'An unmoving view of an island, densely forested and with narrow beaches but completely devoid of all animal and human life. The view is as if provided by a camera, because you, as a human, are not even there; there is no sentience anywhere in this land, and there is only the slightest motions in the water around the island. You can see other islands off in the distance but with no detail or definition. It is stark and lonely.
Without warning, it begins; a looming storm on the horizon, more enormous and darker than what one could ever imagine, with clouds so thick and dark they nearly eclipse the sun entirely. It envelops the entire horizon as it moves ever so slowly towards the island in your view, ominous yet eerily beautiful, and the very air of the island seems to sit perfectly still in dreadful yet enrapturing anticipation of the oncoming storm.
It hits and no level of imagining can prepare one for its intensity. Massive gales strike the island, nearly ripping the enormous trees from their roots, shaking the very limestone foundations of this lonely isle, threatening to tear this land from the earth (or whatever mysterious dimension this is) itself. But the gales are just the beginning, and this massive onslaught of nature has only just begun.
It seems that with each new feature introduced by the storm, it's unimaginable that it could be any more enormous until the next element hits. First are the enormous, wracking thunderclaps that threaten to cave the sky itself in; like massive drums played in caverns reaching to the center of the earth, they explode across the skyline, breathtakingly deep and arduously slow, each one illuminating the dark landscape to nearly that of day, cracking the clouds and warning of possible lightning striking the land as it hovers so dangerously over the island.
The gales intensify and have a nearly musical quality, like an enormous and desolate organ, delicately (or as delicate as something so massive can be) carving out entrancing and triumphant yet mournful melodies from the air itself. The ground itself begins to shake; not from force of the gales or the thunder, but of its own power, a tremendous earthquake nearly shattering the forests and soil of the island into thousands of broken pieces, adding to the symphony of the wind like great guitars, impossibly deep and rich in tone, echoing the wind's simple melodies and adding even more crushing intensity to the storm.
And then, in a brief moment of peace before the storm explodes yet again, it begins; the growls of a creature nearly beyond comprehension. Not even a shred of it is visible upon the horizon, but its world-shaking calls are tremendous nonetheless, a throaty growl that seems to propel the storm ever onward. It comes from a beast so enormous that one couldn't be sure they'd even recognize it if they saw it; it's of an enormity beyond any scale one would know.
These natural forces form a choir of sounds and wrench beauty from the agonizing force. Some calm is almost found in the near destruction of the island, where the intensity is so great it nearly manages to stand still due to its achingly slow beating of the landscape. The sounds are enormous and crushing yet fragile, slow, simple melodies unfolding and evolving over what feels like millennia, with the impossible depth of the sounds reverberating for long seconds after each note is struck. Occasionally, and only very occasionally, the guitar-like shaking of the earth will pierce through the other torrents of sound with an ever-so-slow set of tones, a bittersweet melody emerging from nothingness before descending back into the earth.
And finally, after what might be minutes, what might be endless aeons, the storm departs, leaving only its whispers of infinite glory and destruction behind it. The landscape is battered and crossed with deep scars gorging into the earth; and yet the forest is alive, perhaps more alive than ever, now burst into even more glorious color and beauty than could be imagined. This is 'Stormcrowfleet'.'
'Ethere is arguably the EP that made Skepticism a doom legend. Yes, Stormcrowfleet was a bigger step from normal doom/death (or from their riff-based doom period), but it was Ethere, released in 1997, that introduced THE Skepticism song, the one that pretty much defined their style, "The March and the Stream." So much, that it has become a standard nowadays for "symphonic" funeral doom (as opposed to the raw, more black metal-like funeral doom of Thergothon, or the ambient one of Until Death Overtakes Me), and that every single thing coming out of the doom genre should be compared to it. In fact, the 10 in the funeral doom scale should be reserved solely to it, and the other numbers to how close perfection-wise it is to it, with one or two exceptions like PantheVst's demo. And no, I'm not exaggerating.
