Dec 4, 2012

Saturnus – "Saturn in Ascension" ...

One thing you have to say about Saturnus is they have at least been pretty good at releasing solid albums. Whether you like them or not, they are a band that is pretty hard to hate. Normally I stay clear of any kind of goth-tinged death doom and Saturnus are a good example of the Gothic come death doom style. Looking back at their 21 years as a band, they haven't been the worlds most productive band. They have only released 4 full length albums including this one but the wait between albums has always been worth it. This time around the wait has been 6 years but the band have released what might just be their best album yet. This is a big call on my part considering their late album ('Veronika Decides to Die') was about as close as they have ever come to releasing a fully fledged masterpiece but this new album gets even closer to that elusive "essential listening" status. As has been the way throughout their career, this album sees more line-up changes but just like in the past, it hasn't seemed to have affected the way they produced dark metal music.

The album is produced by Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Morbid Angel, Blind Guardian) and so as you can imagine, this sounds pretty damn good but it still comes down to the songs. Now in the past I have been a little critical of the band writing songs that tend to go off the rails from being too long or too overly emotional for their own good. 'Saturn In Ascension' still suffers from these some inconsistencies but compared to earlier albums it seems more solid than usual. The band have always played and wrote in the vein of Swallow the Sun, Draconian, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost and nothing has changed, even after a 6 year break between albums, it seems like time has stood still for Saturnus. Normally with most albums, I do a track-by-track review starting with the opening track. With this album I am going to review the albums second half first because that is where the albums only flaws seem to exist. Track 5, 'Mourning Sun' is twice as long as it should be with some of the albums weakest riffing. Like 'Mourning Sun,' 'Call of the Raven Moon' starts promising and interesting but falls into a heap from just dragging on too long without the ideas or dynamics to warrant its lengthy playing time.

'Forest of Insomnia' reveals the albums first real groove in almost 20 minutes and it is very welcome at this point in the albums playing time. There is good riffing and the somber leads are mesmerizing and do a good job at putting the listener in a trance-like state. Using strings and keys, the album closing 'Between' is also too long for the ideas it has but with so much going on with the song, it remains interesting right up its dying seconds. So the second-half is good but inconsistent, the first half of the album however is almost perfect. The album opening 'Litany of Rain' might just be the most memorable piece of music the band has ever written. Starting with female choirs and ambience that slowly build into huge, dramatically crushing doom riffs, this track is a gem. This track that pushes the 11 minute barrier has something none of the tracks in the albums second half and that is no lack of ideas. You never get the sense they are simply adding passages to the song as a means of just filling out the song. The song movements are perfectly executed but more importantly, they never drag on.

The songs are of course grim, foreboding and extremely morose at times and the vocals of Thomas Akim Gronbaek Jensen with his deep growl are a surprisingly good addition to the gloomy atmosphere. It is interesting that some in the underground media in the past have suggested that Saturnus are a band best suited for depressed teenagers and are a emo-doom band for the want of a better description. I have never understood why this has even been thought about, let alone published but the people who wrote such comments should find some comfort that this album seems like a more mature effort overall. There is not just more depth in the musical side of the things but lyrically too, this album seems to have a lot more depth to it. A good example of this is tracks two and three, 'Wind Torn' and 'A Lonely Passage.' The latter piece featuring a clean spoken word vocals instead of the usual death growl and at under 6 minutes it comes off as the albums most concise piece of songwriting excellence. The albums odd track out is 'A Father's Providence' which is aggressive compared with what else is on the album but what is really strange is it sounds like something you would expect from a goth band of the 1980's. The mix of the dark and the upbeat is interesting and it is surprisingly an album highlight.

There are two main elements in doom metal that make or break an album and that is riffs and atmosphere. Well the atmosphere on this album is hypnotic from start to finish and the riffs on the albums first half at least are some of the finest the band have ever come up with. The albums second half is where things fall apart ever so slightly and seeing as the albums total running time is a whopping 71 minutes (or 77 minutes if you buy the digipak version), the album could have benefited from some trimming of the fat. At its best, 'Saturn in Ascension' is as good as any death-doom album ever released but it is let down by having too much padding and below-average riffing in the last 30 minutes or so of the album. I am not a huge fan of the band even though this is a good album but even I know this will be considered the bands finest work by a lot of their fans. If you never liked the band before, this is the perfect oppuninity to give Saturnus another chance. The band is slow at releasing albums but sometimes the wait is justified, this is one of those times....8/10.

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