Written by Kep
The Slow Death – Siege
Funeral death/doom from NSW, Australia
Releasing August 27 via Transcending Obscurity Records
Let’s talk about subgenres for a moment in the interest of better understanding Australia’s The Slow Death and their new album Siege. It’ll be quick, I promise.
At the intersection of death metal and traditional doom is death/doom, and bands of this style, in my opinion, usually fit in one of two general ideas: “deathened doom” (e.g. Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride), where the moody, melancholy emphasis of doom takes precedence and clean vocals sometimes stick around; and “doomy death” (e.g. Hooded Menace, Solothus), where the riffs and brutality of death metal lead. Now, to make funeral doom, you take death/doom and slow it way the hell down even more and lean toward melodies more than riffs, so that it gets all dirge-y, like wading in chest-deep molasses. We expect predominantly death growls, but clean vocals show up too from time to time.
The Slow Death, a five-piece out of Australia, straddles the line between death/doom and funeral doom without picking a side. Sometimes they’re firmly in the “deathened doom” realm, with desolate clean vocals and aching melancholy leading. At others, towering dirges of grief plod mercilessly with abysmal growls in true funeral doom style. Their clear strength is in creating atmosphere without pigeonholing their sound, and they do it extremely well with a synth-supported melodic approach.
Siege is the band’s fourth LP, and their first with Transcending Obscurity. As you might expect for the style, it’s a lengthy affair, with four tracks covering 63 minutes, and it does indeed feel that long. The songs ebb and flow, moving from restful reflection to anguished devastation to heartfelt passion and all the way back through again. When each track begins it’s like happening upon an organic moment that would’ve continued whether you’d been there or not; it’s like dropping into something that’s already begun.
In opener “Tyranny” you’ll find that the nostalgic guitar and synth intro feels like it was there before you pressed play. The heart-breaking funeral melody that follows, though, has a palpable impact when it arrives. Guitarist Stuart Prickett’s playing is compelling in spots like that, combining thick, strong tone with mournful lines that really speak. Then he starts a classic galloping doom chug with organ backing synth and clean vocalist Mandy Andresen begins to sing, and her voice is every bit as central to the band’s aesthetic as her keyboards. Her performance is heartfelt and stirring, and she runs the gamut from breathy and ethereal to full-throated wailing. Harsh vocalist Gamaliel brings the brutality to balance Andresen’s beauty with abyssal death growls, sometimes beneath sorrowful dirges and other times beneath those slowly galloping doom chords.
These elements work in tandem throughout Siege to create a soundscape that is both wistful and deeply regretful. Sometimes Andresen sails above ponderous funeral riffs, as she does ~3 minutes into “Pestilence”, and her fervent wail and the mournful guitars make a heartbreaking pair. At other times Prickett and bassist Dan Garcia’s instruments say plenty on their own, speaking forlornly in classic funeral doom counterpoint a la Mournful Congregation. There are plenty of moments of pensive meditation as well that provide a restful moment while still maintaining the gloomy atmosphere. They’re smartly spread throughout the tracks, too—a particularly effective one happens ~12 minutes deep into “Pestilence”. Those quick-chugging trad doom passages frequently crop up, helping the music from getting too stagnant, and when combined with Gamaliel’s unearthly growls they’re some of the most effective parts of the whole album. Around 3:30 into “Famine” the band does this, and then adds the chiming of unnerving church bells in a spectacular move that is absolutely haunting—it’s the kind of thing that sticks in the memory.
The lyrical focus of Siege is a weighty one as well, focusing on the ruinous downfall of a once-proud kingdom. The song titles tell the story all by themselves—“Tyranny”, “Famine”, “Pestilence”, “Ascent of the Flames”—and the lyrics expand on those ideas effectively. The use of somber doom to bring to life mourning for a golden age lost is a very clever one, and The Slow Death deserve praise for doing it so well.
Unfortunately, not every part of The Slow Death’s offering here is as stellar. I want to love the clean vocals unequivocally, but the melodies are sometimes meandering and a bit aimless; not many are memorable. I think Andresen is at her best when she’s pushing towards her upper register with intent, and the songs too often leave her voice wandering in its lower range without much direction. I also found a few of the sudden tempo-shifting transitions jarring, enough so that the change broke the atmosphere momentarily instead of adding to it. Because of these things, closer “Ascent of the Flames”, with its clever transitions and exclusively harsh vocals, stands out as a notable listen in a good way. I noticed some odd little hiccups in the production as well: calm, clean-tone sections will give way to a funeral doom wall of sound that somehow actually seems smaller and more empty, and it’s a buzzkill.
What the album does have in spades is melancholy and an aura of beautiful darkness, and when it comes down to it those are the things that triumph here. Flaws can be easily overlooked when the whole picture is as striking as The Slow Death has made this one, and for that reason Siege is worth your time. It’s a devastating story of downfall that will somehow both consume you and leave you refreshed.
Favorite track: Ascent of the Flames
Other reviews from around the web:
Invisible Oranges (US)
The Killchain Blog (UK)
Metal Epidemic (Czech Republic) 5/5
The Coroners Report (New Zealand) 9.8/10
Metal Temple (Greece) 9/10
Head Bangers Reviews (US)
Dioses Del Metal (Spain)
Deadly Storm Zine (Czech Republic)
Zephyr’s Odem (Germany)
Third Eye Cinema (US)
Mournful Sounds (Italy)
-Metal Roos (Germany)