Pantheist have obviously heard Skepticism. This CD (six tracks, just over thirty three minutes) opens on a church organ note that not only ties it to the recognized sound of that greatest of all doom bands, it was also used by Skepticism as well on their 'Lead and Aether' (in the beginning of 'The March and the Stream', the first song) album to reach back and set a sonic connection to Thergothon, who used a similar organ swell in the midst of their song 'Everlasting' on their one and only full-length. Besides this, there aren't really many connections between these two well-known groups and Pantheist - the notice of influence, to be sure, but Pantheist aren't trying to copy either of these bands. I believe, rather, that the main focus of Pantheist is the construction of a religious, sacred atmosphere through the meeting of their imagery and musical style - the re-creation of a Catholic's memories, perhaps, the sound of an orthodox Christian's dreams. With the church organ, the vast spaces and empty rooms in their sound, we go to thoughts of Catholic iconography, accepted notions of God, the vocabulary of theology, the silences of mass, close patterns of sound in the midst of wide naves and embracing altars...the rustle of surrounding sacristans, candles guttering low, incense burning, the swishing of robes, the creaking of church pews, a low murmur of prayer...that ambiance, extracted, purified, and then expanded upon and put under an aural microscope, an amplifier, until the lowest and most secretive of tones become swollen, turgid, and thick, like great twisting ropes of black water. Pantheist (who is really only two people - one of whom is Kostas, a writer and reviewer at the Doom-Metal.com website) convince the listener through the sheer massive weight of the material alone - the song structures are kept simple, minimalist, clean and free of cluttering debris, the guitars build walls of gray stone brick by shattered brick, the vocals - from low whispers and chants to chorus wails and an earthquake roar - echo inside this structure, soar upwards towards stained glass windows, and then disappear back into silence.
The overall feeling is one of mourning, of course, but there is also something of a perverse, eager light for life in these musicians' eyes, and out of the ashes of this music we turn again from death, from the atmosphere of the tomb, to an aggression aimed outwards at those who would mock the silence of this cathedral with a misunderstanding scorn or blasphemous laughter. I can't tell whether this band are Christians or not, I don't have the lyrics to this album, but one can't ignore the feeling of respect for ritual that fills this music.
The first song proper, 'Time', at times has Disembowelment written all over it (especially in the reverb-soaked vocals), and the work of other doom bands - not so much in the elements or instrumentation as in the general feel of the song - but I still think it has enough idiosyncratic characteristics coursing through to claim that it must be an important monument for this band. Examples of this novel approach are the different tempos this song moves through (and the ways which those are connected), the midpaced grooves at the center of the piece, the blasting drum machine work at the end, the dark carnival organ additions, etc. While most doom bands seem to want to labor to create one or two key atmospheres through a repetition of song fragments, Pantheist have the originality (or the inexperience, I can't decide which - either way the result is the same) to keep their songs flowing through different segments, ideas, and specific sounds, creating a narrative, a sure progression of material. This is a more traditional songwriting than the kind bands like Skepticism usually employ - there the songs open all at once, at the very beginning (expanding outwards across the horizon) and the first few bars/frames of a composition set the pattern for the rest of the song. Here we actually have a slow unfolding, a story to walk through. One exception is the second song, 'Lust', which uses the later introduction of the guitars to basically mirror and set up a foundation for the piano melody that begins and ends the work, so this song begins slow and soft, expands outward, and then collapses on itself again, returning to the original theme in a circle. This is a very, very old technique - but it still works, doesn't it? The third song, 'Envy Us', is the closest, probably, to Skepticism or the 'funeral doom' style, sounding like a mortuary procession in slow motion, complete with an echoing chorus bursting through the guitars above the rest of the music - a very nice touch, and one of the most original elements on this album. This song opens with a piano segment as well, suddenly swelling into caustic waves of distortion and a grim, crawling rhythm, only to fall back to silence, the piano alone, and an undeniable poisonous melancholy before beginning the entire thing over again. Inner and outer ideas in the sound echo each other - the guitars being reflections of the frail piano inside, and, in reverse, the piano serving to set a foundation for the gray march of the rhythm work. While the choruses used here might sound almost 'triumphant', it is with the same morbid requiem intonation that makes most church music sound like rituals for the preparation of corpses, as there can not be a song of joy in the Church without references to death or an afterlife: in the hymnal, bodily joy is always compared to the joy of the afterlife. It is this song (whose main melody, by the way, you'll probably recognize if you like classical music), the third, that really sets this band apart for me, as the entire feeling of the piece is one of medieval supplication, intense pain, and a brooding, almost unearthly Catholic atmosphere...at times I can imagine the voices of the chorus as the sounds of drowned victims of the Inquisition. The result is truly haunting.
For those of you who have been seeking an original, new voice in the doom scene, one that isn't given to trends or well-worn clichés, you owe it to yourself to check out Pantheist, as these two men are starting something sincerely worth listening to here. I can only hope they continue to expand upon this first demo release, I would really like to hear more from them...