Review: Crystal Darkness “Ascend Saturnine Nebulae” [Red Snow]

Review: Crystal Darkness “Ascend Saturnine Nebulae” [Red Snow]

- in Reviews
Score 73%
Mildly evocative
73 %
User Rating : 3.1 (1 votes)

By the late 90’s, the better known doom/death metal bands had abandoned the paths of doom and while this must have been a disappointing period for many fans of the style, few bands still took inspiration from the earlier giants of this genre. You could still find a variety of Anathema-inspired bands doing their thing in the late 90’s, for instance. The short-lived Sculpture embraced the sound of Serenades with no shame, while Lacrimas Profundere hinted an obvious interest in The Silent Enigma with Memorandum. Today’s topic, Crystal Darkness, doesn’t shy away from wearing their Anathema influences on their sleeves and fortunately, they’re decent at what they’re doing, too.

As with many other doom/death metal bands from this era, Crystal Darkness put more emphasis on creating atmosphere than riffs and while this isn’t an issue per se, they do possess some of the same clumsy traits that Anathema had a thing for during their earlier days. For one thing, you’ve got plenty of spoken word sections that get a little tiring. Plenty of them appear – either as an introduction or in between sections and since both deliveries feel more stoic than anything else, they don’t provide any emotional aftertaste at all. Otherwise, you’re left with gruff vocals that give the album the rougher edge that it requires, even if they’re devoid of any raw emotion that you’ve come across on plenty of other doom/death metal albums, while distorted riffs slowly operate between the cleaner elements.

As you might have guessed, Ascend Saturnine Nebulae isn’t much of an overly dramatic affair, nor does its material drive forward in a riff-centric manner. Neither of these things matter too much though, but what does become problematic are the occasional awkward arrangements that are more of a head scratcher than anything else. ‘The Marble Statue of Thy Holy Soil’ doesn’t make the best first impression; spending a little too long wandering onward with no clear destination in sight, before turning into a mass of distorted soundscapes with its baggage of crunchy power chords that provide its heaviness. ‘In Midst Eternal Snow’ gets its points across slightly faster, yet it’s another clumsy mix of deep cutting chords crushing next to the bellowing growls, unnecessary spoken sections and a whirlwind of a guitar solo near the end. Indeed, I could have done with some re-arrangements here and there and it’s safe to say that we’re not dealing with the most efficient musicians out there in this case.

Although it’s rather rare, Ascend Saturnine Nebulae is one of those strange albums that becomes more enjoyable once you’re a few tracks in and while that’s certainly unexpected, it’s a change for the best. ‘Thousands of Flies on Her Pale Body’ rapidly changes from a calm offering of spoken word and slick gothic rock licks to mildly heavy palm-muted territory of early Paradise Lost. It’s a beautiful summary of old fashioned gothic-esque doom/death metal with an ethereal, yet metallic edge to it. Surprisingly enough, even the two long tunes that appear at one point work alright, too. ‘Mirthless Romanesque Sculpture’ sounds as moving as Somehow Ascend Saturnine Nebulae gets – with weighty, yet tragic guitars pounding their way around some of the better cleaner passages, yet my favorite cut appears at the end. ‘A Feast Among Flowers’ is a towering epic that displays a variety of influences with superb results. Hazy, post-punk guitars that resemble The Cure’s Faith interweave with exotic death metal leanings of The Karelian Isthmus-era Amorphis and at last, you’ve got some grand guitar harmonies of Anathema’s Pentecost III (for a specific point of reference, think of ‘We, The Gods’). It’s quite a mix and the contrasts are quite something, absolutely – yet everything comes together in a cohesive fashion and you can be assured that it’s a rewarding final number.

Verdict: Crystal Darkness may not appeal to everyone; as they’re neither about non-stop busy riffs, nor do they manage to evoke much emotion in ways that better bands are capable of. Instead, it’s best to think of Crystal Darkness as a mildly evocative band and whether that’s problematic will rather depend on your expectations of doom/death metal itself.

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