Terhen - Eyes Unfolded EP Review
by Mark Hensch
As I scrutinize the debut EP of Finland's Terhen for perhaps the sixth, seventh, or eighth time, I find myself repeating two key thoughts. First, Terhen are a band whose relative youth hardly dampens their music; Eyes Unfolded is a crisp, vivid, and mature-sounding album. Second, all these qualities aside, Terhen's brand of lethargic doom/death is nothing original or groundbreaking. The result of these two statements is a conclusion that rings thus---anyone wishing to buy this album will not be disappointed, but it will appeal best to doom/death fanatics only.
The reasons for the above analysis are many. The band uses all five songs as a chance to craft massive, plodding, and celestial doom that seesaws between the brutality of death and the beauty of life. The atmospheric/gothic/melancholy brand of doom/death is nothing remotely new at all, and anyone familiar with genre founders like My Dying Bride will find little to differentiate the two bands here. As for how Terhen managed a recording worthy of being in the same sentence as My Dying Bride in the first place, let's just admit that Terhen actually started as Thamuz in 2004 and had time to hone their doom/death craft with a demo or two prior to the recording and subsequent release of Eyes Unfolded. Chock full of crystalline keyboard tones, massive riffs, churning yet restrained percussion, and the classic paradox of "Beauty and the Beast" vocals, what weighs down Eyes Unfolded from being the stellar first release Terhen meant it to be?
The answer easily lies in dynamics. Though each of the five monstrous tracks has their own pleasant quirks to offer, Terhen still seem to have moments of drag every now and then. The trick to writing lengthy but legendary music, then, lies not in the length itself but how said span of time is properly utilized. A track like opener "Influence" shows little of this principle if at all, with the majority of the song being much too repetitive for its own good. The song kicks off with a pulsing, vaguely industrial swirl of noise interspersed amidst pounding drums and dully-humming riffs. Actual doom riffs come, and despite the full-bodied LOUDNESS contained therein, the song squanders its potential by leaving things largely unaltered for a whole thirteen minutes or so. Male frontman Jyri Pylvanainen has an intimidating and muscular growl, perfect for the genre, but lacks the variation in his voice necessary to make simply his vocals compelling. With the guitars not doing it either, the job is left to a rather underwhelming mix of subtle synth twinkles and the capable (albeit underutilized) drumming of skinsman Joni Romo. A chugging breakdown near song's end saves some much-needed face, but I didn't feel like "Influence" ever really kicked the album off with the needed bang and I was left a tad disinterested already by the first song's end. "Six Months," meanwhile, instantly changes this, its steady cascade of thundering double-bass, brilliant synth tones, and somber riffing making for a much more potent combo. Despite this newfound vigor, this is nothing My Dying Bride, Anathema or early Paradise Lost hasn't done, so fans of those will probably feel this isn't very enjoyable music. Some stop-on-a-dime guitars and absolutely beautiful synth melodies make this hard to hate, and the song's symphonic breakdown into gliding grandeur shouldn't be missed.
From here, I'd probably call "Last Moments" the EP's highlight, its serene yet serious organ intro transitioning into an equally stunning span of crushing fury. Like a glorious ray of sunshine, an up-swell in the music towards a more positive tone introduces new vocalist Elisa Pellinen, whose soaring clean vocals sparkle alongside the strongest melodies offered on the disc. A song like this may have its cliches---beauty/beast vocals, synths, gothic lyrics, etc. ---but the vague angelic tones, if expanded upon, could lead to something a bit more heavenly and unique for Terhen. "What Truly Is Real," meanwhile, floats in on a drifting chord and some ethereal synths; some spoken lyrics set a serious tone, and the slow riffs soon devolve into some fairly by-the-numbers doom/death material. It isn't vastly different from the other songs, or from many other bands. I guess the one upside is that despite being of similar length to "Influence," this one has a bit more weight in the guitars and a minor tempo-shift or two, making things at least slightly more interesting. Furthermore, I should also mention they add a bubbling, tasteful piano interlude in there too, the likes of which is definitely a nice touch.
Closing things out is the grave posturing of "Wandering." "Wandering" is another stronger cut, its riffs feeling serious and natural at the same time, rather than just heavy and slow for the sake of it. The band smartly contrasts the clean and death vocals of both aforementioned singers and tiny melodies from all the instruments reflect changes between the two in a nice little layer added on top of the mix. The song steadily gets softer and softer, eventually descending into a haze of billowing electronic effects, only to ascend back into realms of pulverizing fury and grandiose choirs. It all makes for a pretty epic end to an EP, and hopefully Terhen works as hard as they can to keep the atmosphere of songs like this present in later efforts.
Seeing as this is just an EP, I can readily forgive Terhen for a kink there or a flaw here. When push comes to shove, a doom/death fan can do plenty worse than this, as Eyes Unfolded features utterly pristine production, solid if unoriginal songwriting, and a few moments of splendid glory. I'm not totally wowed, but I wouldn't mind more. See ya next time?
Terhen's Eyes Unfolded EP
2. Six Months
3. Last Moments
4. What Truly is Real
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