Review Summary: Tiamat’s big step towards perfection.
Nothing sort of perfection here of course, but Clouds is easily the band’s best release in their pre-Wildhoney era. Having already released 2 albums in the previous 2 years – that created no impact and lacked both in terms of inspiration and musicianship- Tiamat leave their death metal roots behind and move on to a more melodic and atmospheric path.
Therefore, it would be misleading to put the “death metal” tag on this album. No more growling vocals, few fast paced moments, lyrics far from typical. In this album, Tiamat offer a kind of a dreamy and misty alternative. An alternative that, surprisingly enough, many death metal bands (including My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost) would embrace the very same year.
Tiamat, with this release, get at least a credit for being one of the pioneers of atmospheric doom metal genre.
The album was recorded in the famous Woodhouse Studios by the second to none Waldemar Sorychta (although his first steps here as a producer do not equal his later sound works). The final sound quality is good but not great and doesn’t unveil the album’s full potential.
Musically speaking, Clouds is one step forward from the band’s previous releases though it is still nothing impressive. Johan Edlund’s effort to create a dreamy and blurry soundscape is somehow unique, yet some of the songs themselves, lack in musicianship and quality. Still some ideas – that would be fully developed in Tiamat’s later releases – are making their first shy appearance. The presence of acoustic guitars and keyboard interludes add to the subtle Floyd-like ambience/atmosphere – an atmosphere that would dominate their next album, Wildhoney.
The album starts off with In a Dream, that’s a little disoriented, with a mediocre chorus and an indifferent guitar solo at the end. Surely not the best way to begin. Fortunately, the title track that comes next starts revealing some pretty good qualities.
Still, where album reaches its peak is in the next 3 songs found in the middle. Smell of Incense is an up tempo song with a memorable chorus and a Johan Edlund’s voice sounding quite aggressive. This particular track is my personal favorite as it happens to be the first song I ever heard from Tiamat (when I still didn’t know what “Incense” meant in English ). The A Caress of Stars is much slower and turns to be Tiamat’s first serious effort to blend acoustic parts, subtle keyboards and heavy doomy riffs into a romantic and sorrowful outcome. Musically this is probably the best song of the album. The Sleeping Beauty that follows, and which gave its name to the pointless live release that came one year later, is also a well laid song but nothing really special. It is generally considered the album’s highlight – and indeed is a memorable composition, but it finally leaves the listener with an unfulfilled essence.
The next 2 tracks are also not highly skilled. Unfortunately, they manage to spoil the album’s already created good impressions. This is where the album takes a downslide and I prefer to forget the songs (especially The Scapegoat with its childish lyrics). They are both disoriented and confusing, giving the impression that the band has not still mastered their music and technical skills. I wonder sometimes if that sense of confusion was made deliberately – just like dreams balance between real and unreal, or it was just the band’s lack of experience. The later seems more likely.
Last but not least comes Undressed, a slow paced pure doom metal song, caught somewhere in between the realm of dreams and the kingdom of nightmares. Being the longest track of the album it makes a fine ending and leaves the listener with a positive sentiment – as the whole album that somehow balances (not always successfully) between the dream world and the deepest abyss.
One more credit has to be given to Kristian Whålin for its once more exceptional artwork.
Overall I d say that Clouds has been a transitional recording for the band that somehow bridged its earlier raw material with the most elegant later releases. It’s also a historically important record that helped to shape the booming doom death metal scene of the previous decade.
Definitely worth a listen, and I assure you that some melodies will keep on spinning in your head for quite some time….
A Caress of Stars
Smell of Incense
- A good transition that led to later masterpieces
- An album that- among others- somehow defined atmospheric metal
- A band that – back then – wasn’t afraid to experiment
- Tiamat’s best cover art.
- Sometimes confusing and disoriented
- Uneven tracks in terms of quality and musicianship
- Mediocre production