Review Summary: An ominous, melancholic, monumental album full of blackened melodic death metal goodness. May be a bit of a grower, but reveals its subtle charm after a few listens. Probably one of the strongest metal releases of the past few years.
Torchbearer have always had a knack for bringing the death back into the melodeath genre. Coupled with many black metal influences and a tendency to experiment with themes and concepts, they've delivered two solid albums in 2004 and 2006. Their latest work, Death Meditations, abandons the concept approach to produce a more varied and indeterminate album, while still preserving most of the elements and aesthetics they have been known for.
Death Meditations is more melancholic sounding than the previous two releases, and feels more mature compared at least to Yersinia Pestis. The hooks and licks of this album aren't as instantly catchy as those from Warnaments, but this is probably what makes a good metal album - ones that you need time to fully understand and appreciate have long lasting appeal, while albums you like right away tend to get real boring real soon. Rest assured that Death Meditations is the former kind of album. While after your first listen you'll probably surmise that the album isn't as interesting as Warnaments, it's intricacies are certain to reveal their subtle charms after continued spins, possibly even giving a greater experience than Warnaments.
By the time I'm writing these words, my second spin of the album is coming to a close, and I'm already growing to appreciate its various highlights. It's noteworthy that most songs (except for the instrumental interludes) are considerably longer than on Warnaments and Yersinia, with all of them surpassing the four minute count, sometimes clocking in at over five. While the album doesn't have the catchiness and flamboyance of Warnaments, the increased song length makes each song stand out on its own more than it was the case on the previous two albums, where each song was but a piece of a greater whole. The fact of the songs being longer also allows for the band to showcase more of their songwriting skills, resulting in songs having lots of complexity and progressive edge.
Apart from sounding more melancholic than the previous works, the album is also seemingly more black metal oriented than the previous two, both thanks to the use of blatantly black metal riffs on tracks such as The Momentum or Severings, but also the symphonic elements that accompany them. The keyboards are more subtle and receded to the background than on Warnaments, but overall more natural sounding and greatly contributing to the solemn atmosphere of the album.
Songs like Coffin-Shaped Heart (a title one would expect HIM would give one of their sugary hits) or At Takao River are examples of more melodeath styled songs, but each of them is more interesting on their own than whole albums of some other bands, especially the latter - an eerie, contemplative piece composed with great subtlety and maturity. There are also three instrumental songs on the album, serving both as reprieve from the relentless black/death assault and as an enrichment of the overall mood. Portals showcases that the composers could easily get a job as movie score writers with its ominous string and piano based sound, while In The Shadow of Leaves brings some of Opeth's best to mind. Finally, the album closer is a much longer and fully metal piece The Aphotic Depths, which pretty much sums up all the best things that this album is about in an explosion of awesomeness.
Those familiar with Torchbearer need not be told how good the instrumentation on this album is. Everything is enhanced by production that's flawless in every respect (courtesy of Plec, who also plays bass for the band), placing the guitars in the foreground, but never neglecting drums, synths nor vocals. As for the latter, the band has begun to use Pär Johansson and Christian Älvestam much more together, with their parts often interchanging or even overlapping. Analogicaly, there is much more Christian and his deep, abrasive growls than on the previous albums. Not to say that Pär's vocals lack anything, on the contrary - he delivers something between his usual high-pitched shrieks and his low growls, somewhat of a novelty. Patrik Gardberg delivers very capable, even memorable leads as always, while Christian's rhythm playing is ever evolving for the good.
All in all, Death Meditations contains almost too much goodness to be digested at once. Even though it's an average length 10-track album, it's so varied and full of intricacies that it feels like it's longer, and you enjoy every minute of it. Almost everything about this album is perfect, or at least couldn't be any better. A fantastic release that's bound to become essential.
all of them
- the guitar leads
- long and fairly progressive, well-written songs
- fantastic instrumentals
- maturity and atmosphere
- everything else