Funeral doom gods Skepticism unleash news songs live for morose, darkened opus ‘Ordeal’

Photo by Juha Karvonen

There are bands that could just show up—be it in a live setting or in a studio—and their followers would be happy with no matter what resulted. Admittedly, I am that way with Iron Maiden, though I think my excitement over their latest album and subsequent plans to tour are based just as much on quality as on my deep devotion to them.

One band like that is Skepticism, the pioneering funeral doom band that made an all-time classic in 1995’s “Stormcrowfleet” (if you’ve never heard that record, stop reading this and return once you have) and is one of the most revered in all of doom. Their appearance at this past spring’s Maryland Deathfest was one of the unquestioned main events and the reason many people (including me) traveled to the event in the first place. The fact that they played in blinding sun in late afternoon made no difference. Seeing them and experiencing them was what mattered the most. And that live experience with the band was a total life achievement unlocked. Ever since their aforementioned legendary debut and through their three records that would follow, the band developed a sterling reputation for good reason. They are the gold standard among funeral doom, and any new record or live performance is something to behold just because it isn’t something that happens every day.

Skepticism coverNot long after MDF, word came that a new Skepticism album was on the horizon, and that document soon will be in all of our hands in the form of “Ordeal.” But there’s a bit of a catch, and a good one. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill studio excursion. The band actually recorded the new material in front of a live audience Jan. 24 in Turku, Finland, so you have a combination fresh album and concert record all in one. It certainly is an interesting idea, figuring they had to nail this thing in one take, and the result is raw, exciting, pulsating, and so very Skepticism. Here, you get six brand new tracks, as well as two older tracks tacked on, for an eight-cut, 77-minute experience. Here we find the band—vocalist Matti Tilaeus, guitarists Jani Kekarainen and live member Timo Sitomaniemi, keyboard player Eero Pöyry, and drummer Lasse Pekonen—in fine form, delivering a very interesting new record that should hit all the necessary buttons for any Skepticism devotee.

The record begins with “You,” a track that takes some time to unfurl, but once it does, its majesty is apparent. Tilaeus’ croaking growls are at a desperate state here, as the guitars unfold to pack his wails with dark power, the keys add levels of morbidity, and the clean trickling makes it feel like a cold rain is drenching you. This 9:21 dirge is thick, ominous, and full of sorrow, with the guitars burning brightly as the song comes to its tragic end. That bleeds right into “Momentary,” and it feeds off the black energy with organs swelling, almost sounding like a morose carnival. From there, the atmosphere grows thick, with the growls sounding tortured and raw, the song going in and out of light and dark, and the keys blowing back steam. The final moments build a crescendo that can only end in tears, letting the intensity slowly bleed out, only to be met by the audience’s adulation. Nice touch, by the way, keeping the applause as part of the sound. “The Departure,” a 9:53 bruiser, comes next, and the organs blare right from the start, with the pace lumbering along and Tilaeus’ growls lacerating. The sentiment here is total loss, with the doom punishment thickening, the growls growing deadlier, and blackness being poured on dump trucks at a time, leaving no one above the surface of their dark waves.

“March Incomplete” is the longest of the new cuts, slithering for 12 minutes on the nose and starting with a sense of hush. There is no hurry here, and why rush an atmosphere anyway? It all pays off as the guitars march slowly and the vocals pierce old wounds, bringing new blood to the surface. Thick cloud cover blows in, with an eerie dialog slipping underneath, and as Tilaeus urges, “Let them die!” the song bursts anew, with scintillating soloing raging, and the band squeezing and churning every bit of this thing. From there, we head toward “The Road,” the shortest of all the cuts at 6:58 and one of the most forceful. The guitars chew their way across the scenery, with organs wailing, the melodies surging, and Tilaeus wondering, “Have I passed the ordeal?” The riffs kick back in, the song hardens, and swirling keys and chocked vocals take us to the finish line. “Closing Music” is the final new track, and it’s given a very fitting title considering what’s contained in this 10:20 cut. The guitars crash down as the drums come to life, and the organs pour a nighttime full of texture. The melodies are thick as fog, setting a scene that feels hopeless and tragic, folding their way almost halfway through the song before Tilaeus howls a single word. The drama is intense and tangible, with the music giving off mysterious bursts and Tilaeus, uncharacteristically, yelling his final lines over top the chaos, finally ending with, “There’s only silence …” which is followed by just that. And then applause. The band adds “Pouring” from “Stormcrowfleet” and “The March and the Stream” from “Lead and Aether” for good measure and to round out this riveting, breathtaking performance.

Credit to Skepticism not only for making six great new songs but also for eschewing conventionality on “Ordeal.” They remain as important and relevant today as ever, and this new collection only hammers that home as forcefully as possible. Yes, just having anything new from Skepticism is a great gift. Having something this good and inspired only makes things that much more enjoyable in the most depressing manner possible.

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