Review Summary: A slow-burning but richly rewarding 'celestial doom' album.
Heavy metal’s underground scene has been thriving recently. As an impressive number of bands begin to creep out of the shadows and step into the into rising sunlight of mainstream awareness- such as Amenra, Wolves in the Throne Room, Heilung and Chelsea Wolfe, others are beginning to create ripples within the underground’s murky mass. As cherished as the scene may be to some, it is a prison to others. Any artists that are long-term residents share in common the reason for why they have never seen past the gates: a refusal to incorporate features that may tarnish their underground purity. In other words, a lack of progression.
Therefore, it’s difficult for these bands to gain awareness and thus imperative that some part of their music differentiates themselves from their fellow inmates. Norway’s Leonov describes their crushing assault of bleak riffs and haunting atmospherics as ‘celestial doom’. Drawing inspiration from the dark and boundless expanse of space, the meagre existence of humanity in the universe, even the small relatable subjects of loss and despair of everyday life, they contrast these depressive soundscapes against brief moments of serenity and hope. Granted, such themes and contrasts have been practised by countless bands before. However, Leonov is somehow able to demonstrate an incredible level of restraint while simultaneously unleashing a wild attitude when their patience cracks, illustrating their self-stylised ‘celestial’ title in grand fashion.
is an example of a typically slow album, but one that is never stationary. “Eucharist” demonstrates how Leonov slithers around different atmospheres as the jittery drums tiptoe around Morten Kjellig’s sonorous bass. Afterwards, Tåran Reindal’s transcendental voice sounds numbingly calm, as if it is struggling to mollify the rising panic coming from the trembling guitars. Although Reindal’s signing is apparently ghostly and quite churchy, she reveals a commanding attitude due to how clear her lyrics and wails sound, especially considering they are often placed atop a dense wall of destructive instrumentation. Another interesting way that Leonov is able to drift between movements is how they first initiate a song, such as the album’s title track, with a particular riff which expresses one particular mood then as the song progresses each flanking instrument fades out, leaving that initial riff or melody standing naked and vulnerable, yet somehow it emits a different expression. Supported by daunting synth and lumbering drums it sounds sinister and invasive; left alone, timid and overwhelmingly melancholic.
As Leonov proves how necessary the quality restraint is within “Wake”
, their songs are able to swell to an immeasurable size despite how repetitious the riffing can be and how lengthy “Shem” and the title track are in duration. “Oceanode” establishes a strong rhythmic foundation quicker than the other songs on the album, where a backdrop of riffs drenched in chunky psychedelic reverb ripple behind Tåran’s fantastic singing. But, as the song gradually becomes tenser and fidgety, as they are about to turn the handle to see what terror lies behind the unopened door, everything suddenly plummets. Not like some traditional breakdown though, this is as if Leonov collectively… falls. Without indication nor hesitation, it sounds like the song simply collapses under some colossal burden. Like the sudden and devastating comprehension of realising how utterly alone you are in this universe.
Leonov is certainly onto something with their sophomore album. If the band’s future progression is anywhere near as substantial as the growth between their debut album and “Wake”
, Leonov’s next album could easily proclaim them as serious contenders as one of the best doom metal bands in the underground and even, providing they uphold the level of sincerity and musicianship that “Wake”
demonstrates, one that can claw their way through the surface of the underground.