Unholy are a seminal Finnish doom metal band formed in 1990 (originally formed in 1988 under the name Holy Hell) who are known for pushing the second wave death/doom sound into territories that would help define the "atmospheric" death/doom and funeral doom subgenres that arose in the mid 90s. Beginning as juvenile, stripped down ugly death/doom, they quickly diverged into a more original style featuring stumbling, plodding, sometimes jangly off-kilter rhythms, eerie mystical synths, and a strange ancient aesthetic. Their unique songwriting and composition have set them apart from the majority of doom metal, but key elements of their style have been replicated by many doomers since. Their 1993 debut "From the Shadows" exemplifies their early style, focusing on bludgeoning sub end rhythms with all of their weirdo idiosyncrasies being fully explored. It is an undeniably essential release for any death/doom, "atmospheric" doom, or funeral doom freak, and has been consistently hailed as a classic since its release.
Unholy's sound is very complex and rich. The rhythm guitar churns in with an immensely low tone, while the other instruments unfold around that hideous backbone. In some songs the rhythm is so pounding, ugly and fuzzed out it bears a resemblance to drone doom (see the opening riff of "Stench of Ishtar"). But rather than crawling at a consistent pace, they have a tendency to ooze into more strange and subtly complex arrangements, which is where the drums and bass fill out their sound to its full potential. Bassist/singer Pasi Äijö contributes a great deal to the band's unsettling arcane style. He uses a clean tone and clanks in behind the monolithic rhythms in a sort of awkward way. Rather than simply crunching along, he prefers to create a second backbone of sparse jangly weirdness, causing an interesting interplay. Also, the drummer isn't one for simply primitively smashing. He plays in a more clean distinct fashion, using some off-time beats and working alongside the guitar and bass very well. The way the album is mixed makes the three elements of the rhythm clearly discernible, which accentuates their unique sound perfectly.
At the higher end we find the lead guitars and synths, which offset the super low rhythm section. Unholy's leads tend to be off-kilter and dissonant with kind of an Egyptian flare (which may seem cheesy to guitarists, but it works into their ancient themes). They also foray into the more slow "mournful" leads that follow a dismal plodding rhythm (this is largely where Unholy contributed to funeral doom). The synths may be off-putting to some, as these guys aren't above using a cheesy effect to add to their more mystical sounding riffs. However, the synth parts tend to not be overbearing and are used sparsely, and many would insist that they serve their purpose well.
Finally, onto the vocals. Mr. Äijö, the creator and frontman of the group has not only a highly distinct style in his bass playing, but also delivers a bizarre jarring vocal performance. He screams, rasps, growls, bellows and vomits obscenely. His delivery is forceful, spastic, abrupt and harsh. He also uses clean vocals from time to time (such as in the opening of "Gray Blow" or the end of "Passe Tiermes"), and his austere chant-like delivery and thick Finnish accent make those great as well. His talents are largely what set Unholy apart as an interesting and important group.
Unholy were truly something special in the early 90s when they released their masterful debut, as well as their 1994 follow-up "The Second Ring of Power". Their style is full of bizarre intricacies, their production is incredibly fitting, and their composition and songwriting are highly distinct. Their influence on post-second wave doom (specifically funeral doom and the foofier varieties of death/doom) is clear, although their significance lies solely in their material, as none of their contemporaries or proteges could approach their greatness (except of course the other 90s doom gods Esoteric, but this reviewer would rather worship the two of them separately than compare them). Any doom fanatic should already be well versed in the gospel of Unholy, but for all those unlearned swine, give this album a gander. Fans of Esoteric, diSEMBOWELMENT, Thergothon, Skepticism and other 90s doom (more on the death/doom and early funeral doom side of the spectrum) should love it. Let us all pay homage to the hallucinating ancient sub end wacky weirdos UNHOLY.