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Clouds are Burning

(Ván; US: 12 Mar 2012; UK: 12 Mar 2012)

We all like to wallow in a little hopelessness now and again, and there are many funeral doom bands lurking in dim-lit corners that’ll soundtrack those moments of misery to perfection. Piling on the lugubriousness, and turning the bleak into the downright desperate, they garner more acclaim the more demoralizing their listening experience. If a funeral doom band is gloomy and wretched that’s great; if it’s morose enough to leave you emotionally shattered and weeping for days, that’s essentially perfect. 


Dutch sextet Faal has been indulging in just such endeavors since ‘05. The band’s debut, ‘08’s Abhorrence-Salvation, was an open pit of plaintiveness. But while the songs themselves were suitably dispiriting, the album’s production was hollow—the overall emotional impact hindered by insufficient density and weight. That issue has been resoundingly dealt with on the band’s sophomore album, The Clouds Are Burning. The band and producer Harry van Erp have sculpted an atmosphere replete with looming thunderclouds, but the involvement of Greg Chandler—frontman for the legendary UK doom act Esoteric, who mixed and mastered the new album—is the most astute move.


Faal has obviously drawn much from Esoteric’s prodigious influence upon funeral doom, although, to be fair, the familiar attributes of the genre make comparisons unavoidable. Faal evokes that graveled torment Esoteric is famed for, and provides similarly elongated and anguished dirges. Thematically, Faal traipses an insular trail over The Clouds Are Burning‘s four epic requiems, traveling “... the road to madness and inner conflicts” at a pace that conjures the blackest depths of despair.

The monastic drones found on “My Body Glows Red” set a tone laden with sinister tension. Roils of lethargic, melodic guitar are cut by guttural vocals and punchy percussive tempos throughout the album, as Faal pushes the brutishness forward, only to draw it back—creating waves of lonely pulchritude. “The Insistances Wish” has a beautiful glacial charisma (although spliced with horror-filled growls) and the more propulsive “Tempest” rings with some colossal harmonious riffs. While the album has few catchy hooks, there’s no lack of all-enveloping despondency, and the 13-minute track “The Clouds Are Burning” is smothered in repetitive hefty riffs, draining the last drop of whatever optimism is left within.


Funeral doom sets a sluggardly cadence, mixing death metal rumbles with doom metal’s molasses churn. That pace makes perfect sense given funeral doom’s focus on the crawling realization of the futileness of life, but a steadfast downtempo accent has left many a band lifeless and monotonous. Mining the pits of despair is all well and good, but the crucial element needed to retain a spark of interest amongst all that melancholy is a modicum of melody.


The best funeral doom bands perforate the miasma with contrasting, often pensive flashes of dynamism—ever-so-brief flickers of sunlight. Clearly, bleakness is to be favored, but swells of affecting riffs and acoustic guitar and keyboards bolster the poignancy. In Faal’s case, the band relies on post-metal to offer the all-important differing shades. Well-placed, stretched out riffs are dropped into the morass, creating captivating eddies where grief seems eternal. As wrenching and heartbreaking as it is, you simply don’t want it to end, and that aspect seals the album’s success. Unafraid to quicken the step, or to pedal back to reinforce the hopelessness, there’s a welcome sense of conflict to The Clouds Are Burning. It’s a reflection of our own internal strife, perhaps, but certainly an illustration of Faal’s desire to drag its gelid funeral doom forward, without losing sight of its broken heart.


Life is difficult, and toil and trouble abound, but Faal’s argument that it can always get worse is hard to dispute. The band remains arched and deformed in its dolor, and apertures of shimmering post-metal only reinforce the album’s portentous shadows and fiendish unease. With sloth-like momentum and guitars tuned to suffering and suffocating, the slow creep from insanity to death on The Clouds Are Burning is merciless.

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Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.


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