It had been a few years since I properly listened to a Hanging Garden album, so when I heard they were releasing a new album this year, it made me want to see how and what the band was doing. Between this and their 2017 effort, the band had some line-up changes including a new vocalist, whose voice was featured in I Am Become, and expanded into what I like to call melodic death-doom. While I am heavily acquainted with death/doom – Swallow the Sun being one of the most prominent – this style of death-doom reminded me heavily of my favorite Draconian album, A Rose for the Apocalypse. Curiosity now fully piqued, I decided to see what The Garden was all about, and whether nostalgia was informing my enjoyment.
Spoiler alert: If this album is not a 2023 AOTY contender, someone come find me.
Right from the start, The Garden holds no punches, going straight for atmosphere and layers of melody that accentuate this deep sense of hope. Hanging Garden’s music is deeply rooted in the darker aspects of death-doom: think heavy guitars, slow musical pacing, and the vocal contrast between harsh vocals and the female-male clean dynamic. First track “The Garden” starts off in that regard: it’s quite slow, but then it gains traction when the vocals kick in, followed by the backing melody of both guitars accentuated by the drums. The music feels clear and refreshing, like you are breathing in mountain air. Even the harsh vocals that accompany the song don’t deviate from the crystalline atmosphere, making it feel like a song for spring. Once past “The Garden” second track “The Four Winds” announces the album’s energy and atmosphere change. Gone is the crystalline atmosphere, that fresh air that the first track provided. Here the music picks up in tempo, reminding you Hanging Garden can both write a catchy tune and retain some death metal tones. While it may be glossed over in favor of its melodic doom overtones, that death metal streak rears its head throughout the album’s first half. This is most evident in how the guitars can sound dissonant and downtuned, yet give the compositions texture and an easy flow from one sonic cue to the next. This comes to a head on sixth track “The Nightfall” where the death metal tones take precedence, giving us one of the most moving songs on the album.
On the second half of The Garden, from “The Stolen Fire” onwards the music returns to the doom aesthetic, coloring with darker tones and a slower tempo. Although the guitars still shine, the vocals and keyboards take precedence, giving this half an eeriness that seeps into the tracks, lending a certain sense of majesty and grandeur. Hanging Garden allows themselves to use bombastic, sweeping passages of vocals and other instruments, getting the listener to focus on the outstanding, “louder” parts of the music. Then, they shift back to the slower tempo, once again leaning towards to a doom “sound”. There are moments on this latter half where it seems as if you are looking at two contrasting parts of a whole. On one half, you have a more energetic output, akin to melodeath, but it doesn’t focus on the melodic aspect, given its primary focus on dissonant guitars. On the other, the band focuses more on the doom aesthetic, rather than on a doom sound. An apt comparison would be Katatonia’s Sky Void of Stars, where it sounds like doom because of how dark its music can become, but lacks the slow pace that Hanging Garden seems to favor. While it is a lighter doom sound, you cannot deny the fact that Hanging Garden retains a certain melancholy throughout The Garden, even at their most hopeful.
All in all, The Garden is an incredibly mature album, one where the band seems to innately understand what works for them and how to best express that in their music. After a few spins, I am deeply appreciative of the band’s dedication to their sound and their craft, even with lineup and sonic changes along the way. It seems that Hanging Garden are enjoying a dream of their own rebirth with The Garden, and I am excited to see where they go next.
The Garden is available now on Agonia Records. For more information on Hanging Garden, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages.