What do you think when you see a band that is described as a "Funeral Doom" group?
Most people think slow, crawling and muddy guitars playing over extended, unintelligible growls, the occasional synthesizer atmospheric effect, and reverb-drenched drums playing simple 4/4 beats as slow as they can.
There are bands that stretch this, such as Esoteric with their atmospheric samples and screaming, and Nortt with its black metal aesthetics and production values.
Skepticism, even as one of the pioneers of the sound, have always remained the most innovative band in the ever-so-obscure genre. Even their 1995 debut, Stormcrowfleet, was incredibly individual, with its demonic organ sounds, the drummer's simple yet beyond-effective use of huge orchestral drums, the occasionally different guitar riff and the almost whispered nature of the vocals.
Lead and Aether was again a trip through the dark recesses of Funeral Doom, with its clearer production and increased variety in songs making a huge leap from Stormcrowfleet. It contains the song thought to be the most depressing of all time, The March and the Stream.
When the Process of Farmakon EP came out, people were slightly shocked to say the least. Instead of droning guitars, long synthesizer passages and infinite repitition they were hit with streamlined songs that didn't need repetition or droning to be heavy, emotional and lengthy. Most called this blasphemy and were turned off by the disc, yet some couldn't help loving it and eagerly awaited the full-length, Farmakon.
Skepticism, on this release, are;
Matti - Vocals
Jani Kekarainen - Guitars
Eero Pyry - Keys
Lasse Pelkonen - Drums
Released in 2003, Farmakon gives a fresh take on a genre which heavily relies on tradition; Funeral Doom. Instead of 4/4 rock beats, sludgey guitars droning on to the point of becoming ambience and earth-trembling growls, we are treated to something much more frightening, depressing, atmospheric and, in places, aggressive.
Early Skepticism releases were characterised by their slowness. In the days of Stormcrowfleet, no one dared to play as slow as them, and when they did speed up they only reached the sludgey pace of a mid-paced Doom-a-thon. Most sections of Farmakon don't possess this slowness, although it still feels incredibly slow because of its minimalistic nature. The first three tracks are almost up-tempo compared to the band's early works.
The first sound that hits you on Farmakon is that of an church organ. Eero is, like all members of the band, criminally underrated. He is the Doom equivalent of Sverd from Arcturus, without the piano. All the music is composed by him, I believe, and this is excellent because he enjoys classical music just as much as metal. Skepticism have always had a knack for composition and this is definitely a step-up. The twin songs Nowhere and Nothing show a great talent for slow, long build-ups that do not disappoint.
His sound is actually not as prominent and powerful as on Lead and Aether. There are still moments where he comes in and blows the listener away (which is what the untitled track seems to be based on), but most of the time he lets the guitar carry the song. Once again he shows the power of the organ in the first track, The Raven and the Backwards Funeral, with a massive two-chord riff slamming into the listener. This is evil incarnate.
That's the first thing the listener will notice about Farmakon. Instead of funeral dirges, Skepticism promised to make their "scariest album yet". Some of the songs are still very depressing in nature, but there are places where the listener will find themselves quivering in fear of the next cymbal crash.
And this is all fulfilled in the untitled track (which is a puff of smoke on the tracklist). Whilst all the other songs try to be very smooth and progress naturally, this song is very repetitive and simple. It sounds almost out of place on the album, because of its mood, but its length gives it individual power and its rightful spot on this record. Matti's vocals, instead of being pushed back in the mix, are actually the most prominent thing and he knows it, with his screaming and extremely harsh growls. Lasse provides very minimalistic beats which set up Eero to freak the listener out with massive, loud chords that are actually painful on the ear when loud enough. Jani's guitar is also heavier and more distorted than in other songs.
This song contains the most experimental moment I've heard in all Doom metal. All instruments fade out except for the drums and vocals. Instead of singing, Matti is actually just breathing very harshly, which is very creative as it provides ambience. The drums continue playing the Indian beat from the beginning, providing an ominous rumble to tell the listener that the rest of the band can come crashing in at any moment. Untitled is the spookiest and scariest thing you will ever hear, but it also is very atmospheric and I often like to listen and get lost in it.
