by Anthony Abboreno

Vast Oceans Lachrymose (Cruz del Sur, 2009) doesn't waste time. Throw on the first track, "The Furthest Shore," and you know what you're in for. Palm-muted riffs that hold the sweet spot between traditional metal and thrash transition into an epic solo that cuts away to beautiful emptiness before chucking you back into the malestrom. The song hurls itself from section to section, but the changes never feel self-serving. The focus is on emotional power, not chops, even though the band has chops to spare.

The Furthest Shore (excerpt)

While Heaven Wept are usually categorized as epic doom — their most recent U.S. shows have been with Iron Man (reviewed here) and Argus — but their sound has always contained strong elements of traditional and prog metal. Vast Oceans Lachrymose is perhaps the least doomy thing they've ever done, but it feels more like it's exploring long-existing elements of their sound than completely revolutionizing it. This makes sense: band mastermind Tom Phillips has stated in interviews that some of the concepts for the album began developing fifteen years ago. There's been concern about new singer Rain Irving, but he more than holds his own. His operatic tone switches deftly from defiance to mourning, and evokes classic metal vocalists — Dio, John Arch — without imitating them.

The most common complaint against While Heaven Wept — particularly by American listeners — is that the music is too sugary. I disagree, but I can see where it's coming from. Powerful art often teeters at the brink of sentimentality, and being heartfelt always carries the risk of sounding cheesy. But that's a risk I want artists to take. In the case of Vast Oceans Lachrymose, those risks pay off. These songs avoid becoming saccharine because their crushing beauty is ambiguous. Hopelessness is undercut by a lack of cynicism, and by a sense of glory in struggle. It's potent. Let it get to you.

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Cruz del Sur recently reissued While Heaven Wept's two previous albums, Sorrow of the Angels and Of Empires Forlorn, with expanded liner notes. CD ordering info is here; MP3 downloading info is here. Sorrow of the Angels is downloadable from Amazon for $3.96. We also like While Heaven Wept's sister band Brave, reviewed here.