But of course, this review isn't about "The March and the Stream," but about Ethere. So how could we explain Skepticism's style? By a simple addition: organ + slooooow guitars + some of the best death vocals ever done. While logic would say that applying the same addition to every song would prove to be formulaic, in this case logic doesn't apply: the three songs in the Ethere EP are pretty much three different concepts. "The March and the Stream" is the darkest one, and the one more similar to what people see as funeral doom these days. Ethere is a mix between early Skepticism and the new experimental Skepticism of releases such as Farmakon, containing the weirdest melodies of the album.
Contrary to many, many of Skepticism’s contemporaries, the drums are actual drums, and the riffs are actual riffs. Ethere is not "Let's just improvise some random, slow riffs over this drum machine" doom; it's composed, real and mature funeral doom. Its sound on this EP in particular was completely organic, with none of those tricks like software effects or PC generated anything.
Yes, there are many good funeral doom bands nowadays, but most don't even get close to Skepticism's brilliance, or Thergothon's atmosphere. It's not being pessimistic, but with funeral doom as we know it, it'll be almost impossible to get bands like those again.
If you're at all into doom, Ethere is a must. If you're into funeral doom, then Ethere should already be part of your collection, and most probably of your favorite albums. Easily one of the best Skepticism releases, even as an EP.'
'A lot of alternative music is very specific to a certain scene, genre, or style, where the rules are clear and everyone – that is, the insiders – knows what to expect. Sometimes, though, albums are released that, while informed of the rules, don’t exactly play by them. The result can be interesting and innovative music that defies, at least to a certain degree, traditional genre boundaries.
One such album is Lead and Aether by Finland’s Skepticism. Originally released in 1997, it was the band’s second full length album. In many respects, it builds on musical foundations laid in their 1995 debut Stormcrowfleet; at its core, the band’s music is rooted in heavy metal, and more particularly the crossovers between doom and death metal that came into being in the early nineties. They pioneered what would become known as funeral doom, characterised by its solemn and mournful atmosphere, and taking to the extreme the doom metal axiom of “slow and low”.
While Skepticism have been at the forefront of this style, and hugely influential on later bands, the unique sound created in these early works stands by itself. More so than practically every other band in this movement, Skepticism managed to modify the traditional metal band setup and sound, and create music that has recognisable roots, but a crown that explores new skies. In principle a quartet, the music is based on drums, guitar, synth/organ, and vocals. The bass guitar is absent, and while distorted and modified, the electric lead guitar is less dominant than in most other metal music. Instead, the synth and organ provide a deeper layer to the music. The drums, played on kettles at least one size bigger than most usual setups, are true to the genre but with an original execution: slow, solemn, with an emphasis on subtle timpani-like percussion and swirling cymbals. The vocals, finally, are a death metal growl obscured to a point where it often resembles a surge of breath or a wave, rather than anything more sinister.
Apart from original instrumentation, the album offers the listener a great deal in terms of structure and songwriting. It opens with the final organ chords of the introductory EP Ethere, and launches into “THE ORGANIUM”, a deep piece as heavy as its typography, that introduces the two central lyrical themes of the album: metal and air, an alchemical whole that ties many elements of the music together. Air and metal are what powers and constitutes the organ, and it also represents the heavy and light in the music, solidity and evanescence.
The second track, a reworked version of the one that appeared on Ethere, is “The March and the Stream”, one of funeral doom’s canonical songs. Indeed, of this album, it is this mournful masterpiece that lies closest to the stylistic norm of genre. How different, then, is “The Falls”, a masterpiece in its own right. It is mystical, hopeful, deep, expressing directions of thought (wandering, hope, despair, introspection, mysticism) in the lyrical guise of three different (water)falls. The music itself is of an elegant simplicity, perfectly balancing different guitar and synth sounds, flowing drums, and vocals like drifting clouds. Central to the song is a delicate melody, doubled and shifted, positioned so greatly that it sucks you deeper into the song, which ends in a way that is as majestic as it is emotionally ambiguous.
