Finnish funeral doom legends Skepticism weave grim, elegant sorrow on dramatic ‘Companion’

The idea of funeral doom seems to, just from its name, note a style of music that is crushingly slow, leaving you in abject misery as you stare the end straight in the eyes and try to buy yourself more time. For the most part, that’s exactly what it is, and it’s difficult to shake the dread and morbid pressure that feels like it’s weighing down on your chest like an anchor.

Finnish spirits Skepticism have helped craft this sound, spreading their slow-moving drama over the past 30 years, creating sub-genre landmark “Stormcrowfleet.” But they’ve done so much more than that, and they’re still adding to their greatness with their new album “Companion,” a record that should find an instant home in their fans’ blackened hearts. Despite helping craft the very idea of funeral doom, this band offers up something different, an elegant, graceful, yet crushing display that makes them one of the most significant and special acts in all heavy music. The band—vocalist Matti Tilaeus, guitarist Jani Kekarainen, organist/keyboardist Eero Pöyry, drummer Lasse Pelkonen—smears their misery over six tracks and 48 minutes on their sixth long player, one that’ll carve out your soul.

“Calla” immediately immerses itself in the drama as the organs unload, the guitars tangle, and the growls slither through, making for a chilling presence. Things feel dark and stately as the track pumps colors with shadows swelling, the melodies growing thicker, and the mid-section stretching. “The Intertwined” greets with throaty growls and guitars daring as the organs muddy the waters, pushing hard into danger. A foreboding sense rises as the growls gurgle, watching the clouds thicken overheard as a gothy haze expanding its wings. Waves lap, the growls crush, and the track slowly wretches into the fog. “The March of the Four” runs a healthy 10:04, the longest track on the collection, and it delivers cascading organs and growls lumbering with the guitar work flexing its muscles. The guitars churn as the sadness collects, carving into your mind with thunderous, thick power, drizzling into the atmosphere and trailing off into the unknown.

“Passage” goes in a different direction as the guitars are sinister, the growls hammer, and the added weight crunches. The playing lurches and blends into fantastical elements that quickly turn dark and horrific. As the vocals snarl, the song swims deeper into the murk, the playing buzzes, and the whole thing burns down and finally bows out. “The Inevitable” opens in acoustics as ghostly apparitions arrive, adding to the pressure. The lather keeps getting heavier and richer, the growls emit pain, with the guitars drizzling blackness. A glimmering surge causes you to shield your eyes as your heart is gutted, and acoustics return to drown everything out. “The Swan and the Raven” closes out the album with organs pumping, the growls carving a path, and a dark adventure beginning to take hold. Things then take off toward the night sky as the guitars slither and the smoke builds, letting the rumbling take over and assume control. Waters thicken and drain, the melodies round back, and everything is swallowed under a black sea, washed out to oblivion.

Skepticism’s doom majesty remains as strong as ever three decades into their run, and “Companion” is a record that further pushes their campaign into new areas but also keeps their path steady as ever. The band remains an enigma, one of those entities that has stayed true to their mission and cultivated many followers but few who can equal what they do. This is a fantastic, smothering record that feels gigantic while burying your face in the soot.     

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