Saturnus
Saturnus in Ascension

Denmark’s Saturnus may not be one of doom metal’s most prolific bands with only four full-lengths and one EP over their roughly 20-year existence, but they have remained one of the most consistent and revered. Instead if cashing in on their uncanny talent for writing catchy tunes (just try listening to “Christ Goodbye” or “Empty Handed” without them becoming permanently embedded in your brain), they’ve continued to expertly navigate the treacherous path of lush, poetic melancholy. However, 2006’s Veronika Decides to Die did see a subtle shift – perhaps due to the departure of longtime members, Kim Larson (guitar), Brian Hansen (bass), and Jesper Saltoft (drums) – to a slightly softer, meandering approach with more intermingling of mellow acoustic and clean guitar passages. In the years since, Hansen rejoined and three other members were swapped out, causing another subtle yet noteworthy change in direction.

If you heard the mid-paced goth metal romp of first single, “A Fathers Providence,” you might assume that they have finally indulged in their more accessible side, but you wouldn’t be further from the truth. The majority of the album is actually some of the purest, most somber death/doom the band has ever recorded. Most of their mellow wanderings have been contained to two entirely acoustic tracks, “A Lonely Passage” and “Call of the Raven Moon,” allowing the rest of the heavy songs to put their full weight upon you. That’s not to say these soft pieces are any less deserving of your attention, as they contain some of the album’s most moving moments, but the two approaches deal even more unrelenting emotional damage when separated in this way. This is most evident in the mercilessly bleak “Mourning Sun,” which is the most depressive song the band has ever composed – even down to lyrics about someone haunted by painful memories at the moment of death – and brings to mind former member Kim Larson’s equally amazing funeral doom project, Black Wreath. The rest of the album isn’t much brighter with weeping melodies aplenty that will have your heartstrings in knots long after the album is done spinning. However, there are a few powerfully uplifting moments, such as the grand chorus of “Forest of Insomnia” and last few minutes of “Between.” Every feeling is made all the more dramatic by the clear, warm, natural production of their legendary go-to producer, Flemming Rasmussen (if you don’t recognize that name, it’s time to brush up on your Metallica trivia).

Even the vocal approach is more direct than ever before. Vocalist, Thomas A.G. Nielsen (the band’s only consistent member), still utilizes his three signature styles, but his use of spoken word is more sparse outside of the acoustic tracks and his gruff shouts only appear in the aforementioned, “A Fathers Providence,” allowing his deep deathly growls to dominate and maximize the strength of the heavy material.

The digipak and vinyl versions of the album include the bonus track, “Limbs of Crystal Clear,” from their ‘94 demo, which contains some leftover death metal aggression from their initial incarnation, Assesino, mixed with a hint of the atmospheric doom that was to come. It’s interesting to hear how mature they sounded even at this early stage of development, but I wish the song had been re-recorded since it sounds like the original tape received some damage over the years. However, that’s a minor imperfection on an otherwise flawless release, especially since it’s an added on bonus and not really part of the main album.

I think it’s safe to say that longtime fans will not be disappointed and this is also a good album for newcomers the start with. That is, if they can find a copy of it as it seems to be more limited than a Black Twilight Circle cassette. What gives, Cyclone Empire? This deserves better distribution. Availability issues aside, this band sounds rejuvenated and more determined than ever. Let’s just hope this current lineup can stick together because it sounds like they have a good thing going.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Adam Palm
March 15th, 2013

Comments

  1. Commented by: stiffy

    Very good review, Adam! you nailed it. Amazing album that is probably their best to date. Just gripping.


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    I actually don’t know this band at all but your detailed writeup and descriptions has put them on my to-listen list for the day. Off to Spotify!


  3. Commented by: Adam

    Thanks, Stiffy! Gaba, you’re going to be humming “Christ Goodbye” all weekend.


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