Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Stabat Mater - Stabat Mater (2009) 80/100.

Mikko Aspa has long since been a force in the Finnish metal scene. With projects like Clandestine Blaze and Deathspell Omega under his belt, he was always going to be subject to much attention from the media, as well as the fans. I’ve followed his career closely in regards to Clandestine Blaze and, to a lesser extent, two of his other projects, Deathspell Omega and Fleshpress, all of which differ from each other in some way or other. Although the beginning of Mikko’s career with bands like Clandestine Blaze seems to be marred by a mediocrity he couldn’t shake off, time has been kind to him. Deathspell Omega are highly thought of in black metal circles, though I myself have never taken to the sound that particular act projects. In terms of the Clandestine Blaze’s illustrious full-length career, the records keep getting stronger and stronger as Mikko gains experience. ‘Church of Atrocity’, for example, has a number of stellar moments which any black metal musician would be proud of. I don’t consider him an artist who pushes the envelop in terms of his individual sounds with his respective projects but, when judging his career in general, he definitely serves up a tasty dish of experimentation to his audience and Stabat Mater are no different.

He is a man who has his finger in many flavoursome pies, each offering a different taste and texture from the previous. Not only is he in MANY different bands, usually spearheading them too, but he is the proprietor of a few established labels, particularly Northern Heritage, who often have a decent streamline of material on offer, whilst generally specialising in Mikko’s preferred field of black metal. Although I hear a few ties to his other projects on this self-titled piece, I still believe Stabat Mater to be somewhat unique to the field of funeral doom. Having released several splits, occasionally alongside his other projects, such as A.M., a doom/sludge hybrid, and one demo, this is the first full-length outing from our man from Finland. Working alongside iconic bands such as Mournful Congregation and Worship has surely given Mikko the experience and knowledge with which to successfully portray a funeral doom band. He has learned and been skilled by the very best the sub-genre has to offer, so it’s no surprise to me that this debut is outstanding amongst its peers. Reminding me, although not overwhelming, of Australia’s Disembowelment, Mikko gradually builds up his tentative atmospherics before occasionally unleashing faster tempos. These are cleverly melded into the songs and do not feel out of place.

These cold, harsh landscapes details grim stories of death, rape and general misery (two of which you definitely get the feeling for during the music itself as it is very bleak) and remind me somewhat of Clandestine Blaze, particularly in terms of the distorted guitar tone, which emphasises a monotony akin to that of the earlier works of the aforementioned act. The production for this piece is perfect. Not too dark, but certainly not light. It maintains a bleak feel throughout with slow, sombre passages of monotonous guitar riffs and varied drum patterns, but Stabat Mater are not limited to the slow style in which most funeral doom bands pertain to and worship with every ounce of strength they can muster. Consisting of three nonsensical filler tracks does force me to down-rate this record, but only slightly. Some people complain about the length of the record and it is short. However, funeral doom is a sub-genre which can easily become tedious when bands employ tactics such as too many long songs and a duration which exceeds the hour mark. In terms of this self-titled piece, the duration feels right and doesn’t allow for boredom to become a factor since there are only three songs to hear and two of those are modest in length (with the third almost being a twenty minute epic).

I would consider black metal to be very dark, pitch black in fact, but funeral doom is very grey in essence. It reminds me of oncoming storms with their grey clouds, distant thunder and sprinkling of rain. Black metal is the center of the storm and funeral doom is what occurs just before it, when you can sense something in the air changing and the atmosphere growing bleaker by the second. Stabat Mater combine those two feelings in me well, using slowed down black metal vocals (which sound akin to his vocals for Clandestine Blaze, though elongated ). Having viewed this record as, essentially, a dissonant, slower version of Clandestine Blaze, the final song changes my perception and adds a splicing of adventure in the atmosphere as a sample of an operatic singer eases its way into the limelight and shunts the harsh dissonance out of the way, replacing it with a much softer, yet equally sullen side to the projection. Normally I would consider this long passage of eerie ambiance and accompanying sample obsolete, but it’s generally very soothing, so much so it seems warranted, even though Mikko does eventually draw the funeral doom instrumentation back into the state of play, albeit with cleaner vocals provided by himself, added a spiritual feel to the content which seems to make sense when considering the album art. A strong debut and definitely deserving of praise.

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