Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Skepticism - Stormcrowfleet

For some reason, Finland has produced a large share of the most unique and innovative bands within the tiny and obscure world of Funeral Doom. Aside from Skepticism, other notable Finnish bands include: Thergothon, Wormphlegm, Aarni, Tyranny, Umbra Nihil, Shape of Despair, Unburied and Stabat Mater. Some bands maintain a cult approach utterly primal and noisey Metal (Wormphlegm, Stabat Mater) and some moved on to experiment with more clean, eclectic and academic approaches (Umbra Nihil, Aarni); however they all do come from a basic foundation of super slow rhythms, droning distorted guitars, dark and melancholic riffs, hypnotic atmosphere and low growling vocals.
Thergothon, Unburied and Skepticism are the root bands in this area, all coming from the early 90s dank basement death/doom scene. Unburied released two demos and then disappeared. Thergothon released only one demo and one very beautiful full length album called “Stream from the Heavens”. Skepticism released one 7” and one demo before their debut full length, “Stormcrowfleet,” came out in 1995. Skepticism just released their fourth full length (ninth release, including demos and EPs) album, “Alloy”, in 2008, making Skepticism nearly 20 years old and possibly the longest surviving band of this scene.
I first heard Skepticism when they released their third album, “Farmakon”, in 2003. At first I did not understand this music at all, even tried to sell the CD to a couple friends, but in the end I kept going back to this record until one day I was completely enamored with it. Eventually I managed to collect all of their releases (except the demo tape) and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this band had remained very consistent over the years. Always working with depressively slowly tempos, stunning melodic guitar work, heavy pipe organs and keyboards, and the dry throat rumbling of the vocals, but it seemed that every release saw them progressively getting more comfortable within their unique and highly personal soundworld.
With “Stormcrowfleet”, Skepticism laid out their sonic manifesto that they would stay faithful to for the entire existence. Their debut 7” merely shows them playing competent death/doom sludge, but their full length album is a newly realized vision of the band. Using slower tempos than ever before and also marking the start of heavy keyboard use within their sound. The keyboards have always been a big draw for me personally. Often sounding like natural reed or pipe organs and always mixed to sound just as powerful as the guitars. On “Stormcrowfleet”, they had not yet perfected the classic pipe organ sound that they would later dwell on; most of the keyboards here are synth strings or electric organ sounds. The production on “Stormcrowfleet” is also much crustier than the rest of the Skepticism albums. You can still hear some of that death/doom rehearsal basement sound here, whereas future offerings go for a slightly cleaner and more controlled sound. Another major difference about “Stormcrowfleet” is the use of nature-inspired imagery and lyrics. After “Stormcrowfleet”, all of Skepticism’s albums look and sound like futuristic pharmaceutical products.
For many people, I can see how “Stormcrowfleet” is their favorite, the warm organic mysteries of the art and lyrics, the fuzzy underground sound of the production, the undeveloped rough edges of a visionary young band. My feeling is that Skepticism actually kept getting better and better with time (in fact, “Alloy” may turn out to be my most favorite Skepticism album yet), but if you are new to the band, this might be the perfect place to start.


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