October 20, 2022

This is Doom Metal in its purest and most unfiltered form, near to the very dawn of the movement’s appearance (or resurgence if you will) at the turn of the ’90s. If you have a hankering for a couple of hours’ worth of soul-crushing misery twinned with skull-pummelling riffery, you came to the right place. Welcome to the Crimson Horizon…

For those unfamiliar with the work of Solitude Aeturnus – though little should be left to guesswork going by the album titles here – we are talking about seriously epic doom metal. Originally released in 1991 and 1992 respectively, these are the first two albums by a band who appeared in the early vanguard of the doom movement in the wake of the seminal Candlemass, and who had a highly-lauded if relatively brief career in the metallic limelight. It’s a curious and interesting thing about the doom metal movement in that, from the punk-influenced New Wave Of Heavy Metal through the thrash, death and black metal scenes, everything had been about more energy, more speed and pushing that envelope further and further. Towards the end of the 1980s, however, a number of people within the metal scene began to look back increasingly towards the roots of the genre, and Black Sabbath’s immortal early recordings in particular, with more and more slower and monolithically grinding pieces being produced by Metallica, particularly from Master Of Puppets onward. The doom doors were really kicked open by the full-on ‘slow and heavy wins the race’ ethos of Candlemass and their charismatic frontman Messiah Marcolin, with their classic albums Nightfall and Tales Of Creation being a virtual blueprint for a new type of heaviness to emerge. And, from original thrash metal roots, Solitude Aeturnus were one of the major players to emerge from that magnificent sonic swamp. And yes, before anyone puts their hands up at the back, I know it REALLY should be Solitude Aeternus, but we’ll let the slightly irritating spelling pass!

The debut release, Into The Depths Of Sorrow (you know you’re not exactly in Haircut 100 territory right away with that album title) made quite a stir in doom circles, and was rightfully hailed as one of the most exciting new releases of the year within the genre. Consisting of eight tracks (plus the short introductory Dawn Of Antiquity (A Return To Despair), make no mistake that this album is as epic-reaching in its scope as it is heavy (and it really IS heavy, by the way, but we’ll get to that…). Those who don’t care especially for the death metal growl will be glad to hear that there is no hint of that here, the vocals all being not only ‘clean’, but also impressively high of range and dramatic of scope – especially noteworthy on tracks such as Opaque Divinity, Destiny Falls To Ruin and the ambitious and multi-textured Mirror Of Sorrow. This album really is all about the guitars, however – and more specifically, the riffs. Rarely can such a collection of massive, downtuned and utterly anvil-heavy distorted-to-absolute-madness guitar riffs have been corralled together in the one place. And they are pretty much all slow. That’s slow as in slooooowwwww. Galaxies form faster than some of this stuff, and for those who have the ears attuned to it, it’s glorious to lose yourself in. To put the whole album in perspective, I would ask the curious reader to imagine the Black Sabbath tracks Electric Funeral, Sweet Leaf and Into The Void, amalgamate the three together, and then to imagine the resulting conglomerate somewhat metaphysically as being a house. This album is like living in that house. And never leaving it. Getting everything delivered, because the outside world is a painfully light and cheery place. This is the world of Solitude Aeturnus, and it is curiously irresistible. Of course, there is the occasional change of pace, as a track will switch to a double-tempo section for a while, but this really has the effect of suddenly going to the sort of speed thought of by most people as roughly mid-tempo. It scarcely ever goes faster than that. And you become so ensconced in the peculiar doom-bubble that you really don’t want it to.

When the follow-up Beyond The Crimson Horizon arrived a year later, containing eight more crushing odes to existential misery such as Seeds Of The Desolate, Beneath The Fading Sun and Plague Of Procreation, it was essentially business as usual with little change to the formula. The closing instrumental track Beyond… (just that single word) must surely have been a nod to Black Sabbath’s self-titled song, as it evokes the famous tri-tone riff which sits to this day atop the altar of doom metal, and even includes a familiar tolling bell. Marvellous stuff. However, there is a slight nod to progress as the general pace of the music increases very slightly. The ‘slightly’ part of that sentence must be stressed here, however. If the debut album sounded like vast, weighty tombstones crashing slowly down a hillside, the follow-up sounds like vast, weighty tombstones crashing marginally less slowly down that hillside. This is still as heavy as a ton of lead being dropped into a canyon, and it had the black-clad, doom-stricken hordes as entranced as its predecessor, today being revered slightly higher still in some quarters.

However, there is the matter that, beyond the hardcore doom-metal faithful, Solitude Aeturnus remain unknown. Not for them the crossover to mainstream recognition of Sabbath, Metallica or even the likes of Slayer or Megadeth. And there is a reason for that – for all their qualities, Solitude Aeternus wrote riffs which they hung a song on, rather than writing songs backed up by a great riff. Metallica were ploughing a not-too-different furrow with crushingly slow-and-heavy songs such as The Thing That Should Not Be, Harvester Of Sorrow and Sad But True. Indeed, echoes of those tracks and others can be picked out in the second of these albums in particular. But the crucial difference is that those three aforementioned Metallica behemoths were as distinguished by their strong sense of melody as much as their monstrous riffs. In fact, I’ll bet they went through your mind as you read the titles – but they are still as heavy and uncompromising as anything you could wish for. Where Solitude Aeturnus are concerned – along with many others from the hardcore doom scene – there is no such ‘earworm’ effect. Even after two or three listens, it is hard to call to mind many of these tracks, despite how excellent they are to actually listen to. Which seals the legacy of the band, with others from Candlemass down through the likes of St Vitus, Trouble and even Psychotic Waltz, to appeal to the die-hards more than they ever would to the rock audience as a whole. Which is a shame in a way, but one senses that these bands are and were fairly content in ploughing that single-minded furrow, and indeed who can blame them.

This is Doom Metal in its purest and most unfiltered form, near to the very dawn of the movement’s appearance (or resurgence if you will) as the ’80s turned into the ’90s. If you have a hankering for a couple of hours’ worth of soul-crushing misery twinned with skull-pummelling riffery, you came to the right place. Welcome to the Crimson Horizon…