Saturday, September 19, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Skepticism- "Ordeal" [Vinyl/DVD Edition] (2015)

Alright, so before reviewing the album itself, I'd like to discuss this edition. The album comes in CD+DVD and black, white, or splatter vinyl+DVD.

I obviously ordered the splatter vinyl version. So why the DVD? Well it seems I did misunderstand the guitarist of Skepticism at MDF when we discussed upcoming material. I thought he said that a live album, THEN a new album were going to be released on Svart Records. Turns out, the new album IS the live album. Let that sink in.

This is an album of new material, but recorded ENTIRELY LIVE. There is no 'studio' version of the album, the official version is forever this live performance. Imagine the pressure! "Ordeal" is certainly an appropriate title. The DVD included is the live show, however music videos for "Pouring" and "The March And The Stream" were made for the live versions played after the Ordeal set.

For those to whom Skepticism is already known, the music should come as familiar in style, certainly holding its own against their catalog of releases. For those unfamiliar, prepare yourself for extremely slow, somber, keyboard/organ-heavy Metal with dismal growls and laments. Often working on a formula of 'theme' development and return, Skepticism songs are haunting hymns of annihilation. I found this album to get better and better as it wove on, becoming heavier/more dense and disparaging towards continued self-existence in emotional impact with each song. Perhaps it was just the cumulative effect of the songs' weight.

As the music is very typical of the Skepticism sound, I will focus more on emotional impact and lyrics in this review.

Now for the new songs themselves. "You" and "Momentary" are the first two tracks and flow into one another musically. They appropriately occupy side A on the vinyl version. The lyrics to "You" can be interpreted a number of ways (like most on the album), but is clearly about longing. "Momentary" similarly could be interpreted a number of ways, but seems to be about crushing despair following a brief respite of joy. Perhaps this is the joy of the longing fulfilled albeit all too briefly, leaving a more turbulent waking in its passing.

The vinyl B side and next movement of the album contain "The Departure" and "March Incomplete." So, "The Departure" lyrically presents a paradox of loss; when something departs, it also arrives. Much personal interpretation could be made, but I would like to think it's an ode to fans and friends that have stuck by the band and its members through their own trials. "March Incomplete" also flows right out of the previous track, musically and lyrically (again, this is played live so that >15 minutes of playing with no rest or mistakes!). "March Incomplete" is more of a story about unfinished writing that develops into an existential ponderance on the value of completing a goal or letting it die. Perhaps continuing the story from the first two tracks, "The Departure/March Incomplete" tell the difficulty of dealing with loss, deciding whether it's worthwhile to continue onwards. Matti's scream of "It's an ordeal!" really punctuates this.

The album's next movement answers "March Incomplete"'s question in the following track, "The Road." Lyrically the track is about unwavering dedication to a path, despite opportunity and desire to (de)cease. Matti bleakly adds that "for the journey, I will not be known." What a great anthem for those of us bearing burdens, suffering in silence! Although I enjoy and can deeply empathize with the lyrics to all the tracks, this one is my favorite. It really speaks to where I am and have recently been in my life.
That said, the appropriately-named "Closing Music" track is my favorite musically. It begins with a (funeral) march, building in dynamics, atmosphere, and heaviness to Matti's closing, spoken, remark, "There is only silence!" This brilliant closure finishes a track that is rather clearly about being borne by pallbearers in your casket to the grave site, then becoming fully interred under the earth. "The Road" and the album are indeed completed.

Presumably after a respite and much celebrating, Skepticism closes out the album with excellent live performances of previously released classics, "Pouring" and "The March And The Stream."

Hopefully this album draws you into Skepticism's world and gets you digging into their catalog for more. I feel extremely lucky to have seen them at MDF and hope to get another chance sometime soon. Until then, commiserate along with 'Ordeal.'

*Review and photos copyright The Samnambulist, 2015*

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