Released: 2014, Metal Blade
Reviewer: Helias Papadopoulos
When we speak about doom metal many people recall firstly Candlemass, Saint Vitus, and Pentagram. Now, there is a new band that is coming to shake the ground doom metal was born. Sweden’s Below is the five-piece responsible for this ‘disaster’ and ACROSS THE DARK RIVER is the name of their debut album that really strikes.
It is a very special ability to take all that has ever been done with the genre of doom metal; the riffs, the moods, the melancholy overtones, and make them sound as no one has heard before. ACROSS THE DARK RIVER is an album shattering the boundaries of creativity and dark imagination while evolving with the groundbreaking production (Andy LaRoque). Navigating the nebulous waters of Below’s doom brings the perfect balance of darkness, slowness, hypnotic atmosphere, strong and heavy riffs and a crushing devastation.
ACROSS THE DARK RIVER sounds like an unreleased Candlemass album. But this characterization is not the appropriate one for the band. Candlemass’ music, Black Sabbath (especially Tony Martin-era) was in mind of the band when they were on the songwriting sessions. Of course there are obvious differences from those big names of doom metal; Below’s record has not any fast song (Candlemass used to have one or two fast songs in every single album). The riffs are close enough to the ones the doom metal guidebook includes.
Let’s go to the depths of the album now; the opener “Trapped Under Ground” begins with a slow serpent and heavy Candlemass-esque riff to continue galloping with another one a little faster this time after a slow melodic but heavy guitar bridge. After the first listening to this, you can understand that this band is not another one doom metal band. The second track, “Bid You Farewell” reverts to the tried-and-true template used for such cuts as “Children of The Sea” and “Solitude”. The third track, “Ghost of A Shepherd” is coming; I don’t know why this song brings to my mind a little bit of Sanctuary and ex-Nevermore Warrel Dane’s vocals. Also, the passing of a pipe organ’s tune in the middle is astonishing and grandiose, it does so with unabashed, devilish glee, and for five triumphant minutes, we’re captivated. Next coming is one of the most eminent songs of the album (I can barely choose the greatest of the greatest songs of this album!). It’s an epic doom metal anthem that many doom metal bands would envy. It’s the unreleased song of Candlemass’ NIGHTFALL. After the almost one-minute epic overture “In My Dreams”, “Mare of The Night” is one of the heaviest tracks of the album, with awesome choruses and brightly wonderful violin parts. The bell tolls for the doom metal believer to gather in the Church of Doom, where Below chanting. Mid-tempo, with heavy lead guitar and heavy bass lines to keep the tune low and heavy. The closer title track is more emotional and melodic without losing any of the heaviness that has been delivered in the previous tracks. “This is the final journey” as Zeb says; It’s the greatest doom metal end of a record I have ever heard. Tony Iommi is proud of his ‘children’.
All in all, Below’s ACROSS THE DARK RIVER is a beautiful doom metal journey to the adytum of the slowest and heaviest metal genres. I have to confess that the rhythm section of Hedman and Doc proves formidable; Doc is metal’s great minimalist drummer, the spaces between his beats as important as his massive, resounding thuds, and like his four bandmates, he sounds in prime form on this first.
ACROSS THE DARK RIVER is a passionate and classicist heavy/doom metal. I really liked Zeb’s vocals strking with both immense power and frail honesty. Of course, as I said, it was nearly impossible to pick a favourite track, but, the title track, “Portal” and “Bid You Farewell” are undoubtedly the best on the album and perhaps the business.
While Below’s roots reach deep into metal most slow and dark and heavy origins, the eight doom slices contained on the debut album will immediately catch your attention with their refreshingly morbid approach and should be hailed soon as some of the most ‘doom’ metal of all decades.