isn't your typical funeral doom album filled with mournful, sad passages and atmospheric leanings. It does, thank goodness, have all of that and delivers them in a fashion that can be described as very compelling. A cryptic melding of church organ, massive and discordant piano chords with unsettling drones meet your typical affair of metal instrumentation. It's slowed to a crawl, however - even by some funeral doom band's standards. Each climactic cymbal and snare crash isn't unlike standing in the centre of a thunderstorm anxiously awaiting the next clash of thunder. Perhaps hold onto that feeling, too, as that feeling of unease and disdain sets Atramentus
apart. This isn't an album to make you feel sad or sorrowful - it's an album that sets out to make you feel like you're drowning in your own breath.
Split into two longer movements with a short interlude between them, Stygian is more accessible than it seems. Its slick, gorgeous production courtesy of Greg Chandler (of Esoteric fame) means its simultaneously easy on the ears and crushingly heavy - a false dichotomy that Greg's always uncannily had a knack for. Atramentus'
sound doesn't rely much on melody, moreso of the massive rhythm guitars to carry the heft of the sound, interchanging between subtle orchestral elements.
The first movement, "Stygian I", is perhaps weaker than the second, if only for its ending feeling more like it fizzles out than ending on a memorable note, simply allowing the drums to play the movement to a close. After 16 minutes of what felt like tone-setting it's hard not to expect more before the band lulls you into the ambient interlude - and though it's as well executed as the rest of the instrumentation, it feels misplaced; structurally it feels like lull after lull.
"Stygian III" picks things up perfectly, however - not wasting a moment. The lead guitar is of particular note on this track for being not only carrying the song's momentum, but for being spellbindingly beautiful, reminding me of the likes of Colosseum's very best works. The ambient break here is not only gorgeous with its melancholic chord progression, but the build to the album's climax thereafter is exceptional by any band's standards - let alone a project debut. However, it brings one back to the purveying feeling of what built up to that moment. It's a strange claim to call a record that lasts 45 minutes fleeting, but it honestly feels that way; for as cathartic as Stygian feels it lacks the breadth of its contemporaries.
It's a tough sell to argue that each member on this record is greater than the sum of its parts as both the clean and harsh vocals do little more than rumble away in the mix. As wonderful as much of the instrumentation is, when it all melds together it just feels like it cannot be grasped - as if lost in the haze. There's a vast ocean of emotional impetus behind this album's creation but with only one of the two main compositions of the record having satisfying conclusions, it's hard not to feel like not all of it translates to the recording, and thus, Stygian
is impactful whilst it's on but not a moment beyond. A stronger first half and more prominent vocals would have made Stygian
far, far stronger but it's an immensely promising debut from a band I hope are already planning a follow-up.