depending on your point of view. They've evolved slightly from these metallic, almost tinny stoner/doom tones to something considerably fuzzier. The Finns still manage to bring a surprising variety and sparse palette of riffing on the table, be it a rambunctious twist of bluesy notes or a heavier chord, they all hit their stride. There might be a few brief windows of time where I was more fond of the overall aural presentation of the wet, cannabis-dosed graveyard than the actual riffs when one or two of them were sounding alike, but overall they sink in quite well with my ears, and in fact get tastier with each spin. Noora's vocals are just as great: I've never seen female vocalists as a caveat to heavy metal, and she's exceptionally unique with her folksy, but strangely sober voice, tailoring both the ritualistic odor of the album, and to be honest, with backing vocals, there are few parts on the album where she nearly sounds like a j-pop singer. ''Kristalliarkki'' is not all hippy metal fun time, though, which is why it's so appealing. Like ''Ihminen'', there's a dark Nordic phantasm which rules over the fuzz of the guitars, the atmosphere never quite leers out of its menacing disposition, and just about any part of the album is fit for the commencement of some cankered ritual ceremony, wearing robes and doused in dope smoke, demonstrating that the seeping influence of Black Sabbath can take twisted, unexpected forms with time.

Seremonia doesn't take many cues from post-Sabbath bands like Saint Vitus, Candlemass or Paul Chain, although anyone with genuine interest in doom or even newer doom/sludge bands promulgated so frequently by mainstream magazines and record labels which I usually tend to dislike can find something interesting here, and there are even visible distinctions between the gloomy psychedelia the Finns propagate and the more sodden sound of modern stoner/doom bands such as Conan or Solstice. A major improvement over the debut might be the abridged lengths of the songs, as the whole album is overall shorter than its predecessor. Seremonia is probably one of the most unique voices in doom metal you'll hear today. They might have cut down on some of the fundamental weirdness of their debut, and while I'd still prefer it to this album, they've managed to up their consistency with shorter tracks, balanced compositions and professional finesse, with the exception of the quirky and trippy ''Kristalliarkki I'' with its uncanny jazz leads and flute murmurs, as though a folksy anomaly out of an album by the Finns' psychedelic black metal countrymen Oranssi Pazuzu, full of enticing and murky drowsiness. I'm not going to go on and say ''Kristalliarkki'' is perfect, because it isn't. A good 15-20% of the album could have used better penning or a few escapist digressions to keep the listener in continual trance, but by the end of the record, between your lazy ass seated as you read this review and the myriad tombstones smeared with moss and half-burnt sheaves of cannabis, how many good doom metal bands exist to which you'd pay lip service to? That's what I thought. So without further ado, acquire this, and stop bitching about the Finnish lyrics.

Alfa ja Omega
Musta Liekki
Jokainen Askel

Rating: 80%

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