‘Across The Dark River’
Metal Blade (2014)
***JUST REALISED THAT THIS REVIEW DID NOT GET POSTED IN THE SUMMER – OOPS!***
This is so close to being great. At times Sweden’s Below deliver gloriously epic and adventurous doom metal, but at others ‘Across The Dark River’ sounds over-earnest and over-produced. The production was handled by Andy LaRocque (of King Diamond fame) but rather than creating a dense and foreboding sound appropriate the band’s classic heavy metal songwriting and darkly epic atmosphere, everything is too bright and clean; the album clamours constantly for your attention.
At some point, it seems, any thought of subtlety was abandoned. Not that epic doom metal necessarily needs to worry about subtlety, but surely a degree of craftsmanship must temper the showmanship. Many of the riffs on this album are comparable with classic Candlemass but they are not handled with sufficient deftness to mould them into the memorable doom classics that they sometimes hint at. Maybe that level of maturity will come with time.
Extravagant vocal melodies are prominent throughout, and again these vary between soaring into the black sky like aural fireworks, and alternatively pushing wince-inducing needles into your brain. Zeb’s vocal style is always going to divide opinion, but it seems that he might be trying too hard to be the King instead of the Messiah.
There is some great stuff on show here, but it might’ve been so much more. With their theatrical touches, satisfyingly traditional/fantastical artwork and mesmerising solos, Metal Blade have on their hands a band that could become one of the genre’s greats, but only if they apply a more delicate touch to their delivery.