Epic, sweeping, and oftentimes grand, Sweden's Doom VS have on Aeternum Vale created a funeral doom album which far exceeds the sum of its parts. For, once all is said and done, Doom VS is actually just one person, Johan Ericson. Originally of epic, gothic doom act Draconian (whose Arcane Rain Fell concept album was very popular in recent best of lists from doom fans the world over), Ericson apparently decided to pursue an even more extreme take on the doom formula with Doom VS. While both of his musical outlets have a melancholic majesty to them, the typical Draconian song appears much more speedy, frail, and delicate what put beside the Doom VS material here on debut album Aeternum Vale. The six songs that crawl into your ears here are dirges of vast, monolithic, funeral doom/death tracks, dripping in sorrow and tons of brilliantly rendered, mourning melodies and anathemic moments. For what is essentially a one-person vanity project, the music is surprisingly well-planned, always feeling organic and larger than what you'd get from the hordes of one-man acts currently flooding the underground, Oh, and just for the record, I think Draconian is a decent enough band, but Doom VS appeals to me much more. That should give you a sign of just how seriously Ericson treats the music he puts forth, even if it was most likely meant for a much smaller scale than his main band. It really is exquisite funeral doom.
The nine and a half minutes of "The Light That Would Fade" is an excellent introduction to what Doom VS are about. A slowly rising swell of ghostly voices segues into a soaring orchestra of painfully slow guitars, and Ericson doesn't take very long to begin bellowing with some muscular death growls.
Every now and then (on this and other tracks), Ericson plays with some spoken word verses (as in this track, where a quiet clean melody provides a backdrop for his soliloquy). The growls and deep riffing soon take center stage again, and further along "The Light That Would Fade" shines with shimmering, stark guitar notes pulled into a somber crawl while percussion thunders menacingly behind it all. A frail symphonic passage drifts by like a half-remembered dream, before a minimalist clean portion and the song's bitter, massive riffing of a grand finale.
If I was going to introduce people to Doom VS (and you can bet I will) "Empire of the Fallen" would be my starting point, especially if my target audience weren't typically well-versed in doom or even fans of the genre. At a length of 5:41, it feels like "Empire" is done in a mere blink, but a lot is crammed into the song while maintaining the doom ethos of the band itself. The song begins with a mournful melody before blossoming into dark, moody, and trudging riffs, all before seesawing back again for the verses. The chorus is pretty airtight, and will stick with you long after you're done. Fantastically epic male chorus vocals trade beauty and bestiality with Ericson's dreary roars, and cliffhanger riffs hang in the stormy, dark distance. In a nice twist, Johan really lets his guitar work shine here, with patiently executed notes and melodies. This is basically a great track in summary.
At barely over eight minutes, "The Faded Earth's" eerie monk chants, booming drums, and creepy orchestra effects provide thick atmosphere for what is to come, namely majestic, depressing, and lethargic crawls of funeral doom. Some chilling vocals hover between screech and song, Heaven and Hell, the gothic guitar tones making you feel like things could go in either direction at any given time. An oddly positive bridge of billowing keys and slowly unraveling guitar note patterns provides one of the entire disc's strongest moments, as it grows into a pulsing climax of excellent and furious doom metal. The song bests itself even after that, replete with open-ended but still slow-paced guitar noodling and crystal-clean howls.
The aural perfection that is "Oblivion Upon Us" starts off with a death's touch of piano keys, before exploding with some of the slowest, darkest, thickest doom on a CD full of such material. When the song mixes spoken sorrow, snapping percussion, clean chords, and an eventual descent into dank, stygian darkness, you find yourself blown away every time you hear it. Like God himself taking your hand to lead you out of Hell, a simply divine and outright beautiful lead takes you very high, all before dropping you screaming back down into low-end riffing and probably oblivion (a likely intention perhaps?). A very intriguing effect, to the point of being almost metaphorical.
"The Crawling Insects" has a sample of buzzing bugs, which made my skin crawl. The skittering slither of the dirge riffs on offer here didn't make me feel any better, but the song is still incredible. An utterly grand clean passage snakes its way deep into your heart-strings, and once there, Ericson busts out some great singing chops before switching back into his more recognizable death growls and mid-tempo riffing with tons of melody. A top-tier funeral doom track this, and in my humble opinion the best cut on Aeternum Vale in its entirety.
The twelve-and-a-half minute epic that is "Aeternus" begins with frail wails in the background as the song immediately moves into a desperate, crawling vibe replete with tons of despair and the dark melodies to back it up. Again we listeners find Ericson is unafraid to stretch into outright singing, his vocals going to the highest, holiest peaks here. Although there are many meandering, clean guitar passages on Aeternum Vale, the magnificent and long-winded one on "Aeternus" is probably one of the strongest, if not the most fleshed out. Actually, the exact same thing fits the entire bloody song as a whole, and this is essentially the perfect close to the album and the band could not have done it any other way.
With traces of Solitude Aeternus, early Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, and (naturally) Draconian, Doom VS don't reinvent the wheel or bring anything fresh to the doom metal buffet, but this is never a problem as the songs are so well-planned. Never going beyond the fastest of outright crawls, the band is funeral doom, through-and-through. Despite this, things rarely if ever get boring and the band has some of the most memorable melodies, hooks, and riffing breakouts you'll hear off an outright funeral doom/death album this year. Though not a classic, Aeternus Vale showcases one man's passion and just how strong it can be when turned into music. I'm interested to see where this goes next, and here's hoping the vision stays alive. Eight-and-a-half out of ten.
1. The Light That Would Fade
2. Empire of the Fallen
3. The Faded Earth
4. Oblivion Upon Us
5. The Crawling Insects