I was about to write the opening for this review, throwing a couple words down about how 2016 was such a great year for metal that even now, in the final week of the year, there’s still great music to check out, first among them is this stellar EP from Irish atmospheric doom merchants Soothsayer. Then I thought about the the Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away” which at nine minutes is anything but quick (but still stellar) and was deciding if I could make a play on that and tell you, the loyal Nine Circles reader that in this case since At This Great Depth is only two tracks totaling about 25 minutes (again: still stellar) that it would indeed be a quick one. Then I thought, why not do both? Which I just did. Badly. Anyway, onward to some great music.
Did I mention I was on pain medication? Yeah, I’m on pain medication. Also muscle relaxers, which syncs right up with the kind of music Soothsayer makes because one of the things I love most about this kind of doom is the false sense of security it can provide. Your body relaxes as the dirge-like procession begins, you let the atmosphere envelop you, your thoughts swirling through a vortex of masked pain until you’re shaken by a seismic shift as harrowing vocals mirror the anguish the body can’t ignore. That’s what great doom does, and that’s what Soothsayer accomplishes, encompassing components of post-metal, black metal, and funeral doom without quite sounding like any of them. Formed in 2013 from the remains of Íweriú – Hughes, Soothsayer released their debut The Soothsayer in 2015, showing a confidence in the form they would pursue in an expanded form on At This Great Depth. Leaning a little bit more on the post-metal side, there are some truly beautiful moments on “33 From the Sun” and “Lunar Correspondence” that strike a balance between early Isis with more death-driven vocals.
At This Great Depth opens with the massive “Umpire,” a 16-minute exercise in tectonic shifts, revealing hidden depths where the sound organically rises and falls back into the mantle of the earth. The first 5 minutes slowly builds layer upon layer of tones, buzzing wasp-like lines take a hard left as more languorous cleaner lines echo in the left channel. The drums move in and out of the spaces, meeting, syncing and then moving on from the bass lines as a deep rumbling voice begins to intone. When you have something as heavy as this, space and separation are essential, lest everything gets swallowed in a cacophony and deadens the impact. That doesn’t happen here, and when “Umpire” kicks it into the high gear with blackened vocals roaring it’s a testament to how doom can stay ferocious without resorting to excessive speed or confusion. Closer “Of Locusts and Moths” lets its black metal roots show through a little more, starting and stopping in funeral fits and bursts until the 6 minute mark where things get downright majestic. The drums pound and you get two minutes of true head-banging glory until everything stops, dead and gone.
One more pill, and the world washes away, letting me drift into a fog where I can stare into the bottom of my pain and see it transformed. Soothsayer does the same thing, taking the pain of the world and falling with it to an infernal bottom where it’s embraced and molded into an exquisite dream of darkness and death. This is essential doom, and a fantastic, painful cap to the ache of 2016.