The second half of the album contains much to enjoy as well. There’s the once more aptly named “Forge”, a powerful rolling track that really sounds like the inside of an alchemical metal workshop. “-Edges-” is more obscure, emphasising floating melodies and atmospheres that are more esoteric than any else. “Aether”, finally, is calm and serene most of the time, bringin the album to a most satisfying conclusion.
There are a couple of factors that make Lead and Aether a hugely important album. First of all, it shows the band at the pinnacle of its craft. The debut album pioneered Skepticism‘s sound, but this one combined it with more sophisticated songwriting, eclipsing that of much of their later work, with some exceptions. It also, along with surrounding releases, proved massively influential for the small but not insignificant funeral doom genre. Most importantly, though, it shows how a genre’s (in this case heavy metal’s) basic assets can be taken, hammered, forged, transformed, yielding wholly new results and a different listening experience. It’s base metal, aether, and somewhere in the grey mists, a hint of gold.'
'Given Skepticism's previously exposed penchant for lengthy, ambient-tinged, deliberately composed works, it seems almost inevitable that the band would eventually choose to make a release composed of a single track- it's actually more surprising that of their discography, 'Aes' is the only record in such a vein. That being said, it's good enough that the band probably doesn't NEED another such release under their belt. Of all the overambitious, massive releases in the history of metal, 'Aes' is one of the best, and one of the only that doesn't collapse under the weight of its own ambitions. I guess it's to be expected that Skepticism of all bands would be one to pull it off, but it doesn't make 'Aes' any less fascinating or ultimately thrilling a release.
'Aes' is where the first strains of Skepticism's 'Farmakon' sound start to emerge, forming a neat bridge between the more traditional works of their earlier releases and the wandering, grey, somewhat experimental material that would define their latter era. To describe it more succinctly, 'Aes' sounds like something of a 50/50 combination of 'Stormcrowfleet' and 'Farmakon,' with many of the overtly depressive, straightforward elements of 'Lead & Aether' oddly absent. 'Aes' is not a release that indulges in the more purely melancholic feeling of codified funeral doom- instead, it takes a more circuitous and interesting route. Built off subtle, slow, delicately constructed changes in mood, melody, and rhythm, 'Aes' takes a great deal of time to get where it's going, but never stops being compelling for the listener.
All of Skepticism's traditional features are present- large swaths of floating guitars, heavy, somewhat tribal drumming, and forward-pushing organs taking up the bulk of the low end- but 'Aes' is constructed even more sluggishly and deliberately than any other work in Skepticism's catalog. Opening with a churning, grey, confusing clash of melodic voices and surprisingly uptempo drumming, 'Aes' progresses through a series of extremely distinct movements over the course of its half hour running time, passing through more traditional, epic moments ala 'Stormcrowfleet' and oppressive, lurking, nervous material in the style of 'Farmakon,' constantly walking a tightrope between the more immediate and the long-term objective of the song. Skepticism understands that keeping the listener's attention during a piece as long as this requires a delicate balance between immediately satisfying, viscerally appealing melodies and a certain lack of resolution that keeps the listener curious, and Skepticism executes this magnificently through the perpetually shifting textures of the song.
Each distinct movement tends to take up a handful of minutes, allowing the band to tread water within a certain mood before moving on to the next, either with a gradual flow of instruments to another form or through the abruptness of a sudden musical pause or key change. It's very impressive how intense and exciting the band manages to make such slow, pounding music; you never feel like your patience is being tested by this EP. As usual, Skepticism's phenomenal grasp of volume dynamics, pacing, and repetition allows the music to breathe more fully than nearly any other metal band on the planet- slow shifts in tempo, volume, and vocal timbre all come together to make this a riveting and easily studied musical experience.
A lot of people like to talk about the classical influence on metal, which is an idea I appreciate in the abstract but generally dismiss as wishful thinking. It doesn't help that so many of the people who advertise this cite people like Yngwie Malmsteen as the carriers of such a musical legacy. However, I would absolutely suggest Skepticism as being one of the most truly neoclassical projects in metal today, and 'Aes' makes this clearer than possibly any of their other releases. If you're interested in something progressive- and I mean truly progressive, not 'prog'- you should absolutely acquire this disc and listen to it closely. With 'Aes,' Skepticism have achieved a level of compositional elegance and intelligence rarely matched elsewhere in modern music as a whole.'
