Nov 1, 2012

Saturnus 'Saturn In Ascension' review


SATURNUS
'Saturn In Ascension'
(Cyclone Empire)

There are some bands that just completely transcend their perceived genre confines they're that far ahead of most of their peers in sound and stature that no matter if they were to release a shitty album tomorrow you still have to sit back and admire the sheer magnitude and impact their influence has had in a certain corner of music. It's been nigh on twenty years now since their momentous debut 'Paradise Belongs to You'; the dismal Danish doomsters Saturnus are back with a full length after a barren six years with their gloom ridden soul siphon and believe you me, they're just as fucking miserable as before. I'm not going to lie when I say I wasn't holding out a considerable amount of hope for this release when I heard about it, I mean I wasn't expecting it to be bad, there's just only so many times you can release nigh on perfect album after nigh on perfect album, you've got to slip at some point surely? 


 

Their previous three albums have all been astounding slabs of melancholic doom/death and each different in their own unique way and straight from the opening notes of “Litany of Rain” I just knew this was going to be another classic. For those who're none the wiser as to who Saturnus are, they're one of doom metal's relatively unsung heroes with their heavily melancholic and gothic stylized brand of death doom, think of something along the lines of 'Angel and the Dark River' era My Dying Bride, Winter and Skepticism if you're looking for a close comparison as to what they sound like. 'Paradise...' is widely regarded as one of the genre's finest examples of this style and not without good reason, it's easily one of the top ten doom/death albums of all time. 'Saturn In Ascension' swings stylistically back towards the aforementioned album yet still incorporating elements from both the excellent 'Martyre' and 'Veronika Decides to Die' for a release which while extremely melodic and gothic in design, is still absolutely crushing in it's execution.

As I sit here with that familiar telling chill in the air, I can't help but feel that 'Saturn In Ascension' is exactly the perfect soundtrack to these portentous nights. “Litany of Rain” begins with some tasteful choral vocals before the guitar comes crashing down to slowly lumber through agony wrought riffs interwoven sporadically with those angelic chorals for ten minutes giving the impression of a black draped funeral procession, shorn by wind and lashed by rain. Simply put, if you were in a positive 'life is great' mood before you listened to this, you'll be knocking out the Prozac afterwards. Thomas' vocals are as impressive as ever, his death guttural a grave shaking growl while his clean vocals emotive if a little awkward at times. The new recruits on axe (or shovel) duty, Rune and Mattias play with such a conviction and familiarity that you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd been in the band from day one. The atmosphere which is compounded through their skull crushing, heavily encumbered riffs and forlorn, meandering leads is second to none and where the similarity to Skepticism comes to mind, though don't be mistaken as this isn't funeral doom, it's a tad more upbeat and dynamic than that, though it's inarguable that in the past Saturnus has certainly lent their sound to such bands. 


 

Such bands like Agalloch owe a great deal to these guys as well, again just listen to the debut and you'll hear what I'm talking about. Those delicate acoustic melodies and reflective, autumnal guitar passages present there return and are vividly present on “Wind Torn” and it bears a more than passing resemblance to Agalloch indeed. If ever a song threatened to tear your very soul out and nail it to a weather beaten cross then here you go, the guitar passages are mesmerizing and just welling in emotion and the vocals embracing a disconsolate abandon. It's entering the season of death and decay, and fuck if there's a song out there as fitting as this then I don't want to hear it. Depressing doesn't even cut it. “A Lonely Passage” and “Call of the Raven Moon” provide the non metal tracks this time around with the former a heart tugging soliloquy layered with acoustics and gentle piano passages. The latter is a good track also but comes close to being the only one here I would come close to calling filler material. The addition of the flute in along with the acoustics at the start was a nice idea but ultimately the song ends up being rather uneventful, not helped by the fact the spoken vocals sound a bit awkward and indifferent to be honest.

When your shortest track is still over five minutes, the quality and diversity which each track must contain becomes exceedingly important especially through a release this dauntingly intense and expansive, and something which 'Saturn In Ascension does well to maintain. The relatively brief “A Father's Providence” is a behemoth of a track with the most energetic rhythm here, a head-banger of sorts with more huge crunching riffs which gives us a slight glimpse to the bands primitive early roots with it's crude death gutturals interspersed with some tasteful piano work dancing underneath like droplets of water. As far as the second half of the album goes “Mourning Sun” is the standout track here, another with such an emotional burden that it'll bring you to your knees with its overbearing riffs weighing a tonne, slowly inching forward. Again I have to state how amazingly sublime the lead/solo work here is, just as it was all those years ago with Kim Larsen; the guitarist has the tone down to a tee so much so that the album would be a lot less memorable without, and guitar leads were never really a focal point with doom metal. Just listen to “Forest of Insomnia” and you'll know what I mean, the guitar work in it is similarly enthralling in the way it builds up to the climatic solo at the end.

'Saturn In Ascension' is pretty much a doom metal masterpiece, but then Saturnus are apparently only able deal in masterpieces as this is now their fourth. It's standalone in it's utterly agonizing brilliance, an emotionally draining, sprawling and pious journey of desolation laying clear all one's woes and grief for all to see, and another doom/death monolith in the genre to file alongside an untouchable legacy. Saturnus are finally back guys and they're here to show a new generation of pretenders just how the fuck it's supposed to be done. A hopeless, shining paragon of modern doom metal and one that'll you'll undoubtedly be hearing more about further down the road. Can these guys ever do wrong? It doesn't seem likely. A certain contender for album of the year. Buy or die. [10]
(Chris Cowgill)

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