Funeral doom. Anyone outside the boundaries of metal would scoff at reading that and would probably think “just how is something born from loss, sadness and despair going to be any good let alone something that anyone would want to listen to.” The answer is: for the same reason anyone listens to anything and don’t judge a book by a cover you can’t read. On second full length, Extinct, Frowning demand just over an hour but in that time completely enthrall with some of the best funeral doom these ears have heard in quite some time.
Frowning is the one-man solo project of Val Atra Niteris who is also in Ad Cinerem and Heimleiden. Both of those bands lean more towards depressive and doomy black metal which gives this project more than enough of a solid foundation to build on. And since debut album Funeral Impressions was such a solid effort the footing is indeed strong. Everything that made the band’s debut good has gone from good to great this time out; the build up in emotion and tension that is never given an outlet, the mournful melodies that take an eternity to play out and even though there is some help vocally on the first two tracks (SG from Suffer Yourself and bandmate Hekjal of Ad Cinerem) Niteris’ vocals have grown exponentially to allow for absurdly low, grief inflicting guttural passages.
The biggest improvement, other than those mentioned, is in how perfectly Niteris keeps attention spans laser focused and especially on the longest song to date “Buried Deep.” A lone organ wails as the painfully slow but heavy guitars ease their way into fruition, a turn to atmospheric acoustics and funereal chants further drive emotions into the abyss. Then seemingly out of nowhere angelic choruses rise from below only to be extinguished by Niteris’ guttural moan. There’s literally an albums worth of material packed into this one song and it plays out just as anyone expects the final moments to be; the death itself followed by devastated family and friends, a rising of the soul and the hopes of salvation dashed in an instant. This is a picture perfect example of funeral doom and its capabilities on the listener: to fully embrace, envelope and then crush.
Funeral doom requires extreme patience; taking chords and stretching them out over minutes, drumming at a very slow bpm and the desire to not just let loose and go berserk all of a sudden are just a few traits one must possess. Niteris does, and executes all of these qualities extremely well. The amount of growth from 2014 is immediately apparent in the near ethereal chords at play on “Nocturnal Void” and the slight departure into monolithic but painstakingly slow doom on “Encumbered By Vermin” is a welcome addition. And to close the album with a sorrowful but excellent rendition of Frédéric Chopin’s “Marche Funèbre” would have, in lesser hands, been a train wreck but on this album and with this band the results are majestic.
On Extinct Frowning vault the nearly impossible task of being able to stretch into massive time spans with ease and finesse. A feat that up until this point only the originators and top examples of funeral doom have been capable of. But more to the point the fact that this album demands full and individual attention and keeps it marks this as a crowning achievement for this young band and for the genre as a whole. Don’t expect to be able to jump in for five minutes and understand the full scope but do expect that the time invested to understand it will be worth every last second.