Below - Across the Dark River Review
by Matt Hensch
Below is a fitting name for this Swedish doom metal export. Sweden has established itself the capital of classic heavy metal worship, as high levels of quality continue to pour out of bands like Portrait and In Solitude. Below is a worthwhile addition to the club, as they, like their cohorts, play a classic style of heavy metal yet spin the sound to give it its own unique flavors, and that's a big reason why these groups have mostly blazed through the realms of metal. The forty-five minutes of "Across the Dark River," Below's first album, put into perspective the rules and influences of the band's ballistic, archaic style through which the blood and bones of Candlemass, Black Sabbath, and maybe a touch of Mercyful Fate/King Diamond boil over through crunching riffs and pure gloom.
The one thing that has drawn the line in the sand between the clotted mess of dime-a-dozen tribute groups and reasonable, even excellent bands that pay obvious homage to legendary metal acts is the grade of authenticity within the music. Plenty of factions use retro recording equipment or write riffs that sound stripped out of a Black Sabbath album, but they fall short because that notch of legitimacy is nonexistent. "Across the Dark River" walks in contrast to the standard of the retrogressive metal movement, because that feeling of genuineness is what drives the album. Below does not shade their epic doom metal in faithfulness, but rather forms an authentic product that appears both honest and valid to the band's sound.
"Across the Dark River" is musically simple at heart, just epic Candlemass worship glazed over an atmosphere of horror, kind of like a Mercyful Fate/King Diamond vibe. Below drives smoothly on bruising riffs and massive rhythm sections that are haunting and vibrant, while the grief-stricken melodies and lead guitar work are both exceptional. The songs are all geared to lurch slowly, and their ethers remain foreboding, but Below has the riffs and ideas to give each anthem a fresh identity, particularly because the choruses are tremendous and the vocals-courtesy of Zeb-are just excellent, like Messiah Marcolin bellowing hymns of melancholy and death. "Mare of the Night" and "Portal" are probably the prime cuts, but it would be an egregious error to overlook the rest of "Across the Dark River."
It's a fairly charming voyage after the listener uncovers the beating rhythms and poignant structures of "Trapped Under Ground," which remain the rule, but Below is comfortable and powerful throughout the album, and they don't require additional additives to keep the whole product relevant. The Swedes accomplished that by writing striking songs that will make any fan of Candlemass or Black Sabbath giddy with gloomy delight. "Across the Dark River" never drops the ball; it's heavy metal worship done right.
Below - Across the Dark River
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