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Skepticism – Ordeal

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There may be no more surprising sound on a metal record this year than the bursts of applause heard following certain songs on Ordeal, the new album by funeral doom innovators Skepticism. Granted, it is a live album, recorded in one take at a concert in their native Finland last January, but something about the idea of joy and enthusiasm being aurally represented on a Skepticism record almost seems sacrilegious.

It’s been twenty years since the band released the classic Stormcrowfleet, and they’ve been the best funeral doom band on the planet since. Their spectral compositions resemble the paintings in the Rothko Chapel, at first overpowering and seemingly pitch black, but close analysis reveals intriguing subtleties and shadings. The band’s evolution—if it can be called that—has seen their sound move away a bit from their usual reverb-fogged cosmology into something a little more buttoned-up and theatric. Their last record, 2008’s Alloy was almost anthemic and midtempo in spots, a sign the band was starting to grow as interested in songwriting as they were atmosphere.

After a long dormancy, 2015 feels a bit like a coming out party for Skepticism; in May, the group made their American live debut at the venerated Maryland Deathfest (in broad daylight, no less), their stately doom acting as a soothing balm for a crowd well tenderized by a full weekend of fierce pits. Releasing a new set of songs via a live recording is more than just a canny cost-cutting measure. It’s also a chance for Skepticism to present themselves as a real band, not just a touchstone.

For a band that plays relatively few concerts, Skepticism loses none of their power in the concert setting. If YouTube clips of recent shows seemed conclusive on this matter, the sure-footed and beautifully-recorded Ordeal closes the case. It’s tough to pick a standout among the six new songs because they’re best taken as movements of a whole, inviting the listener to turn out the lights and let the velvety organs and deep, chiming guitars slowly wash over in waves.

If forced to select a favorite, the emotional dial seems to get the hardest crank on “March Incomplete,” a twelve-minute gem that peaks halfway through with a soaring guitar solo that may be the most stirring moment of tension resolution yet on a Skepticism record. “The Departure” and “The Road” feature slow-burn riffs that speak to the motion alluded to in their titles. “Closing Music” goes under the hood of the signature Skepticism sound by dropping elements out in stretches in order to let one or two instrumental voices guide the music forward.

As a treat for the devout, the band includes the encore performances of two of their most beloved pieces: “Pouring” from Stormcrowfleet and “The March and the Stream” from 1998’s Lead and Aether. “Pouring” (slowed down a touch, just for fun) is an extremely welcome addition, being that it’s my favorite funeral doom song of all time. The heavy down-stroked guitars and booming tom hits of the first half that slowly give way to somber organ notes that evoke a body being lowered to a final resting. It may not seem like an obvious for a crowd-rallying encore, but this is Skepticism we’re talking about, the band that excels at playing music that makes bleakness and desolation seem like moods worth applauding.

—Jason Bailey

Follow Skepticism on Facebook here.

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