An absolutely brilliant piece of neoclassical doom- 96%
'Skepticism represent everything doom should be to me. Since the first time I heard Stormcrowfleet, their debut album and only non-EP release, they immediately moved into the ranks of Thergothon, Winter, Mordor, you know...the doom immortals. And every release since then showed them making definite progress, while somehow maintaining their glacial pace and funereal dirge.
So I have to admit to being a little disappointed at first by this new release. First off, it's another goddamn EP!! What is it with Skepticism and EPs? I mean don't they realize how suited a 74 minute CD is to lengthy doom explorations? Five 15-minute songs, three 24-minute songs, hell, ONE 74-MINUTE SONG!!! Seems ideal. But whatever, an EP it is.
My real problem was with the sound. Part of the Skepticism appeal to me was the impossible production. Murky but not muddy. Heavy, but not HEAVY. Dark but not dreary. I likened listening to the first album to sitting in a cathedral during mass, while a metal band practices in the basement, so you can barely hear them over the liturgical hymns and droning organ. On this new EP, the production sounded more 'crappy' than 'impossible' - closer to the shitty metal demo production. And the vocals were much higher in the mix, again taking away from the whole mystique of their original sound, where the vocals were a rumbling thrum alongside the bass.
But as I listened to The Process of Farmakon again and again, its secrets were slowly revealed to me. And now I find myself liking this record more and more, precisely because it doesn't sound like the same old Skepticism. There's the much riffier guitar, making them a little more metallic and significantly 'heavier,' and what I heard as crappy production now seems deliberate, a sort of reverby ambience adding to their peculiar sound. The melodies, sorrowful and mournful, are now much more present and make the whole sound even more dismal. The whole thing just seems more intense and driving, but still D O O M. And the weird bubbling cauldron sounds all over track two just add to the overall weirdness and convince me even more that Skepticism are the only living masters of doom!!!! Now when are they going to put out another goddamn full length?!?!'
'I know that things can be goofy and cool, you know, Sin City and Star Wars exist, but with this album, I think that Skepticism have found a way to be both goofy and bleak at the same time. The reasoning behind this is apparent upon listening to about 5 seconds on this album, it''s the Hammond organ. It''s pretty much what you would expect to hear echoing out of 16th century castles, and its really quite goofy. Oddly enough, despite the fact the idea is in itself is so silly, the bleak atmosphere that the band can create is totally unharmed, and it doesn''t make any sense.
Skepticism''s third full length release is divided into two pretty clear halves, the first half consists of three shorter songs, all heavy on the goofy organ, and the second consists of the bands more traditional lengthier roomy pieces with the keys used for a more orchestral goal. The effect is surprisingly good, if not intentional. The sillier tracks are certainly more likely to jump out and grab you and put a big drooling smile on your face initially, but over the course of the songs the organ becomes more of a medieval mood setter while the riffs drag you into their pit of despair. The result is by the time the slower, deeper tracks come around you''ll be pretty much sucked into the album, and in a better mindset to really absorb the brilliance that''s laid in front of you. I have no idea if this was intentional, but it’s the effect the track listing creates.
Farmakon isn''t your usual crushing chords type of funeral doom album, instead it uses quiet and lightly distorted melodies to build amongst grand keyboard work, either used in a orchestral sense or in the medieval hammond organ style. Even as things get heavy, the band relies on bleak and majestic melodies on the guitar, with the majority of the heaviness coming from the low vocals and louder orchestration. It’s this lack of heaviness, even more so than the daunting length of some of these songs that can make this album a little bit hard to enjoy without total focus.
