Finland do many things extremely well. Ultra-filthy and harsh black metal and noise, ultra-cheesy and hideously melodic power metal, knife-fights and alcoholic binges, suicide, strange language… but most of all, DOOM. From THERGOTHON via UNHOLY and SKEPTICISM to DOLORIAN unto gravity-defying Lovecraftean monsters like TYRANNY and WORMPHLEGM – allude to their peaking the international suicidal statistics; the Finns generally ain’t a happy people.
When this album, the second from Suomi para-doom mongers UMBRA NIHIL arrived, I was pleased – nay, stoked – to see that it was inspired by late 19th century weird fiction writer William Hope Hodgson’s masterpiece, “The House on the Borderland”. That novel, written around the turn of the previous century, might just be one of my favourite horror novels, eclipsing even a lot of Lovecraft’s writing (who, in case you wondered, looked up to Hodgson). The main narrative in the novel is transcribed from a diary found near a ruin somewhere in the Irish wilderness, the entries haphazardly and confusingly describing the nightmarish visions and hauntings of the unnamed hermit who lived in the srange house on the borderland. I will not describe the surreal events that make up most of the diary entries, but they range from weird pig demons to dizzying transtemporal interstellar travels. Here’s what Lovecraft had to say: http://home.clara.net/andywrobertson/nighthpl.html. Find it and read it, or feel sorry for yourselves missing out on one of the greatest works of early supernatural horror.
Anyhow, this is not a book review. Umbra Nihil – who seem to be doing their best to avoid the “doom” tag, defining themselves as “unidentified slow metal” – perform on this album five rituals on this literary work. They describe their influences as such: “slow doom flavoured metal, 70’s prog rock, Zeuhl, Voïvod and maggot-infested Heavy Metal in general”. What Umbra Nihil are doing here with doom metal is actually parallel to what In The Woods did to black metal – twisting and deranging the genre into something viable as psychedelic rock, heading straight for the dizzying stars and endless cosmos’ depths, be it into the mind or into deep space. It is a pity that the sound is rather weak and flat, and that some of the sections sound a bit unrehearsed, especially the guitar leads – slow metal need complete tightness and wider production than this to be completely convincing. The vocals are also quite weak at points, especially during the first four or five minutes of the album, where the effect (a phaser, I think) drags it down. But that’s it for negative response.
After these first five tedious minutes, a first guitar solo kicks in, and the psychedelic influences begin to bloom, and there is more to come of this. Heavy psych-rock sections tread as if through quicksand at decaying paces, morphing into near-epic doomery. And, as should be, it’s HEAVY, at points a completely logical continuation of the holy cow of Black Sabbath’s début. The heavier sections then flow into very contemplative, eerily calm sections; comfortable yet uncanny, only to explode into short bursts of black thrashing metal. The word flow is here imperative. The sections of the songs come intuitively; they aren’t cut and pasted together like some metallic jigsaw, but merge naturally into each other, emanating directly from the Borderland through the musicians. I can hardly tell where the tracks being and end, but that is irrelevant; the album is a ceaseless row of merging segments rather than songs.
All in all, little is left to say on The Borderland Rituals. It’s a very fine album, often atmospheric, journeying far and wide, unfortunately hampered by its weak sound (I blame Devo of Marduk who mastered it at Endarker) and almost insecure-sounding guitar lines… but it’s clear that the music comes from deep inside the musicians, and I am more than willing to follow them into whatever weird and dark spaces they traverse. The latter half of the album definitely grows larger and more important than the first two tracks; the instrumental “Sea of Sleep” carries some amazing leads – think a Finnish rendering of In The Woods’ Omnio suite – only to end after seven minutes with the searing wasteland lament of the Harmonium. The chilling wails and tense vocals of the closing 14 minute epic “The Sign of Death” perfectly encapsulates the astral claustrophobia of Hodgson’s nightmare visions, and the last five minutes crescendoing into madness, at the end falling into the wind-swept deep space of ambient artist Jääportit, is the absolute peak of this album.
For those psychonauts who don’t mind their doom with more than a little hint of psychedelic rock and astral landscapes, The Borderland Rituals is for you.
Release: December 2008
Label: Epidemie Records
Avantgenre: Supernatural Psychedelic Doom
Official site: http://www.umbranihil.net/
Review online since: 29.03.2009 / 18:24:09
1. Welcome To The Borderland
2. Open The Gate
3. Leaving The Body
4. Sea Of Sleep
5. The Sign Of Death