Review Summary: Lay down, lay low.
Doom rock was established as a genre back in the early ‘70s, yet its evolution through time was far more gradual, compared to other rock and/or metal genres. Black Sabbath provided the assembly language for it with their first two albums, a language that became richer through outfits like Pentagram, Jacula, Black Widow, and Coven. During the ‘80s, the genre was baptized in metal through the pioneering work of Trouble, Candlemass and Saint Vitus. While there’s no doubt that each of the aforementioned outfits developed its own sound, Trouble pushed their affair a little further by mixing doom rock/metal with prog rock on the sophomore album The Skull
. However, the said initiative was not further or fully adopted neither by Trouble (aside from certain songs in Run To The Light
) nor by any other relevant outfit. It was not until the early ‘90s, when bands from both banks of the Atlantic – Solitude Aeturnus, Confessor and Veni Domine – came to strengthen the said prog metal initiatives for good.
Sweden’s Veni Domine in particular, took the world by surprise with their first two albums, in which the dramatic tone of selected passages from the Bible was coated with intense, “operatic” progressive doom metal. In contrast to the trend of rehashing and repetition that most metal bands come to adopt sooner or later, the band distanced itself from the aforementioned triumphs in search of new ways of expression. The temporal inconsistency between successive releases combined with the rather abrupt and hit-or-miss shifts in style, pushed Veni Domine deeper into the underground, to the point where it was uncertain whether the band is still active. Their return last year with the album Light
was one of the biggest surprises for the author of this review. What’s equally surprising in the best of ways is that the new album has managed to balance Veni Domine’s excellent doom metal credentials with the ongoing need for experimentation in terms of song writing.
The album kicks off ideally with “In Memoriam”. Heavy – power/doom metal in design - riffs are combined with ethereal melodies stemming from classical instruments (piano and cello) and the magnificent voice of Fredrik Sjöholm. Those familiar with early ‘90s Veni Domine will be inclined to believe the days of old have come to the present, but Light
is a different affair. The doom metal feeling is expressed mostly through melodic/atmospheric rock (some would even call it “adult oriented rock” (AOR)). Fortunately, the arrangements have very little in common with AOR’s “naïve” (for the most part) song writing, as along with the vocal melodies and the lyrics, they have the necessary weight to withstand repeated listens. This holds despite the notable absence of heavy guitar distortion which tends to conceal the absence of solid song writing in doom metal. Regarding the lyrics, Veni Domine are known for their dedicated Christian beliefs, yet they are not annoyingly preachy. Rather, the lyrics are written and performed as if someone, regardless of the religion, is conversing with a confessor, while feeling joy and sorrow at the same time.
Technically, the album is flawless. The sound of the drums is physical, whereas the tone of other instruments – guitars (acoustic and electric), keyboards – is analogously adjusted, so as to embrace the mesmerizing vocals of Fredrik Sjöholm. Far from the unreachable heights evidenced in the early Veni Domine releases, he sets the appropriate mood for the new material, whereas he adds a few vocal intricacies here and there. In particular, the reader is prompted to listen to “Oh Great City”, a song from the debut album Fall Babylon Fall
, which has been excellently processed through the band’s current modus operandi. This song encapsulates the success of the Light
album; new life has been breathed on legacy material, whereas the style devised herein could be of use in future releases. Unfortunately, this album is the last call on behalf of the Swedes who decided to disband after 27 years of activity. Considering the quality of Light
, this is a sad turn of events for the inherently restrained circuit of (Swedish and worldwide) progressive/doom metal, however Veni Domine have left behind a body of work that deserves to be explored in depth.