This need of focus is why those strange opening tracks work so well, they have something attention grabbing to get you into the right mindset for the last three songs, in which the true majesty of this album really lies. The first three songs are of a reasonably high pace and the tribal drumming is certainly an attention grabber too. Apart from the organ, the drums are certainly the stand out on these songs, the usual plodding of the genre is replaced with what in the context of the genre could be considered frantic and busy. Lasse Pelkonen plays unique, nearly tribal styled drumming with busy tom driven work. With that said, this music is still quite miserable, "Farmakon Process" easily being the darkest of the lot, with it''s oddly atonal lead riff during the last few minutes, and "Shred of Light, Pinch of Endless" being something that one would struggle to call funeral doom. Repetitive and growing sure, but the tempo is up fairly high, and the drumming so very busy, with a main riff that hits sharply, probably closer to regular death/doom. It''s an interesting and attention grabbing way to start the album, with barely a heavy droning chord to be heard, and the songs move swiftly between one another.
However, once the Untitled track rolls around, it''s clear something is different, the song takes its time getting started, offering up some extremely minimal ambience, rather than the near acoustic strumming which occupies the earlier part of the albums softer sections. The overall theme feels darker, an effect that runs for the last 40 minutes of the album and simply doesn''t let up. The riffs are heavier, the melodies more involving and the whole affair suddenly feels a lot more artistic. The songs don''t just run from one to another, now we get exposed to a few minutes of pained gasping and minimalist mood setting, it feels like there''s more genuine soul to these songs. As comparably fun as the earlier tracks were, they simply cannot compete with the sheer darkness and grandeur that is held within the last three. The orchestration is huge, and riffs while being heavy feature surprisingly intricate picking. "Nothing" may be the absolute best example of the bands desire for grand, melodic funeral doom, as it lurches with a melody that manages to be majestic, heavy and miserable all at the same time, and it only grows to be bigger as the song carries on through it''s 12 minute run time.
There isn''t much that would really surprise a Skepticism fan, but the band''s ideas and unique musical sound is at its most developed. The production is excellent, with loud and bombastic keyboard work over muddy lower guitar work and louder, clear and precise lead melodies. The guitar seems to change tone when it needs to switch between droning and being beautiful. The drumming features excellent echoing toms, and messy, obscure cymbals, which make those tom based rhythms stand out even more. The vocals are mixed in low and rumble along as are needed, almost acting like the bands missing bass guitar, adding a thickness to the bands lower end and giving some of that heaviness that we all love in our funeral doom back.
Farmakon is another excellent release by one of the most well known bands in funeral doom, and is up there in contention to be their best. It has a better production than the earlier works, and hasn''t lost an ounce of the grand melody and misery that made the band stand out in the first place. The first few songs are kind of goofy in some ways, but they''re still excellent songs which add a helpful boost of character and memorability to the album. And once you hit those last three slabs of doom the payoff is worth any amount of silly castle music.'
'Skepticism uses little pieces on 'Alloy' that could be conceived as anthems: remembered for being dreary and used to the march of a darkened procession. The band still tips the scales and takes you out of the dreams of normality. This isn't measured in scoops like a lot of bands in extreme metal are, wanting to grab chunks and fling those chunks for shocking effects, but instead Skepticism measures their music pinch by pinch. A renowned chef that would never make a quick and speedy special television broadcast, but you have to admit when the meal, no the feast, is made by them, it is something that treats your taste buds to delicacies that are either mouth watering or mouth numbing; however you want to perceive it as a conditioning experience or served as an instant pleasure to your already tainted senses.
The long-faced band is back to shifts and slight alterations among their music with this newest full length recording. The last album you can imagine went for multiple different factions and ideas and not all of them went entirely together, or more precisely not all of them went together in the right order of things makes the real difference; the band attempted to balance it all, with only so many limbs to balance with. This has some shorter, manageable songs for Skepticism and I think comes off to fit the band better at this point specifically compared to the last full length as well. This includes some more rememberable guitar lines, the first track even uses palm mutes and higher placed leads. Otherwise they might carry the song writing with strums, but the delivery doesn't just use droning notes. The guitars have a particular tone to them, one that seems to walk casually with their head down while rummaging over distorted escalating thoughts. And the clean guitar is still mixed in with the music and it pertains just as much somberness as the rest of the glum juxtaposition.
