Stark, obsidian funeral doom metal with low-toned clean vocals — on the surface, there doesn't seem to be much about FUNERAL to set them apart from so many other purveyors of bleak, depressive sound. But while there are reference points – early KATATONIA, SWALLOW THE SUN, RAPTURE, DIABOLIQUE, OPETH — all are tangential to the unique, bleak take on doom that FUNERAL offer. Anguish channeled into Gregorian chant, welling emotions in a minimalist musical frame, sonic space filled with leaden open chords and primal pounding rhythms… FUNERAL are the essence of timeless, cathartic gloom.
Even if they weren't a musical powerhouse, FUNERAL would evoke disquieting feelings with Frode Forsmo's vocals alone. Never growling (admit it, that's a surprise), Forsmo prefers instead to deliver melancholy, multi-tracked chants in a resigned, almost conversational baritone. When the vocals are layered together, for a choral effect, it's enough to send shivers down your spine, and it creates an achingly lonely, misery-laden atmosphere.
Couple those with the sorrowful music — huge walls of dark chords augmented with sobbing strings and propelled by plodding, crashing drums – and you've got a sound that will drive the sunniest people into catatonic torpor. It's solemn, somber and utterly without hope, yet there are enough guitar and synth-string flourishes to avoid monotony and provide aching beauty amid the endless procession of doom riffs.
There's not much else to say, except to point out the usual caveat — a little of this style goes a long, long way if you're not a fervent devotee or in a particularly morose mood. Individual songs have a few minor flourishes (the slightly more aggressive section in the middle of "Red Moon" which offsets the resigned vibe of the rest of the song), but it all tends to wash over the listener in a gray fog, an exercise in sound and style over hook and song. FUNERAL are aptly named, and their glum eulogies will bring a select, pale few to tears with their wrenching beauty and despair. A brilliant dark masterpiece, but one best consumed in small doses in a relatively healthy frame of mind!
(P.S. RIP to guitarist Christian Loos, who passed away late last year after the recording of this album.)