2004, Unsung Heroes Records
At this late date in the history of this musical project/band (this being the fourth CD creator Toby Chappell has released in five years), one would assume that the instigator behind these occult, moribund tones, would - at long last - have either settled upon a strict stylistic regimen, a distinct pattern of evolution for his self-willed entity, or slipped into a form of senescent repetition that gave voice, at least symbolically, to his (possible) frustration with the genre. Doom metal - especially doom death (or funeral doom or whatever you want to call it) is not an avenue of musical expression that is open, usually, to grand leaps of innovation or idiosyncratic, bold statements. Ever traditional, ever morose and conservative, this strangest (and oldest) of all scene subgenres creeps on hands and knees as other manners of experimental metallurgic aesthetics soar past it screaming, never looking back...two faltering steps to the rear, one could say, for every palsied lurch forward. Even so, the past few years has seen something of an...explosion (not really the right word, but oh well) in the base number of doom collectives scarring the landscape, rumbling, tumbling, stretching forth and falling back. Among these there are a fair number who adhere to the darkest paths of genre exploration - hoping, one would assume, if not to break through the rigorous rules of what is doom and what is not, to at least adequately, in a workmanlike fashion, make a few breaks for the fences, and map the territory open to them. Summoned before a posthumous inquiry they can acquit themselves satisfactorily (at least in their own minds), confident that if they were not pioneers (and would not be remembered) they at least made a cursory series of attempts at scaling the mile-high seemingly impenetrable wall of aesthetic definition that encloses and (some would say protects) stifles the "advance" of doom's progression and artistic becoming or growth. Thankfully, at least on this release, I believe Chappell has decided to toss certain strains of binding caution to the wind and at least push what he has taken from the subgenre forward...still confidently within a certain "doom sphere" and so liable to be stacked by pundits with others investigating similar (taken at face value) waters, but also idiosyncratic enough to keep my interest and allow that Eyes of Ligeia, at the very least, definitely has its own (to be exacting, and critical) style-within-a-style.
So, while still using long stretches of repeated riffs (repetition is usually the key to a building of "atmosphere" in metal, everyone knows this) over and over, and stringing these simplistic riffs or riff patterns together in a pleasing, non-jarring fashion, in a very relaxed, easy, open manner, Eyes of Ligeia does not so much oppress or depress with its signature fashion of doom metal as it just slowly entwines itself around and through the listener's consciousness with semi-baroque, polished guitar melodies and overarching, swelling (echoing, filling) keyboard additions. Otherworldly, far-reaching, these synths are used in a very sparse, minimalist mode which rides sedately behind the pointed guitars and serves to cushion their constant give and take, their rarely-varied lancing, bleeding through the spaces between string notes to color and provide sustenance to one's ear in the form of a backdrop, a tapestry that disguises motive and method, and the creator's hand. The fourth track here, "From Out of the Abysses Between The Stars", is a ponderously paced ambient issue that does not require repetitive drum rhythms to build up a beautiful, reverberating, star-laced atmosphere of cosmic repose and luxurious nihilism. It does not need the "touch of the human" to bring evocative powers to bear upon the listener. In the other songs, we have an extremely sedate, morose, astonishingly minimalist drum style combining with slow, rough-breathing, half-whispered chants to round out this funeral doom (the "pure" style of which is encountered in the middle of the fifth song, "To Call The Slow Sailing Stars by Name") summoning, with the experimentation and compositional risk-taking seemingly cresting to the back of the album, and following a progression from the simpler, more rapidly turned riff concatenation (or pointed lack of the same in select segments) from the first two songs to a much more drawn-out, sullen, epic aesthetic in the final minutes.
What I admire the most about this creation, however, is really just....the tones used. Chappell, whether deliberately and quite consciously, or completely by accident (or some fortuitous combination, half in and half out, of both) achieves a production sound here that makes his music sound unique. All the instrument sounds are atypical. The guitar sound most noticeably so, it being a sort of washed-out, retro, "classic rock" (for lack of a better term) or psychedelic-leaning (Floyd and then the Kraut Rock bands) overdrive configuration that I haven't heard from a doom band since St. Vitus or Pentagram's earliest material. While the smooth-toned, retro rock or "classic doom" sound from those releases comes through to the listener through a combination of rock-influenced guitar sounds from the band, production faults, and worn out analog recordings, here it is replicated in a novel fashion by Chappell in a clear, bold, crystalline distortion and a cutting tone that captures the bell-like tolling of each note in his arachnid riffing superbly. The keys are decidedly full and rich, mellow, like an older analog synth, and also evoke earlier psychedelic or straight rock bands. The entire recording, though (and one should turn it up very loud to get this room-filling effect), has an echoing, ambient feel of distance, timelessness, and a sort of eternal vigilance, which suits Chappell's Lovecraft-inspired themes extremely well. I hope Chappell will not be upset if I say this is a very good album to fall asleep to...it certainly puts me in a pleasurable, dark trance - even in the middle of the day.