“We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory, experience, and feeling—programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody.”
This quote from True Detective opens Marianas Rest’s sophomore album ‘Fata Morgana‘. The quote brilliantly encapsulates everything beautiful about this album along with the few issues I have with it. It also shows how this record is somewhat a deconstruction of its genre.
The promotion materials for this record declared that it is for fans of Insomnium. Insomnium is after Alice in Chains, probably my favorite band. So I was intrigued. The promotional material got it about half right. Musically it does have some significant similarities, especially in the melodic spectrum. They are both very melancholic melodic death metal bands from Finland with significant doom influences. However, the emotional content is rather distinct. Insomnium’s songs are despairing, yes, but there is a triumphant aspect to their music, there is a “Will to Power” and an “Amor Fati”. It is the soundtrack to a heroic, but doomed last stand. Marianas Rest on the other hand is substantially more grim. Sonically and emotionally, it’s roughly half way between Insomnium and Forgotten Tomb. It has uplifting chords echoing this muscular determinism, but they are quickly subsumed in an ocean of regret and despair, both frankly stated with an utter lack of sentimentality. To conclude this short comparison of these bands emotional repertoires, I will make two extremely nerdy analogies. If Insomnium is Bioware or the more Romantic aspects of German Expressionism (minus the weirdness) then Marianas Rest would be Obsidian or The New Objectivity. They are both in discussion with the other. Insomnium is a paragon of its genre conventions, it portrays life as lonely, grim and defeating but ultimately majestic, heroic and worthwhile. That band’s music has an extreme confidence in the importance of the self and of subjectivity. The music of Marianas Rest, however, subverts the unstated thesis of the melancholic melodeath subgenre. According to the opening quote of their record and the emotional timbre of their music, the self is an illusion. Therefore, the subjectivity that makes life meaningful according to the rest of the genre is naïve and dismissible.
In my last review the major criticism I had was one of a lack of emotional specificity and nuance. Marianas Rest has no such problem. The exact timbre of their sadness, is the point in which one’s despair just barely begins to dissolve the self. It’s the point where one begins, but only just begins to accept one’s depression and feels that it is deserved while still resenting and seething against the causes of this depression. This is obviously an extremely specific emotion, which means that this record will always have a place for us who fall down to that point. But it counter-intuitively dulls itself, because at the exact moment when this emotion occurs, the self feels a bit ill-defined and dismissible. Still it can be an insightful emotion and one worth exploring, and this record is not remotely as annihilative as say the output of Dragged into Sunlight.
The major problem with writing a review of this record is its remarkable consistency. Each song explores the same emotional space and there is not a sense of urgency to the composition, nor is there intended to be. Marianas Rest is very open about their music exploring and inhabiting a mood. Compared to most other death metal this is a very languorous record. Being an expert execution of its intent, it cannot be considered a fault per se, but it does prevent it from being exceptional or having easily citable moments. That “one riff” doesn’t come back and there is not a lot of developments or returns. The record begins grim and slowly becomes more dire, until it reaches its bleakest track ‘The Advent of Nihilism’. However, this song is still not very different to the others, it is simply the darkest point in a very slow journey. Being the penultimate track of the record could indicate that the closer would be triumphant, but it isn’t. The last song is a bit lighter, but only just. This emotional and sonic consistency means that while perfect for the intended emotional space, it is only readily enjoyed by those already occupying it, and will be difficult to get into if you approach it from anther mood.
The sonics of the record perfectly encapsulate this mood. They are distant, nocturnal and misty sounding, almost clammy. The distortion is thicker and has more bloom than most death metal. You can almost hear the vacuum tubes screaming in protest. The drums are more remote in the mix than is common, though their micing is still full and round. There is a section in ‘Horrokseen’ that seems to be a buildup, but the buildup is denied and the sound of the drums are buried lest they be too prideful and warlike. The keyboard and cello are wonderfully used to create a sense of space and an atmosphere of longing. The vocals are superb for this style of metal, sounding genuinely anguished. The entire band sounds cohesive and whole. The album art also effortlessly amplifies reflects the mood of the record itself. While it is not as visually arresting as say, the album art of ‘Mirror Reaper’ it does what it sets out to do perfectly.
In conclusion ‘Fata Morgana’ is a precise and thoughtful record, perfectly honed in to what it wants to achieve. While I will not be in the emotional space to listen to it constantly, and I have a different world view than the album, it will be a record I return to when I am in the right place for it. I very much recommend this album to fans of the genre or of darker death/doom hybrids.
Release date: March 12, 2021
Label: Napalm Records
- Glow From the Edge
- Pointless Tale
- The Weight
- Fata Morgana
- Advent of Nihilism
- South of Vostok