Monday, 14 September 2009

Skumring - De Glemte Tider. 75/100.

Skumring, which translates to “Twilight” in English, are an obscure Norwegian band who cross many musical boarders. From doom, to funeral doom and finally folk music, Skumring are a multi-dimensional band who claim to stick primarily to the doom metal sound, but this band are far more reaching than that, stretching beyond the horizon into unlimited territories of music that breaches the realms of metal - having said this, there are problems with this style, which I will get to later. As the band like to describe themselves, they play a style of music which has numerous different facets, tackling influences that extracts the atmosphere and melodic nature of bands that includes fellow Norwegian doom metal band The 3rd And The Mortal, with the acoustic parts of the much loved Empyrium, as well as Ulver’s classic folk inspired acoustic work, ‘Kveldssanger’. As one can probably tell from the bands description of their sound alone, this is no ordinary doom metal band, with a straight laced style that bores to tears. Despite the incredibly slow turning nature of the songs, Skumring’s repetitious doom style clashes with the extravagant beauty of the folk inspired side masterfully.

Once in a while, a band will fall into our laps that takes an extreme variation of metal and blends it with folk only to have the listener wishing the band had focused more on the folk aspect of the instrumentation. Unfortunately, this is a negative and can also be applied to Skumring as their gloomier doom aspects are a bit too repetitious to match the beauty that is the contrasting folk side. However, Skumring have realised the potential problems and put a stop to a lot of the problematic issues that will undoubtedly occur during a piece of this experimental kind. In order to alleviate some of the potential boredom, Skumring have taken on the services of Cecilie Langlie, former vocalist of the inspirational funeral doom band Fallen, who are regarded as a hidden gem of the funeral sub-genre. Though she no longer participates on the material for that band, she’s a woman who has had her evident talents recognised as she has tried her hand at numerous styles including, perhaps predictably given the nature in which she sings, gothic metal with newly established band Vagrant God, who have recently released their debut record (which I have not heard, by the way).

Besides her participation on this bands efforts, Skumring are also a project of Vàli’s, perhaps the most talented, and underrated, musician that operates his trade for Skumring. His self-titled band are regarded as a folk gem and are currently working on material for a new record, which is why the sophomore effort for Skumring has been delayed as long as it has (going on four years). Vàli is the epitome of Skumring and, seemingly, has influence over the creative direction of the band, which includes the folk aspects that are sparsely portrayed throughout the duration of the long songs. His performance is the genius part of this record and deserves a lot more credit than it will get, simply because Skumring operate a style of doom that isn’t conventional and that allows a female vocalist, who is talented, to take center stage - a position which Vàli himself should be in. He, essentially, controls the main assets of this band - though some will argue that the slow operatic based female vocals are the main source of enjoyment - which includes the guitar, with its monotonous and extreme distorted leads and, most notably, the acoustic touches that litter this record with a subtle beauty that isn’t found in the majority of doom metal acts.

Unfortunately, his position within the band isn’t going to be deemed the most necessary role because Cecilie is portrayed as the beautiful presence within the soundscapes and though her haunting voice does do the lyrical themes of despair and sadness justice, she doesn’t contain the heightened sense of joy that the acoustics bring to the foreground for the listeners personal pleasure. She doesn’t overwhelm, unlike many gothic vocalists who implement the operatic style as a necessary tool for success (which makes me wonder how she’ll perform as the lead for a gothic band), but she doesn’t inspire as much as I would have expected. I hate to seem sexist, but it seems to be a universal fear that all female fronted metal, namely extreme metal on this variation, is awful. Though this isn’t the case with Skumring, given the obvious talents of the vocalist Cecilie, she still doesn’t manage to make the contrast as fittingly as the acoustics do when exemplifying the fact that Skumring are capable of blending the sorrow of your average doom laden guitar riff with the beautiful, yet melancholic acoustics. Her voice carries well, particularly on songs like ‘Søvn’ where, during the introduction, she is accompanied by a subtle acoustic lead and a background bass line that doesn’t give off an overly exuberant feel. She is in her elements when accompanied by this significantly withdrawn soundscapes, but when the band increase the already slow tempo on, she has trouble maintaining her performance.

All this despite the fact that the production gives her a bigger stage with which to spread her majestic voice across like a vast ocean, with which only she can explore if she is brave enough. Unfortunately, her vocals, though consistent, always leave me feeling as though Skumring could have offered more in the way of vocal experimentation. Maybe I’m being picky because female vocals on a record of this nature should be deemed experimental regardless, and they are, but they’re comfortable (like the instrumentation). Rarely does any aspect push the envelope - aside from on the self-titled track when Skumring implement a faster guitar tempo, but even that’s only brief - aside from the folk aspect, but these elements are sparse, as stated previously. Perhaps if a male vocalist, with a harsher style of vocals, were brought in, perhaps the juxtaposition would be more convincing and Cecilie can focus almost entirely on presenting herself and her voice alongside the beautiful, haunting acoustic passages and the male vocalist could exert himself on the doom laden side, which is often hollow and dense, given the flat production style (though there is a feeling this is intentional - it is doom metal, after all). I do like ‘De Glemte Tider’, I truly do, but it needs to serve more of an impact, other than relying almost entirely on the acoustics and female vocals to “wow” the audience.

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