Matti's vocals on Farmakon are more prominent than on other releases. Whilst his growl was reduced to a mere whisper, Farmakon brings him to the forefront at the right moments, letting him smack the listener with his incredibly deep and sustained belches. The mix also puts him back at times, which is excellent because it provides a good atmosphere. Noteworthy is a section in Nowhere where he softly sings "nooowheeere" over his growls, which has an incredible effect on the listener, it's very emotional.
Speaking of emotions, it was always thought that we'd never get to hear an angry Skepticism. Farmakon proves this notion false. Although Shred of Light, Pinch of Endless has very dark sections with excellent keys, its lack of repetition, hard-hitting drums, harsher riffs and deep growls create an extremely angry feeling. The band does this without raising the tempo above a typical sludge level, which is a great achievement.
Lasse is probably the best drummer to ever play Doom Metal. Whilst there are some very creative drummers in the genre, most choose to just sit back and play 4/4 rock beats with reverb washed all over them and call it "adding to the atmosphere". If you see Lasse's kit, you'll notice that he doesn't play a normal drumkit. Instead he has huge cymbals, a relatively small bass drum and truly monster-sized drums. He wants to sound like a drummer in an orchestra, and this is pulled off greatly, especially with the epic sound of his crash cymbals. Whilst he never does anything fantastically technical, he is very creative and knows exactly what to do with the feel of the song. His ability to carry the song is displayed greatly in Shred of Light, Pinch of Endless, where he gradually hits the toms harder and harder, until the smashing conclusion when he displays a power never before heard in a band. Eat your heart out, Dale Crover.
Jani sounds like he's actually enjoying playing on Farmakon. His riffs vary much more than on other releases, and he also plays a fair bit of clean guitar which sounds magnificent. On Nothing and The Raven and the Backwards Funeral, he does something which many will, literally, run away screaming from; a solo. Blasphemy, you say. He actually makes it work. There are sections on Farmakon where his guitar sounds very washy and soft, it's almost like he wanted to pay tribute to the other originators of Funeral Doom, Thergothon.
Farmakon Process has one of the best guitar riffs in all of Funeral Doom. After an intro of droning chords, we are treated to an extremely epic riff that just screams power and is just magnificent. I can't describe it. It's not heavy, but not soft either. When he resumes playing it, there's a bit where it goes up an octave, which sounds too awesome for me to put it into words.
One more thing I must mention in this already too-long review; the intro for Nothing. This is simply the best moment in music history. Lasse plays a straight cymbal line, and after 12 strokes the massive guitar comes in and plays two monstrous chords. These chords are absolutely perfect for one another, the effect is awesome. After a few repetitions, the synth comes in subtely and plays along with the guitar, creating the best sound ever heard. The chords are played more and more, until the synth changes to a very spooky ambience and the riff is played fully, along with the drums which are now playing relatively full force. I said at the start of this review that repetition is not embraced for most of Farmakon, but it is embraced her simply because Skepticism simply know that this is the best sound ever heard. The rest of the song is brilliant, especially the keys, but nothing will ever beat this.
Overall, this is an absolute classic. Instead of whimping out and just droning on to create effect, Skepticism have embraced their skills as musicians and composers to create a masterpiece in dynamics, flow and most of all; power. The atmosphere created here is part trippy, part depressing and part horrifying. Each song carries its own feeling and leaves a different mark on the listener (Nowhere and Nothing are similar in structure, but this seems intentional and the moods they envoke are different still). For a better idea of what Funeral Doom is, one should check out the earlier Skepticism releases, but this is simply the best and will never be topped.
Varying tones and a wide range of textures.
Each song is completely different and carries its own feel.
Epic, powerful drums.
Range of guitar tones changing to meet the needs of each moment.
Great mixing which seperates everything.
Repetition is used only when needed.
The atmosphere here is unrivalled.
Some may complain about the lack of heaviness in the guitar.
There is no bass, I can't notice the difference but it seems to annoy some people.
Not really a good idea of what "Funeral Doom" is, but that is only a bad thing for elitists.
The lyrics are written by the band whilst they're on a trip and aren't edited afterwards, which leaves them a little non-sensical and thus some people may not enjoy them.
Stop being a skeptic and begin the process of Farmakon.