The lines between heavy metal and black metal meet at folk. It’s the fascination with folk (both the legends and the, very loosely defined, style of music) which runs through the “backend” of both genres, connecting them thematically and, often, musically. In the case of The Sabbathian, a project which stems from a collaboration between Anette Uvaas Guldbrandsen (Nàttsòl) and Chad Davis (a multi-instrumentalist perhaps best known for Hour of 13), this co-mingling is intentional and declared. Their debut full length release, preceded by an EP in 2014 and titled Latum Alterum (“the other side”), is an exploration of the realms of ambiance and mysticism that inform the more atmospheric sides of black metal and the heavier, more treble based explorations of heavy metal. The result is a kind of ethereal doom metal album that strikes a balance between Trees of Eternity and Davis’s previous projects.
But the question is, does it work? Latum Alterum relies heavily on Guldbrandsen’s vocals and with good reason; she’s a very powerful vocalist, bringing to the table both great technicality and a powerful timbre which does much to justify the comparison to the late Aleah Starbridge. Much like another band we covered in the past, The Knells, Guldbrandsen’s vocals are dominant and omnipresent on the album. Because she prefers a choir-like type of singing, it lends the album this ethereal and classically folkish vibe. The instruments on the other hand, much like in the case of Juha Raivio for Trees of Eternity, underpin her singing with slow moving riffs, pummeling and loud drums, and hefty bass-lines. Davis also contributes some guest vocals to the album but they are pretty quiet and pale in comparison to the more present and convincing performance by Davis.
Ultimately though, the reliance on Guldbrandsen’s voice is also the album’s undoing. For a majority of the album, they strike the same kind of chord; ethereal and impressive though it might be, it lends the album a sort of monochromatic trait that causes much of it to blend together. Each track taken on its own is pleasing and even more than that, it’s an interesting and unique take on doom metal. But taken together, there’s not enough variety to keep us interested. This is aggravated by the choice to keep the instruments just as monotonous; the first two proper tracks on the album are nearly indistinguishable from each other, the riffs blending into one soup of reverb and feedback.
This is a real shame because the potential is certainly there; if you brave the rest of the album and get to “Embrace the Dark”, you can see why. This track does things, both with the vocals and the instruments, that are different and fresh. It sounds more sinister and more varied, coupling the backing vocals and Guldbrandsen’s voice in a way which isn’t done almost anywhere else on the album and changes up the chord progression replete throughout the album. The result is a super unique track that takes good advantage of the strengths of both of the musicians on display. By the time the slightly heavier riff hits, you find yourself asking “where has this been all this time?” The track has a personality, something to make it stand out from the other seven that make up the album.
But it’s too little to late; other points of light exist in the album and it’s not necessarily bad. These are clearly very talented musicians and this style of monolithic doom might appeal to some. But if you’re looking for more variety in your music and an album which feels like it has multiple things to say, this isn’t the release for you. There’s something here and great potential in the collaboration between two musicians of this stature but it isn’t fully realized. With some fleshing out and exploration, this could be a great project. Hopefully that’s what the cards hold for it.