Finland regularly tops the list of the happiest place in the world to live in. That may well be merited but in warmer climes we tend to look on such claims with mistrust, and the musically minded amongst us might also point out the Scandinavian habit of churning out bleak and melancholy music. And, as you might have guessed, a band called Desolate Realm is definitely not going to be singing celebratory songs about living in the happiest place in the world! Well, calling Desolate Realm a band is a bit of an exaggeration since it is a duo consisting of Olli Törrönen on drums, and Matias Nastolin on everything else (guitars, bass, vocals, production, mixing and mastering!). Nastolin writes the music and lyrics too so in reality it is not far from a one-man show. Nastolin has been around the Helsinki doom/death metal scene for a number of years, having started off singing and playing bass in Altar Of Betelgeuze, before adding guitars too in a group called Decaying (that’s right – yet more cheerful names!). Olli Törrönen was also with Decaying so it was a short hop together to set up Desolate Realm. Last year’s Unleash The Storm EP announced their arrival and this album marks their debut full-length release.
During his time with Decaying, Nastolin was using growling vocals – well-suited to the extreme metal that the group favoured – but here we see him singing ‘normally’. It’s a bit of a revelation since his voice is tremendously powerful – I don’t know how much he actually weighs, but as with someone like Meatloaf, you sense there is a large physical presence producing the sound. His gritty low delivery gives a Lemmy-like feel to his singing style, so imagine Lemmy with the volume of Meatloaf and that’s just about what Nastolin produces sonically. Musically, the extreme side of Decaying has been ditched and what we get is forty minutes of what I would call no-compromise heavy metal following the straight-forward approach of bands such as Morgoth. The album opener Spire certainly starts the album off with a bang – some fierce riffing accompanied by furious drumming and a few high-pitched wails (echoes of Zeppelin’s immigrant Song there) warm us up before Nastolin’s commanding vocals come in. Around the three-minute mark, it seems the song is about to conclude but then the music unexpectedly accelerates with an irresistible groove that takes the song to another level again. Spire is an inspired opener and certainly the best new metal song I’ve heard so far this year.
It would be nigh impossible for the band to maintain that level over the album’s eight tracks but they certainly go close with Beneath The Surface – another track with a great groove – and the mid-paced The Circle. There’s also a brave attempt to write a longer song, the closing track Tormented Souls, which stretches the same formula but still maintains interest over nearly nine minutes. With this sort of music, it can be a thin line between brilliant and ordinary, and one or two tracks fall just on the wrong side of that line to these ears, but for a debut album the overall quality is very impressive. If I had to pick hairs then a tad more variety wouldn’t go amiss. There are no acoustic elements, keyboards, or significant changes in tempo over the course of the album – but to be fair that probably won’t bother most fans of this type of music. There are doom elements in the band’s sound but they do risk getting totally pigeon-holed as ‘doom’ due to their overuse of typical doom-laden titles such as Crypt, The Chosen, and Tormented Souls. It would be interesting to see them explore more varied and dare I say…….more cheerful lyrical themes in future. But leaving aside these minor qualms, Desolate Realm have produced a fine debut album that’s also an excellent showcase for the talents of Matias Nastolin. Now let me go and listen to Spire once again….