Death-doom is a subgenre that revels in contrasts. Originally, it was a recipe for dynamic intensity, following in the footsteps of Candlemass and the mighty Celtic Frost. Somewhere in the early nineties, however, bands like Paradise Lost and Anathema took the style into a more melodic and rock-based direction. It is in this tradition of prettified, melancholic doom that we should locate the Swedish outfit Vanha. The group was formed one summer evening in 2016 by two gentlemen from Trollhättan. A mere half year later, during the dark days of winter, they already surprise us with their first album Within the Mist of Sorrow.
As a whole, Vanha’s debut comes across as an atmospheric take on the romantic sound that has become synonymous with the output of My Dying Bride and early Katatonia. The production is full and modern. Thick guitars resonate deeply, but never to the point of crushing the arrangements. In other words, there’s plenty of room for other instruments. From the first notes of the record, a piano creeps into the music and somewhat later, bells, pipe-organs and (synthesized) strings make their appearance as well. Vocals alternate between a clean, almost spoken voice and standard guttural growls. Finally, the drums are simple, but effective in keeping everything together.
I like the fact that the individual songs are not too long. Each expresses a few musical ideas and then expires. That is why Within the Mist of Sorrow is best listened as a whole. The pace of the album is excellent: austere doom in front, more acoustics and experimentation in the centre and a fitting climax towards the end. Since all of this happens within 45 minutes, there is really no reason to skip any tracks.
The even numbers are the highlights, in my opinion. Into the Cold Light features a beautiful melody in the chorus section, which reminds me a bit of Camel’s Lady Fantasy. Not exactly the same style, but it’s always a plus to have a 70s reference in your review.
Reaching the End is my favourite. An ascending note pattern that repeats every four bars gives this rocking piece a nice wave effect. The fittingly-titled Desolation may be the creepiest thing on here. In the first half of the song, the vocalist delivers his bleak sermon against a background of haunting organ and sombre strings. In the second half, the song settles into a droning groove that ends abruptly, as if the devastation has reached the limits of human comprehension. Majestic strings dominate the final, all-instrumental track, perhaps to evoke the conquering forces of nature, which offer some kind of consolation to the suffering subject.
Considering this is a debut album, Vanha did an admirable job. The dynamic duo from Trollhättan has assembled a spacious package of melodic doom that sounds enticing and reasonably fresh, even if it strays far from the riff-based excitement I usually endorse. Maybe next time, they shall be able to leave the downtrodden paths of depression and deliver something that is truly entrancing.
Release date: December 20th, 2016
Label: Black Lion Productions
1. Old Heart Fails
2. Into the Cold Light
3. The Curse
4. Reaching the End
5. Dark Heart
7. The Curse