Across the Dark River

Written by: EW on 16/05/2014 23:42:28

It is a rare thing to eagerly await a band’s debut album but that is the situation I have here with Below’s “Across the Dark River”. Let me explain why by outlining my case for being the Swedish epic doomster’s number one fan: two tracks from a mystical entity formed in 2012 appeared online, quickly causing my jaw to hit the floor. With little information available at the time about the band save for an upcoming show in Copenhagen on a stunning bill supporting Kadavar and Devil I packed my bags and flew out. Fast forward 6 months and as the proud owner of both their 7” split with Anguish from November and now a limited coloured vinyl edition of this very LP I rest my case and take this preamble into an analysis of the eight songs on offer, for I am convinced epic doom metal of this kind should be every national school curriculum (I’m still working on arguing my case for that one, however).

The first aspect to jump out from “Trapped Under Ground” is just how strong vocalist Zeb is. In my Copenhagen live review I made mention of his similarity to Tim Aymar but I’m also going to throw in the mix his soaring range ala Messiah Marcolin and the verve and panache of Dio, two legends of metal who similarly instil a sense of drama to the music beneath which they reign. Musically his fellow cohorts (guitarists Berg and Paud, bassist Hedman and drummer Doc) aren’t quite so spectacular on individual levels but combined their performances and song-writing, strictly within the boundaries of epic doom, can hardly be faulted. The simple lead riff of “Trapped Under Ground” sets the tone for the album as a whole, as frequent breaks from dual guitar rhythms to clean leads are given plenty of space in the mix for their wailing calls to be heard and with more than a fair hint of Candlemass to be heard at all times. Yes, the work of Candlemass is very prominent throughout “Across the Dark River” and is my key reason for not pushing the grade beyond an 8, but worship conducted on this level is fine with me.

“Bid You Farewell” launches into another riff of spectacular doominess before the first of Below’s rabble-rousing choruses is aired - “In despair we bid you farewell on this day/In my heart you will live on though you are gone” - is not breaking new ground lyrically for the genre but I dare you to hold back the goosebumps and not singalong by it’s second refrain. As per the opening track the usage of female operatic vocals for extra depth in the chorus is a cheap ploy to which Below need not attain, despite the effective usage of them, as the band’s reputation will be built on the contributions of Zeb and the great riffs rather than these tacky additions that are the preserve of less capable bands. “Ghost of a Shepherd” follows along a similar upbeat pattern before the slower start to “Portal” takes the listener headlong into one of the most crashing riffs of the whole piece, where by the time Zeb is hurling out “A Portal to the deaaaaaad” and the solos herald a bright entrance to the song’s second half I’m thinking how well this could sit in the Candlemass’ early bibles of epic doom.

The short acoustic interlude of “In My Dreams” leads nicely into “Mare of the Night” (no just an ordinary nightmare, oh no), owner of a striking opening riff high on the influence of that other Swedish band. Blessed with a clear and powerful Andy LaRocque production these well performed rhythm riffs take on lives of their own; I can almost sense the band headbanging along during their recording as I am doing during this very writing. “The Whitechapel Murderer” hears Zeb deliver at his most passionately when delivering the lyrics around London infamous Jack the Ripper before the title track closes, formed from a template of Eastern-tinged riffs as the vocals lead into the slow retelling of a traveller’s tale into the underworld, marking a closure to an album of devilish consistency. At 45 minutes in length “Across the Dark River” is very well balanced and full of high quality doom, although the omission of the phenomenal “1000 Broken Bones” from their Soundcloud page is disappointing. Much like their brothers in Anguish, Below have burst forth with an album drenched in the spirit of the genre, which while not possessing the stunning originality of Procession’s last work still rates as one of the finest true doom works of recent years and is an absolute must-hear for all fans of the genre.


Download: Bid You Farewell, Portal, The Whitechapel Murderer
For The Fans Of: Candlemass, Anguish, Procession
Listen: Facebook

Release date 14.04.2013
Metal Blade Records

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