Yes, the snare sound is better suited here than the last, where is was higher toned on varying tracks and conceivably there to be heard better. But this has it audible though most importantly without lessening its harder hitting quality, and it is of course dripping with a saturation of reverb to make it just that much more prominent. I can't get enough of it. And since the music isn't raging forward, it is extra loud when he does hit it one ritualistic moment at a time, like a spooky chiming grandfather clock just hit midnight and we're all in for it now. The vocals are still fittingly growled though less of a visitant than some of the last recordings in comparison to the other instruments. One of the middling tracks uses a melancholic sounding exasperation that is almost raspy, almost strained and is ultimately hard to describe giving it that much more ambiguousness. For the most part he seems to use more "umph" when applying them, doing so with some slight wailing and aren't just a monotone projection like you might think.
The organs still return as if The Phantom of the Opera took over their keyboardist's body and mind, or just the elderly lady who's mastered the Hammond at your local Sunday church put on a dark mask and persona for one of her grandsons. In all seriousness, I think they sound better when playing at a slower pace. For example, the pick up parts with the organ on their own during 'Antimony' can come off as warm-ups and take you sort of out of the atmosphere. Like, for instance, when you witness a drummer go through each of his drums before a show, almost like testing the waters in a way instead of treading the waters. At least to me, organs are a subtle instrument and come off as more mysterious or frightening when they are lessened; "less is more" is a well-known line that film-maker John Carpenter says, if that makes sense. Though when the band plays these live, I can only imagine that would change with the shear monolithic magnitude of the volume, leading to perfect audio-visual sensations, and then the vast and far stretching sound would put the cherry on top of a bittersweet cake. And I'd be ready to indulge in the whole thing. This includes other varying symphonic sounds and theatrical gizmos and gadgets that their only job is to pulsate your ear drums; rising up and down, enticing emotional reactions through traditional strings and other shadowy devices.
I can't call or proclaim this to be 'The ultimate return of the century' because some portions are fairly simplistic, even if measured out. Though overall the band persists still above and still beyond the line of normality. Combining the culmination of their past efforts, I feel the musicians aren't cut and dry at this point neither, with the five year gap between full lengths giving them enough time to produce another album with some more stand out features and additions. Some older fans might take a few spins to get used to some of their newer patterns, lines and shades, though it seems more approachable as an album to someone who isn't accustomed to ultra-slow doom I think while still not completely sacrificing one thing for the other. Skepticism could be a reviewer's/recommender's nightmare or even savior, with having to describe all of the different factions and additions that they serve up. Though as a band they consistently experiment, trying to slightly dodge where you'll think they'll end up while still maintaining their past motivations and ideologies. And I have to say that they still do that here. They push on as a group and have created a recreational activity that needs your full attention like any other hobby. For instance, having both ears interacting separately to two different mediums—e.g.: television and Skepticism—would do them a disservice. I guess we're so used to boring tour guides that we compensate by sneaking off on our own path. Yet when we find someone who is dedicated, their delivery seems to come out as second nature. They might stimulate our senses with luring stories that you'd never hear elsewhere: of how Van Gogh considered just clipping his finger nails instead of a more useful appendage, how the irony of the color-blind 'Erik the Der's name initially being read by a dyslexic, and then the most secret of all that William Wallace was really known as "Wall-Ace," the best mason this side of Scotland has ever seen; with his main intention to let you to know that the freedom's in the foundation not underneath barren kilts or in unsugared English tea. And then some guides are so good that they can gesture and you might gravitate to their movements. Are they cocksure? Nah, in the end they bend and fold into different shapes and sizes from something that can be called their own set of tools. A band that knows how to use these tools and bring out hidden secrets that a normal eye would look at and miss. Yet only the patient and detail oriented would find all of its underlying mystery, and you still may never know the process that they do it in.'