Review Summary: An early death/doom metal hybrid that manages to escape the confines of both genres to craft something truly impressive and timeless.
Let's take a journey back in time to 1992, the year where thrash metal would finally start to fizzle out and hand over the keys to the extreme music kingdom to death metal. There was a noticeable transition taking place in the late eighties to the early nineties that substituted pure unbridled speed and shout styled vocals in favor of a more primal, brutal, and low end approach that often delved into crushingly slow and mid-paced songwriting. While a quick tempo was still a major attribute of the early death metal movement, groups like Autopsy, Asphyx, and Paradise Lost had all dabbled with infusing the sludgy and suffocating, slow, dark, heavy riffs into their albums a year prior. However, they did so in a way that just took the extremes of death metal and dialed them back considerably; the grueling pace was set to a menacing crawl oftentimes yielding a sinister and evil atmosphere. While the aforementioned bands had a fair amount of success with that sound, Dark Millennium took this largely unexplored sound beyond what anyone had ever done before infusing melodic riffing and progressive rock tendencies throughout the record and even introducing some cleanly sung passages occasionally that offer a great contrast to Torsten Gilsbach's Obituary-like vocals. This was the record (or one of them) that really opened the door into experimentation in the death and doom metal realm like none had before paving the way for classics like dISMEBOWLMENT's 'Transcendence Into the Peripheral' to venture into new territory in the years to come.
If the album art alone wasn't enough to draw you in, Ashore the Celestial Burden
sinks its hooks into you the instant it gets rolling with its magnificent opener 'Below The Holy Fatherlands' with its melodic death metal riffing and its heavy start-stop rhythm section complete with volume swell leads that are to die for that verge on the psychedelic at times. It's a track oozing with atmosphere, dynamcis, ability and evocative storytelling that the rest of the album follows without fail, intertwining melody and intensity effortlessly over its nearly hour long run time without ever feeling stale or repetitive in the slightest. Gilsbach's lyrics land on the more fantastical side than that of the typically brutish and gory variety that death metal groups invoke. He conjures up interesting perspectives and tales of religion and the occult among other vaguely spiritual concepts which lends itself extremely well to the spaced out, progressive and weightless guitar leads that float eerily above the grounded and buzzing rhythm section. Also, on a technical note, the production is astounding for an early nineties album of this style, the instruments all have appropriate breathing room, the bass is audible and full, the leads soar over the dense background music and the vocals fit tightly in-between without any one element competing for center stage.
Doom metal is largely considered a genre that relies less on technicality and musicianship than its cousin genres of death and black metal, but this album is jam packed with interesting and somewhat complex leads that wouldn't feel out of place on an Atheist record; songs like 'Black Literature" and 'The Atmosphere' are more than enough proof of that statement alone. There really isn't much else out there that sounds quite like this record, even their follow up effort Diana Read Peace
is fairly different in approach and delivery and leans more towards a progressive sound that carries not quite as dense of an atmosphere and even a Gothic sound to the vocals. Ashore the Celestial Burden
carries a uniquely dark tone and angle that makes it their true crowning achievement, and an underground gem that shines brighter than all of the others. This is an absolute must hear masterpiece that took both doom and death metal to new places it had never ventured before while still managing to stay rooted to what makes each genre so great.