Album review: Fallen – Fallen (2015)

This week I wanted to branch out from reviewing black metal and DS, if only slightly.

Fallen were a short-lived funeral doom band from Norway. (Though listed as “on hold,” their guitarist Christian Loos passed away in 2006, and A Tragedy’s Bitter End remains their only full-length album. Some of the former members are still active in the Norwegian doom band Funeral.) The 2015 self-titled compilation released by Solitude Productions is essentially a reissue of their debut album with two previously unreleased tracks, including a majestic cover of “Persephone” by Dead Can Dance.

For the uninitiated, funeral doom might be described as death-doom taken up to eleven, combined with a funereal atmosphere. This means that a ten minute song is considered short, the tempos are punishingly slow, and there is a high chance of clean/wailed/operatic vocals somewhere in the mix. Some funeral doom bands such as Finland’s Shape of Despair utilize death growls as well, but Kjetil Ottersen of Fallen opts for an entirely clean approach.

On the opening track “Gravdans,” layers of synths and pianos build anticipation alongside drums that recall thunder in the distance. This is probably the strongest song to introduce the band – and indeed the style – with, clocking in at just under eleven minutes, and the track picks up its tempo slightly for a brooding guitar solo. Ottersen performs deep bass vocals in his native Norwegian. The bass singing voice in general is under-appreciated in my opinion, nearly absent in mainstream metal, and with clean singing rarely utilized in extreme sub-genres. As a result, this track made a very strong first impression on me.

There are a couple instrumental interludes performed by Ottersen on keyboards, the better of the two being “The Funeral.” The two newer songs, “Drink Deep My Wounds” and “Persephone,” are quite good but don’t match the energy and feel of the original six tracks comprising A Tragedy’s Bitter End. Another highlight for me was “Morphia,” with its brutally heavy down-tuned riffs, thoughtful English lyrics, and neoclassical synth sections. Also, as a fairly new and passive fan of the style, the shorter song length of seven minutes was perfect; it felt epic and full without becoming tedious for a moment.

The band has a very strong classical influence from the piano passages and strings to Ottersen’s vocal delivery. The weighty sense of despair throughout the original tracklist of Tragedy is comparable to Katatonia’s first album Dance of December Souls, with its back-to-back thirteen minute songs. Fallen simply trade out some of the aggression for gravity and atmosphere, while slowing down the average tempo. The use of clean vocals was also judicious, averting the possibility of goofiness that plagues cookie-monster vocals over a symphonic backdrop.

Although I’m a casual funeral doom listener and might have to do a deeper dive later on, this album was a very nice introduction to the genre and a band that I might have overlooked had it not been re-released. I heartily recommend this to any extreme metal fan who hasn’t heard it, and also for newer metal listeners who might want to try out doom metal generally.

Standout tracks: “Gravdans,” “Morphia”

Rating: 9/10

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